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Does workers’ comp cover injured employee’s home security system?

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No question about this: Workers’ Compensation covers medical treatment for employees injured on the job. However, does a home security system qualify as medical treatment?

According to an appeals court in Maryland, the answer is yes.

Carol Simmons, a night auditor, was brutally attacked with a baseball bat during a robbery at a Comfort Suites Hotel.

Left for dead, 67-year-old Simmons was found hours later, lying unconscious in a pool of blood.

She was treated for severe traumatic brain injury and multiple skull fractures during 2.5 months in the hospital.

Maryland’s Workers’ Compensation Commission awarded Simmons temporary total disability benefits.

A neuropsychologist treating Simmons said she continued to fear someone would harm her in her home and that her anxiety was contributing to insomnia.

The doctor strongly recommended a home security system be installed.

The WC Commission granted the request for the security system.

Comfort Suites appealed.

What constitutes medical treatment?

The motel chain argued that a security system didn’t constitute medical treatment.

In an initial appeal, a court sided with Comfort Suites’ argument.

But Simmons appealed that ruling. This time, the court of appeals said a jury could reasonably find that a home security system, in Simmons’ case, did qualify as medical treatment.

The court wrote: “Where there is a recommendation from a medical professional that a device or service be provided because it will provide therapeutic medical relief from the effects of the injury, the determination whether it is compensable medical treatment is a question of fact.”

Now, the case will either go to a jury trial or be settled out of court. It may be difficult for Comfort Suites to argue its case before a jury, because its lawyer stated, “I completely understand and frankly agree with” the need for a home security system for her peace of mind.

What do you think of this case? Let us know in the Comments Box below.

Also, take our poll on current workers’ comp laws here.

Cite: Simmons v. Comfort Suites, Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, 3/31/09. You can download the case here (free Adobe Acrobat Reader required).

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Comments

  1. I agree it should be covered. I would think that the company would want to take care of one of their own as much as reasonably possible when that person was injured so terribly on the job on their property.

  2. Safety Dan says:

    So has anyone’s regular medical insurance ever paid for a home security system? I doubt it. When a tragedy strikes a person away from work it is so reasonable that they just suffer. But somehow when it happens at work- the employer is responsible to the very end. I really think there needs to be some limits especially when the employer is not at fault because of negligence.

  3. Devon Amaro says:

    I understand the desire to keep the WC cost down, but in this situation where an employee was seriously injured, compassion and integrity go a long way. In relation to lawyer fees and the time spent fighting this, how much real cost is there associated with an alarm system? A couple hundred dollars?

    This is more about principle and precedent and I can understand the company position. Yet each WC case must be handled as its own entity to allow for quick and empathetic resolution.

    I also hope that along with the alarm system for Carol’s home, the company improves the security at all their sites to protect the workers more effectively while on the job.

  4. David Leitschuh says:

    Leaving aside the very real humanitarian concerns in this case, it would appear evident to me, that given the admitted psychological injury arising out of the physical injury, and the strong recommendation of the treating physician for the need of a security system to alleviate the resultant insomnia, that this is patently within the statutory parameters as necessary medical treatment. I believe that the employer, adjuster and defense counsel showed very poor judgement in contesting this, and am happy to see the court has affirmed that the security system is indeed covereed.

  5. Sheila Black says:

    I wouldn’t have appealed the order in the first place as I believe it is appropriate. However, from Comfort Suites position, I’d be concerned not about the installation of a system; my focus would be on the possible monthly or annual maintenance/service fees for a monitored home security system. That potential on-going expense would be where my argument would be based – the type of system required to fulfill the order…

  6. I am not sure of the WC laws in Maryland but in my state we only pay for “reasonable and necessary” MEDICAL costs. While we may want to “take care of one of our own” we are bound by the law. There is a difference in “compasion and integrity” and your fiduciary responsibility. I also agree that there is no way your private healthcare insurance would pay for this so why WC? I can also understand if this injured worker were fearful on the job and wanting to be more secure but for the employer to be responsible for her fear at home and insomnia is really stretching. In regard to the legal cost to fight this, it is a matter of NOT setting a precedence of paying for something that is not medical. Just because a doctor states that something would be good for patient does not make it an approved cost.

  7. The employee had severe head trauma. She lucky to be alive, if I was the Risk Manager at Comfort I would make her as confortable as possible. If she wants the security system most of them are free installs, and for 30-40 bucks a month to monitor I’m sure Confort Suites can afford that. I’d like to think keeping her happy is more important then her running out for a lawyer to get Hundred of Thousands dollars more.

  8. Maybe we could buy her a house in a nicer neighborhood- alarm systems can’t protect her when she is coming in a out of her house.

  9. You Gotta Be Kidding Me says:

    What if she had decided she needed to live in a security condominium on the 8th floor or higher for piece of mind, would her move be covered as “medical treatment”? What about closing costs on her new purchase? Realator’s fees on the old home? What is reasonable amount for home security? All of it no matter what the cost, $5000 cap, $15,000 cap, microwave motion detection, external lighting, video surveillance?

    Come on. Medical treatment? Disability related grab rails so someone can get on and off the toilet, yes. A home security system, ridiculous.

    Either way, if she has a temporary disability granted, then she’ll be Medicare eligible shortly. Take it up with them – denied. Why, because it runs on facts not sentiment. Wake up readers, if you hadn’t been told she was brutally beaten and lying in a pool of blood, you’d have all been outraged. Poor her, buy her anything. Her and her attorney knew it would work and are clearly milking what they can. I feel bad for all victims of crime but buying them extra things really doesn’t make it better, it only sets legal precedent for future abuse. My opinion is that her attorney should actually be accused of insurance fraud for trying to claim this as medical treatment.

  10. I agree with the last post. What if she decides she needs a watch dog? Why not body guards to and from work? Someone broke the law here, hold them accountable not the Comfort Inn. Many of you act as though Comfort Inn was negligible.

  11. Come’on people…this is what is wrong with America now…we give and give because we are bleeding hearts! The rest of us middle-class workers are doing just fine without our security systems but yet we are struggling because stuff like this drives the cost up on our insurance and benefits. I feel bad for the worker and most of you are right Comfort Inns SHOULD want to take care of her…but that is a hazard of her job. Where do we draw the line?? If we as America keeps on like th is we will drive our country in the toilet.

  12. Rightly so says:

    I believe that Comfort Inn should pay for it. She did NOT ask for a bigger house just a good night’s sleep and peace of mind. The cost: no more than a few hundred dollars a year. Is she JUST an employee or a valuable employee that Comfort Inn is recognizing the need for security and appreciation for her service as an employee. Not all the time is it about money.

  13. Well my WC doctor thinks that if I had a new Hummer I could get over my anxiety of my auto incident and be able to recuperate better. And while he’s at it, he suggested that I get a hottub to relax my muscles since my anxiety from my auto incident keeps me from driving or riding to PT. Come on, this is getting out of hand. It’s easy to recommend treatments and make suggestions when the doctor does not have to foot the bill. I bet his suggestions would be a little different if he had to pay for part of the treatment.

  14. Both sides clearly have great and valid points. Anxiety itself is a very disabling condition. However, in the end, I’d have to agree that this crosses the line into an area that has not constraints. Will we also allow burgular bars on windows or even the move to a more secure home??? Where will it stop. Take, for example, a worker who injured his back on the job. Now, back at work but still receiving therapy, complains that he suffers pain everytime he rides to work in his 1992 Ford Pick-up (on which the suspension was gone on 10 years ago.) Will WC pay for a vehicle with a smother ride? A line must be drawn somewhere.

  15. Exactly… Why NOT psychiatric treatment instead??? That, I can understand, but a security system is over the top. Of course, we all feel very bad for the woman–but the “treatment” is only masking a symptom of the LARGER ISSUE that will NEVER be cured by an alarm system.

    We’ve got to wake up and stop the insanity….

  16. Isn’t “medical treatment” performed by medical staff? I used to work for a health insurance company, and people would need to replace the carpet in their home because they had allergies, and the doctor told them they should have wood floors…but it’s not medical treatment. It is a reccommendation. But the actual service is not performed by a medical professional.

  17. Does the Comfort Suites get to take the security system out once she gets over the trauma?

  18. After reading Rob B comments, I would agree that psychiatric treatment is the correct way to go. Once the emotion is taken out of the situation, it makes more sense that giving what she requests. For her best interest and lifetime peace of mind, therapy is a much more effective and lasting remedy.

  19. Rightly so says:

    AGAIN, we are talking about on the job injury and not an auto accident caused by YOU looking at your cellphone. If you look at the bigger picture, she felt safe before the blow to the head with a baseball bat. Do you think if she had died that would be better? No. She lives and Comfort Suite she be held accountable for her peace of mind. If it were you or your mother (she was 67 years old) or your child, you would be right there egging them to have Comfort Inn pay for a security system for your home or theirs. LETS BE REAL! This is corporate America footing at most a maximum of $3,000 for 3 years (ADT).

  20. Rightly so says:

    Therapy is going to cost you. She did not ask for that. It could take YEARS before she feels safe again. The minimum contract agreement with most security systems are three years.

  21. I’m sorry Rightly so, but Comfort Suites is NOT accountable for her peace of mind, only her medical treatment, of which a security system is NOT medical treatment.

    Look at it this way — installing a security system and maintaining the monthly costs associated with it will not necessarily make her feel safe, thereby negating the reason behind paying for a security system. What would Comfort Suites have to do then? Put her up at the Comfort Suites in one of their rooms with their 24 hour guard? That won’t even make her feel safe because she was injured at work.

    Comfort Suites should only be liable for her medical treatment associated with this injury.

  22. That’s the point–it’s not about cost, but about what’s right. Treat the illness, not the symptom. That’s truly CARING about your people, not simply making a case go away because it’s cheap or convenient….

    The point still stands that the decision is a frivolous one. Not deciding on what’s right or what’s the right thing for both parties, rather what’ll make the case go away or seem popular.

  23. J. Oliveria says:

    The symptoms of “post concussion syndrome” (PCS) are well recognized and commonly include some combination of the following:

     Headache
     Nausea or vomiting
     Irritability and behavioral changes
     Inappropriate emotional responses
     Dizziness, lack of coordination, loss of balance
     Feelings of “loss of control”, anxiety or paranoia
     Blurred vision, double vision, or sensitivity to light
     Confusion, disorientation, difficulty concentrating or sleeping
     Lack of memory of events immediately before or after the injury

    These and other symptoms may last for months or years after the injury.

    In my experience, the symptoms produced by a brain injury are not relieved by practical solutions such as a “security system”. These same emotions also result from a brain injuries not caused by assault. They also occur after a slip and fall injury to the head, or sports injuries, where the injured person has no rational basis for feelings of fear and anxiety.

    If the security system is installed, the person with a brain injury will know the security system is there, will understand it is intended to provide protection, and even realize that it should reduce feelings of fear and anxiety.

    But, the feelings are likely to continue because they are caused by the brain injury and are not ameniable to rational cognitive thought.

    A person who was assaulted and seriously injured, but did not receive an injury to the brain, might be expected to experience a reduced feelings of fear and anxiety from knowing that a security system was installed, because the emotions are caused by psychological trauma, not a physical injury to the brain. I’d also suggest cognitive therapy for a non-brain injured person.

  24. If you want her to feel safe, a security system will only protect her when it is at the same location as she is and only if it is in use. (Usually not during her waking hours)

    Robs comments about psychiatric treatment make a great deal of sense, others have claimed the security system would be less expensive which it likely would be, but right up there on the list would be self defense training. Good self defense training will usually improve your moral, give you confidence, and give you the opportunity to defend yourself instead of waiting 8 minutes (average) to several hours or longer for help from the police. It would also be far less expensive than ongoing psychiatric treatment that could last her lifetime.

    -A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.
    Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 1785

  25. Rightly so says:

    Have you ever been beaten or assaulted to the point of death? Again, what if it was your loved ones? How much is worth your or their peace of mind and security? No one has responded to that! If everyone was the same, I would agree that self-defense could be a tool used to help her feel secure. However, some women could arise from such an assault and feel as if they need to learn to defend themselves better (especially against a man 200 lbs yielding a BAT)! Some people emerge as if their sense of security will always be threatened.

  26. Rightly so — we don’t need to have been beaten to see the bigger picture. The security system does not guarantee her safety, and as I said earlier, it won’t necessarily make her feel safe. Maybe the woman should get something like mace to empower herself. Comfort Suites, and the worker’s compensation program who is handling her case should only be treating her medical issues. I think going to a psychiatrist is the correct route to take in that the therapy will empower her, and the psychiatrist will be able to spot problems with her mental recovery.

  27. Rightly so – you are missing the point. Everyone has sympathy for this woman. However, a security system is not MEDICAL. Under WC you are to provide MEDICAL treatment. A security system goes way beyond the scope of MEDICAL treatment. When it comes to WC there are always times that you can’t follow your heart but must follow the rules. It’s hard but that is what we were hired to do. To provide WC coverage, reasonable and necessary benefits. This falls outside that realm. Now if she needed to feel more secure at work, then it would be up to Comfort Inn to provide more security (which they have probably already done). It’s not a matter of being uncaring, wanting to close out a claim, wanting to keep down costs, etc. it’s a matter of coverage and the security system does not fall into that catagory.

  28. If it was my family member who was hurt, I would pay for the system myself if they really believed it would make them feel better. I understand where you’re coming from, but the point of the article is should her employer pay for the system under their WC coverage since it is not medical treatment.

    It’s been stated before, but going this route sets the company up to get a new system for every place she moves (if she does) and sets the precedent for possible future “dr recommendations” to be covered that aren’t as justified. While she may not be trying to abuse the system, others who come behind may and the company has to protect its bottom line.

    Also, it’s quite possible that the alarm won’t help her at all and she may need to live with a relative (or a assisted living facility), would the company then be responsible for her moving expenses?

  29. Don Grant, CPP says:

    You have to consider that a “home security system” is not just for burglars.
    You can incorporate into an alarm system fire and carbon monoxide warning as well as a medic alert to summon help if you fall, become trapped or experience a medical emergency.
    Someone with a severe injury such as this has a heightened need for this technology.

  30. Sad State says:

    This article has sure shown the difference of opinion and the difference in our country. This was a very unfortunate thing to have happened to this woman let alone any living creature, that being said it is time to start making decisions with our heads not our hearts. As has been pointed out Medical treatment is appropriate and in the long run probably much more expensive than a security system. The security system will do nothing to “help someone sleep” as they would then worry about whether it is on or working properly. If your being honest with yourself and the others on this topic you know this to be true.

    It is time to stop penalizing companies for everything in our lives and that is what this is coming down to, Comfort Suites has provided reasonable treatment, the article does not state that they have disputed any of the medical claims, but it is absurd to think that they should be responsible for a security system that in reality will do nothing to help.

    Unfortunatly I fear this is becoming a much greater problem and recent events have shown that it is only going to get worse.

    Welcome to the U.S.S.A., whether you want to believe it or not it is happening even now as I type this.

  31. I had a love one brutally attacked and robbed. She did not suffer as severe of injuries but the trauma still occured. It tooks years before this individual felt safe again…but it wasn’t because of a security system it was because the perp was never caught…she always felt like he was watching her. As a female I do tend to think with my heart BEFORE my head BUT this is cut and dry to me. What happened was tragic and I can relate to what she must be feeling but it is NOT Comfort Suites responsibility to correct the issue…only therapy and time will help that. As most have stated this set precedences to allow the bottom feeders that are just looking for a pay day to abuse the WC system. Aren’t you tired of paying more than your fair share because of those who take advantage of the system? I AM. This is not directed toward the victim…it is a statement directed to all of those takers to come

  32. Most security sysems can be fairly easily compromised with very little research by the attacker. From my experience most alarm systems by design cannot have police onsite for at least forty five minutes from activation…would that really make you feel safe?

    As I stated above, Robs comments about psychiatric treatment make a great deal of sense, others have claimed the security system would be less expensive which it likely would be, but right up there on the list would be self defense training. Good self defense training will usually improve your moral, give you confidence, and give you the opportunity to defend yourself instead of waiting 8 minutes (average) to several hours or longer for help from the police.(if you dial the police yourself longer if your waiting for a alarm company to do so in your behalf) It would also be far less expensive than ongoing psychiatric treatment that could last her lifetime.

    Personally I use a .40 cal handgun, I know I will always be there to defend myself long before the police. – I carry a gun because a cop is too heavy.

  33. Is a motorized scooter a MEDICAL device? How about a motorized adjustible bed? Once could always adjust cushions instead. Or hand controls in a vehicle? We have no difficulty justifying appliances that aid the physically handicapped to live a more normal life, but many view psychiatric conditions as being a little bogus to begin with. There are no limbs missing and the people just act weird. I worked many years with veterans and know that mental illness caused by trauma is real, and there are clear guidelines for diagnosis. If the doctors treating a patient believe that an alarm system has therapeutic value, then they should be believed.

  34. I think the arguments on both sides are forthright…HOWEVER, who said that installing a security system will give her the peace of mind to sleep at night?!?
    I tell you right now, it would matter where I was at, or what “security” I had, a trauma like that would make any person loose sleep! And probably so for years to come. So where is that line drawn?

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