Injured workers at companies without proper workers’ compensation programs are frequently forced to deal with recovery while hemorrhaging money. What’s worse, this terrifying predicament often goes unnoticed. Thankfully, the Des Moines Register recently highlighted one such case in an articled titled “Companies fail to pay injured workers.”
Jeffrey Carter, a 45-year-old Iowa garbage truck driver, severely injured his back and neck after picking up a garbage can filled with water. His employer, L&M Waste Systems, did not have proper workers’ compensation insurance so Carter took his case to an Iowa deputy workers’ compensation commissioner who found that L&M’s owner, James L. Watts, should be responsible for paying weekly benefits for the injury, interest and prior medical expenses. Instead L&M fired Carter and has yet to pay him a cent:
“It’s been hell,” Carter said. “I had to go on food stamps, I have no money coming in. And I lost my mobile home because I could not make payments.”
Those who represent workers like Carter, such as Andrew Mertens, spokesman for the Iowa Association of Justice, are calling for state Attorneys General to make examples of employers like L&M.
“There needs to be a message … that the state will come after you. This is a felony, after all. These are laborers by and large. And when they are restricted from working, they don’t just lose their jobs. They lose their ability to earn income all together.”
Two other workers in similar circumstances were mentioned in the DR piece:
One case currently under scrutiny by the attorney general’s office involves Russell Vanhorn, a 55-year-old garbage truck driver who worked for Watts’ Hawkeye Waste Systems in Iowa City. Vanhorn fell 8 feet while attempting to tie down a tarp on a roll-off trash container in 2009.
The fall left him with severe abdominal pain. He was vomiting blood and required hospitalization and surgery, state records show.
After Vanhorn resigned in 2011, a deputy workers’ compensation commissioner found Vanhorn’s injuries were not reported by the company as they should have been under law. The company acknowledged more than once that it did not have insurance to cover workers’ compensation liabilities.
This month, another deputy commissioner ordered the company to pay Vanhorn disability benefits and a $25,000 penalty.
In 2008, Richard Lint, 53, a hauler for Watts’ A-1 Disposal Services for four years, suffered a partial disability after his shoulder was struck by part of a front-loading garbage truck, a deputy worker’s compensation commissioner found. He was never paid, according to the workers’ compensation division.
Mertens said Watts has shown a pattern of taking advantage of workers and renegotiating settlements with the state “to basically manipulate workers out of money they deserve.”
“With actions like that, there’s no telling how many have been manipulated out of claims altogether.”
But, owners are not the only corrupt cog in the broken workers’ compensation machine. Sometimes, those on the system administration side fail to look out for a workers as well. In Pennsylvania, an audit supervisor for the State Workers’ Insurance Fund, James McDonnell, has been charged with five counts of bribery. McDonnell allegedly accepted over $80,000 in bribes as a kickback for lowering companies’ workers’ compensation premiums. The fund was administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry:
Prosecutors claim that on 15 occasions, McDonnell issued checks to fund-insured employers with no supporting documentation.
No word yet from prosecutors on the fate awaiting businesses that allegedly made payments to McDonnell.
The debate on workers’ compensation is often steered towards abuses by those receiving benefits when in reality the abuses are often of those receiving benefits. Or not receiving them, rather. Most people collecting workers compensation are doing so because they are trying to get their bodies prepared to return to work. When the trust needed for this system to run fairly and efficiently is undercut from all angles it creates a situation in which workers cannot receive the help they need. As Andrew Mertens explains, this type of behavior is felonious and should be punishable to an extent that it becomes a prohibitive prescription against future indiscretions.