Should a company’s workers’ comp insurer continue to pay an injured worker who skips medical appointments, doesn’t communicate with doctors and leaves vulgar voice mails for a case worker?
Chad Hofferber was injured at work and suffered foot, left-side, abdominal, urological, and “severe and profound emotional” injuries.
Hofferber underwent surgery, but he continued to have severe pain.
He started missing medical appointments and told his former employer’s insurance company, EMC, that the reason was an ongoing infection.
EMC requested a signed medical release so it could substantiate his reasons for not keeping the appointments. In the course of trying to settle this issue, Hofferber left vulgar voice mail messages for various EMC employees, including a case worker.
Eventually, the insurance company obtained a court order telling Hofferber to keep his medical appointments and to refrain from any abusive communication with EMC employees.
Hofferber’s case manager e-mailed him offering to assist in coordinating his care. Hofferber sent two replies, the first saying, “stop e-mailing me,” the second one vulgar.
EMC went back to court, seeking to end workers’ comp payments to Hofferber because he violated the court’s order. The court agreed, and his payments were terminated.
A year passed, and another court appointed a guardian and conservator for Hofferber, finding he lacked “sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions concerning himself, including those decisions concerning his own health, safety and financial needs.”
The guardian went back to court to try to get Hofferber’s workers’ comp coverage reinstated. EMC pointed to the previous court order, saying that was a final decision.
This case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Nebraska.
The state’s highest court found that the Workers’ Compensation Court has the authority to punish someone for disobeying its orders. However, that punishment is limited to fines or imprisonment, and doesn’t include dismissal of workers’ comp benefits.
Result: The state supreme court sent the case back to a lower court for it to hold hearings to reinstate Hofferber’s workers’ comp coverage.
In a nutshell, in Nebraska, the Workers’ Compensation Court can’t terminate an injured worker’s coverage because the worker has been uncooperative. An insurance company would have to go to state district court instead to end workers’ comp benefits because the injured person wasn’t cooperating.
(Hofferber v. Hastings Utilities and EMC Insurance, Supreme Court of NE, No. S-10-894, 8/9/2011)
Do you think it should be easier for an insurance company to end workers’ comp payments when an injured worker is uncooperative? Let us know what you think about that, and this case in general, in the comments below.