January 2019 Legal Report
By: Milan Rada, Esq. with John Hewson, Esq.
Being able to see clients on a regular basis both in the office and at meetings, gives us quite the opportunity to interact with the men and women of the Department to find out what their concerns are and what gossip or rumors they are hearing in the precincts. For us, obviously our concerns are always regarding injuries on the job and how they are being handled. With the start of a new year, we always find it appropriate to go over many of the things we have heard recently that need to be addressed as well as those points that need to be stressed over and over so that valuable and important benefits are not lost or put in jeopardy.
Having been at the vast majority of the holiday parties, one of the biggest things that struck us were the number of members that had gotten injured yet really had done very little towards protecting themselves and their families completely. For starters, just because you are injured in the line of duty and report that injury to your supervisor does not mean that everything has been done to protect you in the future. This is especially true for injuries that the member does not think will cause him/her to miss much time from work or will need very much medical care in the future. Here is the reality: if a full injury packet is not completed and all the Workers’ Compensation forms are not completed thereafter, a member is always at risk of having that injury become a headache years later. This is exactly the reason why we almost always advise against doing non-recordables. Recently, a member slipped off a curb at a domestic and felt a twinge in his knee. He called my cell phone to ask what needed to be done because his supervisor had suggested just doing a non-recordable. We advised against it especially considering that the member had a prior knee injury, and the act of slipping off a curb is a new bonafide line of duty injury. We also suggested that he get his own treating orthopedist to look at him in the following few days because the emergency room was likely to simply do an x-ray and release him. Over the next few days, the “twinge” became more painful and after having an MRI performed, this member was diagnosed with a meniscal tear of the knee. To some extent we are like those commercials for Farmers’ Insurance – “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two!” By filing a complete packet early on, this member had no difficulty getting the treatment and diagnostics authorized quickly and efficiently. Plus, there is absolutely no way of knowing if all of this would have been handled as quickly and smoothly if weeks later the member asked to convert his non-recordable into a full packet or if the powers that be would have started to give the member a hard time. It is simply easier to do a complete packet right away.
The other thing to keep in mind when injured in the line of duty is that beyond reporting the injury to your supervisors and making sure they know about the event, you should also reach out to your PBA delegate and/or trustee to let them know what happened. Countless times we have been asked to get involved in members’ problematic situations only to find out, when we reach out to the trustee or delegate, they know nothing about the injury or the case. This can be especially problematic in cases regarding the line of duty injuries or recurrences where the Police Surgeons or MAO might be disagreeing with the member or the member’s doctor. Obviously, our feeling is that the sooner we can address any issues, then the more likely we are to get a favorable result for the member. Therefore, whenever a member gets injured, there is no reason for that member not to inform their delegate, their trustee, and then get in touch with our office so we can make sure that the Workers’ Compensation paperwork is properly completed.
Perhaps the most distressing thing that we heard recently was regarding a rumor about our firm itself and how we handle our disability claims. We were told that there was a rumor being floated around that on disability claims, we are happy to see members get denied by the Retirement System the first time around so that the member will be forced to go forward with an appeal and thus incur a far greater fee at the appeal/hearing level. When we first heard this, we were shocked, to say the least. To hear that this idea has been bandied about by our competitors is not necessarily surprising to us, but the substance of it still is surprising and warrants being addressed as soon and as often as possible. To be bluntly honest, no one wants to see a Retirement System case end up at the hearing level. The overwhelming majority of cases that are approved for either 3/4 Accidental Disability Retirement pensions or for 50% Performance of Duty pensions will be approved at the application level and NOT AT HEARINGS. Any idea that most cases will win at the hearing level or win the “second time” around is just simply nonsense and the statistics do not bear that out. We have been doing these cases for three-plus decades and know how they work. Any representative or attorney who thinks that these cases have a better chance at the hearing level than on the application level simply does not handle many of these cases and is fully inexperienced in this area of the law. The stats show that we had a very successful 2018 in terms of members being approved for disability pensions, but nearly all were approved on the application level.
This ultimately brings us to the most important point of all…the development of any disability claim from Workers’ Compensation to 3/4 Accidental Disability Retirement begins and ends with the proper development of the claim. Every claim begins with an on-the-job event – and from that event, the entire claim can be either successful or problematic. Therefore, whenever a member is involved in a work-related injury, they have no reason not to contact their delegate or trustee and then our office for help. You have SEVEN DAYS to write your accident statement. Therefore, take the time and care to do it accurately and completely because what is written initially cannot be fixed most of the time. We prefer to get involved right from the start so many hurdles can be kept as molehills instead of watching them grow into mountains. And as always, we remind you that every consultation is free, so sitting down with us or contacting us over the phone as soon as you can is in each member’s best interest.
If you ever have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the firm at 516- 941- 4403 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We welcome the opportunity to answer any questions that members may have or address any rumors that might be floating around out there. With every consultation in disability matters being free of charge, there is no reason for members not to see us as often as they would like. Likewise, we are available to assist your friends and family in all work and non-work related matters, also without a consultation fee. And as we start 2019 – please stay safe out there! The entire firm wishes all of you, your family and friends a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.