Tuesday, June 22, 1999

Workers comp law scrutinized

Complaint: Injured get runaround

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — State lawmakers hoping to make changes to Kentucky's three-year-old workers' compensation reform law will have plenty of fodder when the General Assembly meets in January.

        For more than two hours Monday night a panel of state legislators heard testimony from injured workers and attorneys about the inequities, inadequacies and problems with the system designed to treat and compensate workers on the job.

        “It gets down to votes,” said state Sen. Glenn Freeman, D-Harlan, who along with Rep. J.R. Gray, D-Benton, are working on a bill to change the workers' compensation law.

        “I think with what we're hearing tonight and what we've heard at several other meetings ... we can come up with a bill that will make meaningful changes to the law,” Mr. Freeman said.

        The law, promoted and pushed by Gov. Paul Patton, was designed to:

        • Cut down on the number of claims being filed against the system.

        • Make it more difficult for workers to prove injuries and receive benefits.

        • Reduce the insurance premiums businesses pay for workers' compensation insurance.

"Truly injured' slighted
        “But what it's done,” said Florence attorney Gregory Schabell, who handles workers' comp cases, “is make it too difficult if not impossible for truly injured workers to receive the treatment and benefits they need and deserve.”

        Four of Mr. Schabell's clients, all women, testified during Monday's hearing of the General Assembly's Labor and Industry Committee. The hearing was held at the Quality Hotel Riverview.

        Alice Starnes, 52, of Florence said she hurt her back working at a food processing plant in Florence last year.

        Mrs. Starnes said she was pulling a cart filled with hundreds of pounds of dough when she slipped on a new floor that did not have adequate traction, injuring her back.

        Mr. Schabell said Mrs. Starnes was not told by her employer she could go to her own physician for treatment, so she went to a doctor hired by the company's workers' compensation insurance carrier.

Back to work, hurting
        “They sent me back to work without doing a whole lot for me, but my back still hurt,” Mrs. Starnes said.

        The company continued to send her to a doctor, “because she was showing the classic symptoms of herniated disc,” Mr. Schabell said.

        “But they didn't treat her for that. They just kept sending her back to work,” he said.

        “I couldn't pick up my grand-babies or work in the yard ... because my back hurts so bad,” Mrs. Starnes said.

        Finally, Mrs. Starnes sought another medical opinion and ultimately underwent surgery.

        Mrs. Starnes hired Mr. Schabell because she wanted to make sure she gets the benefits and treatment she feels she deserves. She also doesn't want to lose her job if and when she can return to work.

        Mr. Schabell said that's a common thread among his clients.

        “Once the company finds out they've hired an attorney, they lose their benefits,” he said.


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