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August 27, 2009

We're Under Construction at the Columbus Office
The east end of the front of the William Green Building is shut down for now

If you work or visit the Columbus office of the Industrial Commission located in the William Green Building (WGB) through the end of the year, you’ll notice a few changes under way. Contractors have fenced off access to the east end of the front of the building. Access from the west end front entrance is still open for now. These changes are the first step in a 150-day-long process to repair an underground leak to the building’s lower level. Contractors will also replace the automated revolving doors on the east and west ends of WGB’s front lobby. All work is expected to be completed by December.

Why repairs are needed
“Over the last 20 years, the building has developed an underground leak into the lower levels of our facility,” says the Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) Director of IT Networking & Facility Services Jim Cunningham. “We have attempted a number of repairs over the years, but it continues to leak.”

IT has initiated these repairs to prevent any additional concrete deterioration that has resulted from continual exposure to this water.

“We have been working for months to identify the amount of work and funding that would be required to repair this problem,” says Jim.

BWC has partnered with engineers from the State of Ohio Architect’s Office as well as a private-sector architect (eS Architecture and Development) to assure proper handling of these repairs. Both will supervise and manage 2K General Company Inc., the contractor handling the construction work.

Why replace the doors?
To save costs, IT also coordinated this repair project with replacement of the east and west automated revolving doors. Throughout the years, these doors have caused major maintenance issues. Parts to keep the doors working have become difficult to obtain and costly. As a result, Jim’s department identified these doors as candidates for replacement.

“It made sense to combine these two projects since they are located in the same area of the building,” says Jim.

For more information
If you have specific questions, please contact the BWC Service Desk at 614.752.4900, or 866-569-7800.

**The information contained in this article is courtesy of BWC.

August 11, 2009

Youngstown's Business Journal Daily Article Praises the Industrial Commission

Workers' Comp Cases Go Before Hearing Officer
Published August 11, 2009
By Dennis LaRue

"I'm confused by the medical evidence," hearing representative Marilyn Teichow informs attorney Scott Rosenthal, who represents a woman seeking additional benefits from the Bureau of Workers' Compensation for a shoulder injury suffered in January 2007.

Teichow and Rosenthal sit on opposite sides of a table before hearing officer Alex Khavari on the third floor of the George V. Voinovich state office building in downtown Youngstown. There the Ohio Industrial Commission has six rooms where hearing officers conduct meetings not unlike trials to consider claims and appeals from workers who say their injuries are job-related.

Not all injuries are physical. On the docket in the first week of August was a worker seeking "an additional allowance for depressive disorder."

The overwhelming majority, however, as attorneys Ronald E. Slipski and Martin J. Boetcher agree, involve "strains and sprains," cases where X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging machines and similar medical equipment can't detect or assess injuries and pain. More than half the claims involve injuries of the lower back.

Slipski, a partner in the Austintown offices of Green, Haines, Sgambati Co. L.P.A., represents claimants. Boetcher, a partner in the Youngstown offices of Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell Ltd., represents employers.

In this first hearing of the morning, hearing officer Khavari notes he received the doctor's report supporting the woman's claim late the previous week and forwarded it to Rosenthal the afternoon before.

Rosenthal, who has traveled from Cleveland to represent his client, gave it to Teichow just that morning. So Teichow holds two reports issued by the claimant's doctors with conflicting findings.

CompManagement Inc., Dublin, Teichow's employer, assigned her to represent the injured woman's employer. That employer determined a hearing representative, someone who is not a lawyer and restricted in what he can plead, sufficed. An employer can also hire an outside lawyer or send a member of its legal department.

Khavari continues the case because of the disparate findings and because, as he explains, it would be unfair to deny one of the parties time to prepare a rebuttal.

The world of hearing workers' claims might remind the casual observer of proceedings in a municipal or county courtroom. Such an impression is deceptive.

While a bit less formal, the cases the hearing officers conduct have their own rules and logic. One difference is the absence of a court reporter/stenographer who records the testimony.

Slipski, who has practiced law since 1979, sees "some absurdities" in the system such as allowing an employer to deny a claim more than 5 years old – even though the employer's BWC rating won't be affected or its premiums increased.

His experience leads him to believe, "The bigger the employer, the more likely they'll fight a claim because they fight everything."

Harrington Hoppe has "no clients who as a matter of policy oppose everything," Boetcher responds.

The system assigns the hearings to the Industrial Commission office nearest where the worker claiming an injury resides, not office nearest his place of employment, Khavari says. Which is why the woman with the shoulder injury seeking additional benefits had her hearing set in Youngstown although she works in Cleveland.

Employees of both self-insured employers, such as General Motors Co., and those who pay premiums to the BWC plead their claims and appeals before the Industrial Commission hearing officers.

Workers can present their own cases or hire a lawyer to represent them. Companies can send one of their employees, engage a hearing representative or have a lawyer represent them. Many choose a hearing representative.

Teichow says CompManagement is the largest concern in Ohio to represent employers' interests at industrial commission hearings, noting, "I'm here every day, all day many days."

A hearing representative cannot practice law, Khavari says. That means he's "not allowed to ask questions or cross-examine witnesses."

He can rebut testimony offered in behalf of a worker by reading from a medical report, whether the employer's or identifying – and reading aloud – a seeming inconsistency in the claimant's report.

Arguing a point, asking questions of a claimant or interpreting what a doctor writes on a medical report is considered practicing law, Teichow says, although she can and does "express employers' claims."

Both Slipski and Boetcher praise the BWC and Industrial Commission for their responsiveness, cooperation and desire to be fair to both employer and claimant.

"The people who work there [at the BWC] are helpful and cooperative," Boetcher says.

Claimants pursuing fraudulent claims are rare, Slipski says, "less than one-half of 1%," he estimates. "If we're convinced fraud has been committed, we won't represent them."

The employers who engage Harrington Hoppe to deny a claim, Boetcher says, "believe a claim is not legitimate," usually because they think the extent of an injury and resultant incapacity is exaggerated or should have healed.

As with discovery in civil and criminal court cases, the hearing officer and representatives of both claimant and employer have full access to a claim file before a hearing is scheduled, Slipski and Boetcher say.

Boetcher reviews files to see whether they're complete. If not, he sends a letter to the claimant's lawyer to release medical records or whatever else might be missing. Incomplete files "usually can be resolved," he says. "It's happened only a handful of times where it couldn't."

Slipski, too, says employers' lawyers are cooperative. Even in cases where employers have proved intransigent, he says, "I'd rather deal with their lawyers than their third parties or [hearing representatives] whom they hire to save money."

Two cases Khavari heard illustrate why so many claims go to hearings. In one, a female bus driver employed by Mahoning County sought to have the county pay for occupational therapy three times a week for six weeks in hopes the pain in her left wrist would be alleviated.

She had been granted supervised treatment at employer expense after suffering the injury in 2003, but an apparent hairline fracture had never healed, a doctor suggested to her. "The older I get, the worse it hurts," she told Khavari, but could cite no specific incident that aggravated the injury.

Did you report any incident to your employer, Khavari asked.

No, the woman answered, explaining she sees a doctor monthly about the pain that has only gotten worse and could pose a danger to her passengers.

Khavari, who attended medical school three years before entering law school, noted the doctor has been prescribing medication for her pain. He told her he would render a decision in two weeks.

In another case, a painter sought extended benefits because of the pain he still suffers in his right shoulder.

Based on MRI or EMG tests, the BWC contended there was "no evidence to support a further allowance [and saw] no direct causation between [the accident claimed to cause the injury] and no reasoning provided." The BWC doctor could not find a soft-tissue injury, only a dislocated shoulder," the medical report stated.

The painter said the scope of the EMG was limited in how much of his body was examined – only wrist to shoulder – and denied the fall that preceded the spill was the real cause.

If the earlier fall – "It was only a bruise," the painter said – were found to be the cause, the statute of limitations would apply and his benefits could not be extended.

The painter's doctor said the more recent spill is the cause, the BWC contending it isn't.

Khavari said he would render his opinion in two weeks.

Copyright 2009 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.