September 21, 2014

Case Study: Back Injuries and Workers Compensation

The prevalence of on-the-job back injuries

According to government statistics,  nearly 20% of all the work-related injuries involve back injuries and back pain, especially lower the back area.   The cost of these work injuries continues to soar – currently estimates put the cost of treatment and lost productivity at nearly $20 billion annually.   Not surprisingly many of the cases I see involve some form of back injury – ranging from cervical (neck) damage to lumbar and thoracic (mid to lower back) injuries.   In my experience, quick diagnosis and treatment can greatly improve the chances of a more complete recovery.

General causes of back injuries

Back injuries can result from numerous causes including:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Remaining in the same position for too long and too often
  • Repetitious activities and movements
  • Stressful lifestyles

Back braces and modified lifting techniques can help but not prevent back injuries.

The back injury case of Mr. S

Mr. S worked for a company that owned several large trucks.   The company was selling several of its trucks and Mr. S’s supervisor directed him to show the truck to a potential customer. Mr. S was attempting to push open the hood of the truck when the hood (weighing 300 lbs.) detached and fell on him, pinning him to the floor.  Mr. S  began experiencing pain in his lower back as well as radiating pain in his leg.

This accident was witnessed by both the potential truck buyer and Mr. S’s supervisor, who instructed Mr. S to go to one of the posted panel doctors.   Upon arriving at the doctor’s office, Mr. S noted that the line of patients was out the door and since he did not want to sit around and wait, he decided to return to work and took pain medication before returning to the job. Mr. S continued working for the next 4 months, relying on over the counter pain pills to reduce his pain.  At no point did he ever actually meet with a doctor.

Around 4 months later, Mr. S again injured his back while working on a truck.  This time, he felt a definite “pop” and his legs went numb.  The supervisor again sent Mr. S to a  posted panel doctor who took Mr. S off work and began conservative treatment (prescription pain pills and physical therapy)  When Ms. S was unable to perform the exercises during physical therapy, the panel doctor ordered an MRI.  The MRI revealed several bulging discs as well as 2 herniations with impingement on the spinal cord.

The panel doctor then referred Mr. S to an orthopedist for surgery.   Mr. S was not impressed with the surgeon and he emailed me with his story to ask if he had any options.   I suggested to him that if I was dealing with the same injury I would want to be evaluated by a specific neurosurgeon, and I also explained what Mr. S could expect in terms of rehab and case settlement.  At that point, Mr. S retained me to serve as his lawyer.

Once I was retained I contacted the insurance adjuster and suggested that we agree that Mr. S should be seen by a neurosurgeon who I know to be very capable.  The adjuster agreed (to my surprise) and my client underwent a multi-level fusion, which my client underwent.

There was one other interesting twist to this case – at the time my client was seen by the original panel doctor for the second time, the adjuster assigned a nurse case manager to assist with my client’s care.  For those of you who are not familiar with the role of the nurse case manager, she is a nurse who works on behalf of the insurance company to facilitate care.  Sometimes, nurse case managers can be helpful in cutting through red tape – such as getting diagnostic reports like MRI films to a doctor. In other instances, the nurse case manager can interfere with treatment by advocating on behalf of the insurance company – for example I have seen cases where a nurse case manager attempted to influence a treating doctor to return a claimant to work too early.

Years ago, the insurance company had a right to assign a nurse case manager.  Under current law that right exists only in catastrophic cases.  Otherwise the claimant (usually through counsel) can terminate the involvement of the nurse case manager.

In this case, we had to do just that.  The nurse case manager was attending my client’s medical exams and she was pressuring the surgeon to speed up the rehabilitation process.  I felt that her motivation and value were in question and I advised the adjuster that we no longer needed her services.

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For over 15 years, I have represented injured workers in claims filed under the Georgia workers' compensation system. I hope that you find this blog helpful in learning how the Georgia workers' compensation system works and I invite you to call or email if you need more information. --Jodi Brenner Ginsberg

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