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February 5, 2015

Police Shooting Shows Gaps in Work Comp

Summary:

Unfortunately, we in the workers' comp industry operate by the book and spend too little time thinking about others' perceptions.

Photo Courtesy of Bill Dickinson

Timely response and clear communication are critical for handling workers’ compensation claims. However, when it comes to gathering information, “timing” might be just as important as “timely.” A story out of Ft. Worth, TX highlights that the process needs to be a well-choreographed dance, or significant problems can arise.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price publicly admonished CorVel Enterprise Comp for asking “inflammatory questions” of a police officer the morning after he was shot and seriously wounded in the line of duty.

The officer, a 19-year veteran of the Fort Worth Police Department, was shot in the abdomen while he and another officer responded to a mother’s 911 call asking for help with her son. The son, who was barricaded in a bedroom, opened the door and shot the officer. Both officers returned fire, killing him. The officer underwent surgery at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital.

Mayor Price, in a letter to CorVel, said the company’s workers’ compensation representative showed up at the hospital the morning after the shooting and proceeded to ask questions of the family, officers and hospital staff. The letter calls the questions “inflammatory” and criticizes the timing “as one of our police officers rests in a hospital bed recovering from gunshot wounds received last night.” The mayor is requesting CorVel CEO Gordon Clemons and his staff meet with her to “determine the facts and get to the bottom of this matter.” The company did not respond for the initial newspaper article and, as of this writing, still does not appear to have responded publicly.

I must state unequivocally that we do not know what questions were asked, or in what tone they were delivered. Clearly, however, people were upset by what they perceived to be an entirely inappropriate line of questioning, and people’s perceptions will be their reality. The questions might have been of a simple, by-the-book initial claims investigation nature. Given the emotionally charged atmosphere, however, I would suggest the timing was likely poor. Perhaps the best question that could be asked in that highly volatile 24-hour period should have been, “How can we help?” [Editor’s Note: It now appears that this question was, in fact, the point of the visit, but communication was poor. Here is a link to a followup column by the author. ]

This highlights such a critical issue for our industry. If there are two things workers’ comp is routinely criticized for, it is lack of timeliness and of communication. After all, we are the industry that invented the concept of “hurry up and wait.”

Under normal circumstances, having a workers’ comp representative present and involved within 24 hours would be a great thing – assuming, of course, that the representative did not make it a confrontational affair. Yet, somehow, an employee in this case has produced the opposite effect, angering an injured worker’s family, his associates and employer – the client responsible for paying the bills.

Perceptions can have lasting and damaging effects. Unfortunately for the workers’ compensation industry, perception is not something we spend a great deal of time worrying about.

We are a statutorily driven industry, going through the regulated processes day after day after day. It is sometimes easy to forget that there is a human being attached on the other side of that claim, and that our actions are continually creating perceptions about us and our trade. That lack of awareness on our part can lead to costly errors, and that may be exactly what has occurred in this case.

We do not have the full details; this is a one-sided story to date. What we do know is that something riled the mayor enough to write that letter and take the entire matter public.

In one way, her actions accent a positive point of the story, as they show an employer actively engaged in the welfare of an employee, as well as the management of his recovery. It is something we need to see far more of across the nation.

As for the CorVel employee involved, we do not know if the person was a competent employee just trying to perform the processes required of the job — or is living proof that a company is only as good as the biggest idiot on its payroll. It really doesn’t matter, as the perceptions of the one side are the only ones that are of concern at a public level.

Those perceptions tell us that proper timing may be more important than proper timeliness, and that showing compassion is essential. Sometimes, we can show compassion just through proper timing.

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About the Author

Bob Wilson is a founding partner, president and CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, based in Sarasota, Fla. He has presented at seminars and conferences on a variety of topics, related to both technology within the workers’ compensation industry and bettering the workers’ comp system through improved employee/employer relations and claims management techniques.

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