California Workers’ Comp Appeals Board to Reconsider En Banc Decisions

By | April 10, 2009

The California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board has decided to reconsider its earlier en banc decisions in Ogilvie v. City and County of San Francisco, Almaraz v. Environmental Recovery Services and Guzman v. Milpitas Unified School District, which industry experts say would increase workers’ compensation rates.

The decisions essentially set precedent be ruling that in permanent disability (PD) workers’ compensation insurance cases physicians are not necessarily bound by the American Medical Association’s “Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment” portion of the 2005 Schedule for Rating Permanent Disabilities — the implications of which could affect future PD impairment ratings.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commented on the board’s reconsideration, issuing the statement, “It’s absolutely right for the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board to reconsider its earlier decision, and its decision to do so shows that board members recognize the importance of this issue. It is important that we assist California workers injured on the job, and it is also important that we protect businesses to be sure they can weather the current economy and create jobs. We must ensure that California’s workers’ compensation system continues to drive down costs for employers and make medical attention more efficient for employees.”

In its most recent rate filing, the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau of California recommended a 24.4 percent increase in pure premium rates that would be effective July 1, 2009, for new and renewal policies, of which 5.8 percent was attributed to the en banc decisions.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner had criticized the recommendation for the rate increase, saying, “California’s unemployment rate is skyrocketing and more than 1 in 10 are jobless. In January alone, nearly 80,000 jobs in the state were lost,” Poizner said in a statement. “The last thing that California’s employers need is increasing workers’ compensation costs when so many of them are struggling to keep the employees they have.”

In late March, John C. Duncan, administrator of the Uninsured Employers Benefits Trust Fund and the Subsequent Injuries Benefits Trust Fund, requested Chairman Miller and the Commissioners to vacate their decisions in recent en banc decisions.

The Governor also sent a letter to Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner urging him to reject a proposed workers’ compensation rate increase.

Parties interested in filing amicus briefs to the cases as the WCAB reconsiders its decisions must be filed by 5 p.m. on May 1.

Sources: DOI, Office of the Governor, WCAB, WCIRB

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