Random Views from the World of Comp: Mental/Mental Denied, A Justice named Crook and a Crook Named Blizzard

February 7th, 2007 by

Today’s scan of the world of comp begins sadly in Nebraska, takes a brief detour in Wisconsin and ends with the Coingate saga in Ohio.
Mark Zach was a state trooper in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 2002 he stopped a low-life named Erick Vela for carrying a concealed weapon. But he accidentally transposed the serial number on the gun, so it did not register as stolen. A week later, Vela and his buddies robbed a bank and brutally murdered four people.
Trooper Zach, devastated by the consequences of his error, committed suicide. His widow filed for workers comp benefits. The case was first denied, then granted on appeal, and then finally denied again by the Nebraska Supreme Court, which stated: “We conclude that under current Nebraska law, a compensable injury caused by occupational disease must involve some physical stimulus constituting violence to the physical structure of the body.” In other words, job-related mental anguish, by itself, does not result in a compensable injury (or in this case, compensable death). The court acknowledges that a persuasive argument for paying this claim can be made, but their hands are tied by the language of the statute. Nebraska, like 42 other states, does not allow for “mental/mental” claims. Attorney Donald DeCarlo has written a nice summary of mental/mental stress claims here.
Double Dipping?
We find an interesting case in Wisconsin, where Glen May, a Daimler-Chrysler employee, collects double for single injury. He hurt his knee at work and underwent ACL reconstruction a few weeks later. The pain and swelling persisted, so he underwent a second surgery on the knee. His own doctor recommended a 10 per cent disability rating, the minimum under state rules. Writing for a majority at the state supreme court, Judge Patrick Crooks awarded May a twenty per cent rating, ruling that, based on the dual surgeries, the benefits could be “stacked.”
In her dissent, Justice Patience Roggensack noted (impatiently?) that the commission erred by ignoring the recommendation of the treating physician, who stated that the knee did not get any worse after the second surgery.
Coingate, Again
The comp scandal in Ohio just won’t go away. A Florida-based investment advisor named Clarke Blizzard (with that name, he belongs in northern Michigan) has been charged with one count of conspiracy. He pulled in $2.5 million in fees and commissions while brokering investments for the Bureau of Workers Comp. He is charged with paying $20,000 in bribes to the former CFO of the Bureau, Terry Gasper (currently doing hard time for racketeering and money laundering). The bribes apparently covered college tuition for Gasper’s son (let’s hope the boy is majoring in business ethics) and another check made out to Gasper’s girlfriend (who undoubtedly is faithfully waiting for Terry’s release). With the bribes totalling just one per cent of his take, Mr. Blizzard could boast of a pretty remarkable return-on-investment – at least until the indictment came down hard like a storm off the Great Lakes.