Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has quickly shifted from a story we were following in the headlines to a very legitimate threat to employers, employees, and their families, but our system is temporarily hamstrung in adjudicating this threat.
Weathering Bad Storms
Having served communities in Central New York and Northern Pennsylvania for the better part of four decades, the Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury lawyers at Stanley Law have weathered many storms. We have witnessed firsthand that in the darkest of days, our society shines the brightest and our firm has full confidence that this crisis will be no exception.
These challenging times are unique, however, because never before has the conveyor belt of the judicial system ground to an almost complete halt. Except for the most essential business and exigent circumstances, courts have gone in the dark. This may be frustrating to many of you who have had trials on the calendar that have been postponed. With many businesses temporarily closing their doors or scaling back operations because of the public health scare, it is with little surprise we have seen a down-tick in workplace injuries. This comes as little solace to a sizable number of people who have suffered a work-related injury or an occupational disease and have been waiting to have their claims and grievances aired out.
Your financial worries and anxiety of injured workers is very real during ordinary times, but this stress can be compounded during the pandemic, especially if another household member has suffered a financial impact as a result of COVID-19. To this group of clients, we feel your pain. Rest assured, we are working very hard behind the scenes to advance your case along to a favorable adjudication.
It’s important to know that most of our work at Stanley Law is done outside of the courtroom. The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board has pledged on its website that staff has not gone at a hiatus and that the ordinary scope of business will continue, albeit through phone calls, emails, and video conferencing. Let’s review.
In order to comply with calls for social distancing, the Board will conduct online hearings. There are a small number of exceptions to remote attendance, such as discrimination cases under WCL § 120.
Relaxed 90-day Requirement for Medical Evidence
When a disability has not been classified as permanent, the claimant’s attending physician is required to submit updated medical evidence to support the claim the disability is continuing. Without this ongoing documentation of a disability, a carrier may seek to suspend the claimant’s benefits. Recognizing the claimant may be unable to see his or her physician because of the public health crisis, the Board has stated it will consider the cogent argument that a required medical report was unable to be obtained due to the coronavirus.
Failure to Attend an Independent Medical Examination (IME)
In a balancing act between workers and employers, New York Workers’ Compensation Law says that a claimant must engage in an IME and case law has held that when a recalcitrant worker frustrates the employer’s right to an IME by refusing to appear, a suspension of benefits may be warranted. However, the law anticipates certain exceptional circumstances when the claimant cannot submit to an examination for reasons other than his or her refusal. The CODIV-19 pandemic would certainly qualify, but a hardship must be communicated. If you are unable to appear at a scheduled IME due to the coronavirus outbreak, you should contact our offices. Attorney guidance is especially important in situations when the IME has been directed by the Board, such as permanency exams and in controverted claims.
While prescribed timelines are ordinarily unforgiving, the Board has signaled a willingness to give some latitude in terms of strict filing and service deadlines. You should put an asterisk on service requirements – service on a party by e-mail or other electronic means is permissible only with the explicit permission of that party. The Board has also issued some important clarification on penalties for failing to maintain proper coverage and/or providing requested records and payer compliance, but we do not want to get lost in the weeds. Suffice it to say this is tough stuff best approached with the guidance of an attorney.
Our takeaways, predictions and parting thoughts
One of our signature slogans has been “no one knows what is just around the corner, but you need to know what is next.” This tagline has new meaning in these challenging times and has been severely put to the test, even for seasoned attorneys. We cannot sugarcoat the fact that certain processes will be delayed for the foreseeable future. Once we all return to a state of normalcy, overworked administrators and a besieged judiciary will be in catch up mode. We don’t expect this backpedaling to be overly prolonged because ironically, as we noted earlier, new claims simply will free fall as much of society shuts down and there is less opportunity for workplace-related injury.
Here and now
Focusing on the here and now, our team is not resting on our laurels and rest assured, we are doing everything we can to ensure your case is progressing – please reach out to your attorney or paralegal with any questions germane to your case. Please be safe, everyone, and remember that this, too, shall pass. While these are uncertain times, what remains a constant is the informed guidance of The Team at Stanley Law.
Contact Us with any questions or concerns at 1-800-608-3333. While we work from home, all calls are being forward and answered as they come in. If you’re a current client and have a question about your case, email your paralegal and/or your attorney or phone the office at 1-800-608-3333. Be Well, Joe