As an attorney who has been practicing in the field of Workers’ Compensation for close to 30 years, it has been a privilege and an honor to represent the working men and women of New York. As the daughter of both a retired firefighter and retired teacher, I see the sacrifices that most working men and women make in order to provide for their families and create a better life for their children. We all have similar long-term goals of being able to earn enough of a nest egg to retire and enjoy our “golden years”. No one goes to work expecting that they will sustain an injury that will not only change the course of their employment, but may change the course of their lives. Even less expected is the bureaucratic maze most will have to navigate for benefits to which they are entitled.
Injured workers in this country have seen their weekly benefits capped, their medical benefits slashed, and their medications limited based upon the opinions of those who may not even examine them but only review records. Injured workers have been the pawn in political battles throughout the country. Benefits are seen as too expensive or excessive, and are described as the reason businesses cannot thrive or survive as premiums have become so expensive because of the high costs of claims. Injured workers are sometimes seen as “gaming the system” by fraudulently obtaining and keeping Workers’ Compensation benefits beyond their need. There could be nothing farther from the truth.
One of the things I am proud of in my legal career is that I am past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group (WILG), an organization of attorneys who have dedicated their practices to representing the needs of injured workers’ and their families. Our mission statement notes that “our members are committed to improving the quality of legal representation to those injured on the job or victims of occupational illness by superior legal education and my keeping informed of legislative and judicial proceedings”. We do this by keeping up with trends throughout the country that impact injured workers and might end up coming to the states in which we practice.
While injured workers rarely have the finances to take on some of the very wealthy and deep-pocketed business and insurance industry groups, our organization has found that in many instances we can fight back by having knowledge and knowing the facts. My colleague and another past president of WILG, Leonard Jernigan, has for the last decade or so put the perception of “gaming the system” to the test. In his most recent report, he notes that the top 10 cases of fraud resulted in almost $100 million in lost revenue and that not one of those cases involved the actual worker. This is not out of the ordinary. While there are those workers who clearly fabricate an injury or exaggerate its seriousness, they are in the minority. Most men and women do not want to be injured, nor do they want to stay out of work when they are. As the recent government shut down showed, there are many people in this country who live paycheck to paycheck. Any loss of income creates major financial hardship for injured workers and their families, not to mention the psychological impact created by the mere thought of losing their places of residence or their dreams for their future. We must remember that while injured workers in this country are a minority of the population, in the blink of an eye, we too can become a part of this very unfortunate club.
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.
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