The Colorado legislature wrapped up its 2014 session in May. During the session, a number of changes were proposed and made to Colorado workers’ compensation laws. A newsletter put out by the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation summarizes the relevant amendments, changes, and additions. Unfortunately, the newsletter only lists the changes; it doesn’t explain them. The following are a few notable changes.
Choice of Doctor
House Bill 14-1383 was signed into law. It increases the number of medical providers that an employer must provide the injured worker from 2 to 4. Employers have historically had the ability to choose the physician that the injured worker saw. This law is regularly criticized because it grants the employer a lot of power. It has been shown that doctors selected by the employer, rather than the worker, rate impairment lower and generally minimize the number of treatments given. This bill, while not a complete fix, now gives injured workers more options and presumably a greater likelihood that they will receive complete treatment.
Absent a referendum petition overturning it, this law will become effective on April 1, 2015.
Compensation for IMEs
Senate Bill 14-391 provides for mandatory compensation of workers who are required by employers or insurance companies to submit to an IME (Independent Medical Examination). These examinations are supposed to be “independent” and “objective” since they are performed by a physician that does not normally care for the injured worker. In reality, they favor the insurance company and employer, as many of these “independent” physicians have an ongoing relationship with the insurance companies and tend to issue opinions more favorable to the employer/insurance company than the injured worker.
The Senate Bill provides injured workers mandatory compensation for wage loss in the amount of $75 per day; this is far less than many individuals earn, but more than nothing. Moreover, this is the worst case scenario. Some employers have policies of paying their employees their full wage if they must miss work for an IME.
Affirmation of Procedural Matters
The remainder of the Senate Bill that provides compensation for time spent at IMEs largely clarifies and affirms certain procedures already in effect or adds non-controversial provisions. For example, it specifically allows settlement documents to be sent by electronic mail, something that is already being done, but the law just affirms that it is permissible. Similarly, the Bill also provides for an increase or decrease in lump sum payment caps each year based on the average weekly wage in the state.
More notably, it affirms that administrative law judges (ALJs) deciding workers’ compensation cases can consider ALL relevant evidence and can depart from the Colorado medical treatment guidelines when deciding whether a specific treatment or course thereof is reasonable.
Injured Workers Have a Burden
In Colorado workers’ compensation claims, the burden of proof is on the injured worker. This means that the worker is responsible for presenting sufficient evidence to show that they received a compensable on the job injury. Failure to do so could result in no benefits being awarded. Workers’ compensation law can be complicated and for this reason, the Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group recommends that injured workers retain an attorney.