North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Pundits Ponder Whether Illinois Awards Constitute Fairness or Fraud

January 6, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

Many in the North Carolina workers’ compensation community have spent some serious time looking over the $1.5 million settlement award handed out to prison guards at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois. In case you haven’t been following the news, this massive case has drawn attention throughout the nation not just because of its size but also because it represents (to some pundits) an example of systematic waste.

55 workers – most of them guards – will collect between $22,000 and $120,000 to pay for damages stemming from chronic hand, wrist, and elbow injuries they sustained while locking and unlocking manual crank wheels and keys. Approximately 10% of guards at Menard experienced serious repetitive trauma. The prison’s warden, 35 year-old David Rednour, will collect more than $75,000 not because of injuries he sustained at the correctional center but because of injuries he sustained at an earlier job working for the IL police department.

The $1.5 million settlement – and, in particular, Mr. Rednour’s settlement – has angered many local Illinoisans, including State Senator Kyle McCarter, who responded to the news with this passionate statement: “The abuses and the fraud in the workers’ compensation system in Illinois have gotten out of control and are costing tax payers more than they ever will know… we have to take a strong stand against this while helping out workers who are legitimately hurt on the job. The fraud and abuse has got to go. It’s driving business out of the state.”

Rhetorical opponents of the Senator in Illinois (and here in the North Carolina workers’ compensation community) would likely retort something to the effect of: “Yes, sure: abuse and fraud corrupt the system and generate problems for everyone touched by it. That said, is there a better way to deal with the costly and painful occupational injuries that these workers are stuck with? And if so, what is it?”

Unfortunately, debates over workers’ compensation often devolve into essentially political tantrums. One side says the workers’ comp system is bloated and corrupt. The other side says that benefits are essentially always appropriate.

Instead of this unproductive conversation, it might help to look for ways to shortcut problems. For instance, what if the injured correctional facility workers got better treatment for their repetitive stress problems? A growing body of evidence suggests that repetitive stress injuries are not merely “local” injuries. Rather, they involve chronic distortions of muscle, soft tissue, bones and ligaments. Therefore, they should be treated not necessarily with an array of modalities, such as strength training, trigger point massage, and enhanced body awareness.

The point here is that, rather than see cases like the Menard case devolve into shouting matches, let’s quit the blame game and get on to the business of drafting creative and results-oriented solutions.

To that end, if you or someone you care about has been struggling with a benefits-related issue, get immediate and confidential help from a top level North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm.

More Web Resources:

Menard Correctional Center

Debate over Menard Compensation