I see hold music in your future

I recently posted my summary of the most interesting changes to the workers’ compensation board rules of practice and procedure.

Shortly after the DWC published these proposed changes, they issued Newsline 2021-87 declaring the Board would be returning to in person hearings as of 10/1/2021. The conflict between the proposed rule changes and this newline is interesting and left many scratching their heads.

What struck me is these are not emergency changes, temporary changes, and have no apparent sunset or expiration dates. This appears to signal the Board is finally ready to make telephonic appearances and video trials a permanent fixture of the worker’s compensation system. Not only do these proposed regulations require the parties to actually discuss issues before the hearing (§ 10759), but any party may request the hearing be conducted electronically (§ 10816), and now there is a formal procedure for filing the pre-trial conference statement (§ 10759) in the event of an electronic hearing.

One need only to review the Board’s “Initial Statement of Reasons” to see what these proposed changes portend:

“In March 2020, the WCAB transitioned to virtual operations at the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which included the adoption of electronic signatures, service, and filing of documents by the Appeals Board as well as the Division of Workers’ Compensation’s transition to remote hearings conducted via telephone and video. To facilitate these changes, the Appeals Board suspended certain Rules. Remote proceedings and the availability of electronic communication, filing, and service have increased access to the workers’ compensation system for parties, their representatives, and the public. Based on the success of some of these innovations, the Appeals Board has determined that making these changes permanent would be beneficial to the public and to the administration of the workers’ compensation adjudicatory system.” (emphasis added)

Prior to the pandemic I had been using the CourtCall system for far flung hearings. Although that system worked reasonably well, it was slightly more complicated than strictly necessary. The telephonic conference call system which has evolved over the last 18 months, while occasionally inadvertently entertaining, has been far more efficient all around.

Since the pandemic started, I have found it far easier to reach opposing counsel, discuss issues, reach resolutions, and narrow the issues when resolution isn’t possible. All this plus no traffic, inclement weather, or searching for a parking spot. I certainly welcome these changes to help provide speedier and more efficient results.

Tune in next time to see what questions still remain after reviewing the proposed regulations.

Photo courtesy of “Marco Verch

The Great Seal of California
The Great Seal of California

As you are probably aware there have been a number of changes to workers’ compensation benefit rates lately.  The Administrative Director issued the latest temporary disability maximum and minimum rates based upon the most recent increases in the state average weekly wage.  These rate changes effect temporary total disability, temporary partial disability, death benefits, and permanent total disability benefits.

More interestingly, the legislature brought several reform changes with SB 863 to California workers’ compensation benefits late on Friday August 31, 2012.  If you check out the updated Labor Code Section 4453, you’ll notice there is a new maximum permanent partial disability rate for the highest levels of permanent disability for dates of injury after 1/1/2013.  And, reviewing Labor Code Section 4658, you’ll see the 15% adjustments have been removed for dates of injury after 1/1/2013.

All of the website’s calculators have been updated to reflect these latest changes!  Enjoy!

Where did this SAWW come from anyhow?
Where did this SAWW come from anyhow?

Even with the recent Baker v. WCAB decision settling when the increase in state average weekly wage (SAWW) is applied, litigation continues over the precise future SAWW percentage to use in a commutation of life pension benefits. The DEU is currently using an assumed annual SAWW increase of 4.6% “based on a 50 year average.” 1

Before we consider how the DEU calculates future SAWW increases, it is necessary to look back to past SAWW changes.  In the last 50 years there have been only two instances where the SAWW has decreased from the prior year.  Since Labor Code Sections 4659(c) and 4453(a)(10) only apply increases in the SAWW to life pensions and permanent total disability benefits, there is no effect on the benefit rates for those two years.

When the DEU indicates a historical 50-year average of SAWW increases, they mean exactly that.  Thus, instead of averaging the decreases in the SAWW with the increases, the DEU averages only the increases of the historical SAWW data.  (I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up – 2004 and 2011 are the only instances in the last 50 years of any reduction in the state average weekly wage).  An average of just the SAWW increases over the last 50 years does come to 4.6%.

If you’re interested in verifying this information for yourself, I’ve prepared a list of the data used by the DEU in computing the 50-year average of SAWW increases.

  1. Andrea Marutti via Compfight []

Work never sleeps
Work never sleeps

It’s not easy being busy and important.  I get that. 1

And that’s why I’m just trying to make your life just a little bit easier with our new permanent and stationary report rating service.

Need a rating fast?  Need “old schedule” and “new schedule” ratings?

No problem.  Just fill out the handy referral form and fax or e-mail us your permanent and stationary reports and one of our Certified Impairment Rating Specialist will quickly e-mail you the rating you need to move your case forward. 23

 

 

  1. Or, rather, I would get it if I were important too. []
  2. A PDRater certified rating is a rating prepared by a Certified Impairment Rating Specialist using PDRater calculators, the most trusted and impartial workers compensation calculators in California. []
  3. Alex Lin via Compfight []

This post has been rated "R" for some rating and mild humor
This post has been rated "R" for some rating and mild humor

We’ve all seen ratings from various sources – the DEU, opposing counsel, clients, and professional raters. 1  My question to all of you dear readers is – what do you like to see in a professional permanent disability rating?

 

  1. Photo Credit: Shira Golding via Compfight []