Workers’ comp experts agree: One of the worst moves you can make with injured employees is to let them think you’re an adversary. After all, there are plenty of lawyers looking to befriend them.
Hell had no fury like this scorned worker, whose work-related injury was apparently minor — the injury itself ended up costing the company only $208.70.
But by the time the fight was over, the company was out $21,000. And you won’t believe where the last $6,000 came from.
In Richard v. Coastal Culvert & Supply, the trouble began when the employee hurt his left knee on the job.
After 13 months of haggling over the matter, employer and employee finally settled it. The company agreed to pay the previously mentioned $208.70 plus attorney fees of $8,500, and a penalty of $6,000! The total: $14,708.70.
So the company sent the employee’s lawyer two checks — one for the 6 grand, and one for $8,707.80. Oops. That second one was supposed to be for $8708.70, but someone transposed two numbers.
Here’s where things get really nasty.
When the 90-cent underpayment came to light, the company sent another check for the difference.
But by then, four months had elapsed, creating a potential legal problem for the company and a bonanza for the employee, who wasn’t about to let the matter go.
State law says if any award in such a case isn’t paid within 30 days of its due date, there’s a penalty: either 24% of the unpaid amount (22 cents in this case) or $100 a day (!) but no more than $3,000, whichever is greater.
When the employee (and his lawyer) pressed for the penalty, the state’s comp court wouldn’t go for it. But the employee persisted and found a sympathetic ear at the appellate level.
We recognize that an underpayment of 90 cents seems insubstantial, the court wrote, but the law is the law, and it makes no distinction between small infractions and large ones.
The only thing that could have saved the company, the court said, would have been a determination that the mistake resulted from a condition beyond its control. A clerical error didn’t qualify.
Its ruling: The company had to shell out the full $3,000 penalty plus another $3,000 in lawyer fees!