Posts Tagged ‘Connecticut’

Health Wonk Review; also, the crazed chimp case and workers comp

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

It’s Health Wonk Review week, and the happenings are at Hank Stern’s place this week. Please visit InsureBlog for the Lean, Mean, and Clean edition of Health Wonk Review.
Was chimp mauling work-related?
In other news this week, who can forget last February’s horrific mauling by Travis the chimpanzee that left Charla Nash disfigured and blind? Charla’s extensive injuries are still being treated at the Cleveland Clinic, which specializes in reconstructive surgery and is noted for being the hospital that performed the nation’s first face transplant. Her sister keeps an online diary of her progress at Friends of Charlie Nash. Charla’s family has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the primate’s owner for ” …negligence and recklessness for owning “a wild animal with violent propensities, even though she lacked sufficient skill, strength and/or experience to subdue the chimpanzee when necessary.”
Yesterday, we learned that the attorney for Sandra Herold, the chimp’s owner, asserts that the injuries sustained were work-related and should be treated as a workers compensation claim:

“But Herold’s attorney, Robert Golger, says in recent court papers that Nash was working as an employee of Herold’s tow truck company, Desire Me Motors, at the time of the attack. He argues that Travis was an integral part of the business, saying his picture was on the wrecker, he appeared at the garage daily and he attended numerous promotional events.
The house where the attack occurred is a business office of the company, Golger said. Nash fed Travis, cleaned his play area and purchased his supplies as an employee, Golger contends.”

If the link to work is successfully established, it is possible workers comp could be determined to be Charla’s exclusive remedy. This may force the family’s hand because, according to Connecticut law, a workers compensation claim must be filed within one year of the date of injury.
Workers comp is a no-fault system. While there have been questions raised about whether Herold was negligent in keeping such a dangerous wild animal, employer negligence would not pierce the exclusive remedy shield – just as negligence on the part of an employee would not disqualify an employee from benefits. In most states, an employer’s conduct would have to rise to a standard of deliberate intent to injure an employee to pierce exclusivity.
Workers comp covers wage replacement and medical care, but it differs from civil remedies in that there is no compensation for pain and suffering. In the case of severe and egregious injuries, this can seem unfair, but it is part and parcel of the workers compensation pact – if injured on the job, the employee forgoes the right to sue the employer in exchange for a guarantee that the employer will provide medical care and wage replacement in accordance with a state’s statutory benefits. We’ll have to watch how this plays out in terms of establishing the work connection.

Annals of Fraud: Corrections Officer in Need of Correcting?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Stephen Zaczynski, 49, is a lieutenant with the Connecticut Department of Correction. He claimed an on-the-job injury in September of 2008 and collected over $12,000 in benefits. While on disability, he continued to run a company he co-owned, New England Pellet. People in need of pellets pre-paid for the product, which, unfortunately for them, was never delivered. The company closed soon after Zaczynski went out on comp and filed for bankruptcy protection in January. To complete the trifecta, it appears that Zaczynski did not carry workers comp protection for his employees.
Let’s see if we’ve got this one straight: Zaczynski collects comp for an injury that did not disable him, freeing him up to run a business that did not deliver the product that his customers paid for – a product at least theoretically handled by employees who were not covered by workers comp insurance. (Perhaps they were “independent contractors”?)
Zaczynski has a court date on October 20, where he faces charges of first-degree larceny, workers comp fraud and failure to maintain workers comp insurance.
His attorney, Jim Oliver, denies all the charges: “I do not believe that a crime has been committed by Stephen. We intend to vigorously defend all claims.”
Oliver may have a case. In not delivering the pellets, Zaczynski perhaps was not performing work that exceeded the medical restrictions that kept him out of work. (We have no way of knowing whether the DOC tried to bring him back to work on light duty – as a lieutenant, this would surely have been an option.) While not delivering the product reduced the workplace hazards for his employees – less material handling, for sure – Zaczynski would still be required to provide workers comp protection, assuming these folks were, in fact, employees of the company. There’s usually not a lot of wiggle room on that issue.
Finally, failure to deliver the pellets certainly appears to be a form of larceny, but theft on a much bigger scale worked out pretty well for the giant banks, mortgage companies and insurers, so perhaps it can work for Stephen, too. In the final analysis, his problem may be one of scale: he just didn’t think big enough. If you’re not going to deliver the goods, you want to screw people out of more than a few pellets for a stove. Next time, Stephen, think big, really big. It’s the American way.