The office shooting of a Nevada Workers’ Compensation Advocate in Las Vegas last Monday is a reminder that danger lurks in our industry. Workers' Compensation Advocate Mike Kogler was shot in the chest by 73 year old Leonard Sullivan, who was arrested at the scene and charged with attempted murder. Kogler was seriously wounded but is expected to survive. He was apparently a former adjuster for MGM Mirage who handled Sullivan’s claim more than 10 years ago, in 2003, when Sullivan had claimed he tripped over a luggage cart. The shooting occurred at the Nevada Department of Administrative Hearings Division building, which houses the office of the Nevada Attorney for Injured Workers. That is a state agency that represents injured workers without charge during the appeals process.
The workers’ compensation industry is nothing if not a difficult balancing act. Comprised primarily of two sides with at times diametrically opposed interests, it is wholly dependent on reasonable people honoring their base responsibilities in the process. While there are many good and decent people in the industry, we must be honest and acknowledge the existence of bad players who short change those in their care. And there are times when, even though we stayed strictly to statute and did all that was required of us, in the end it is simply not enough to restore a life left damaged.
Most injured workers are also good and decent people, who simply want to get better and back to work. The statistics indicate they do, as the vast majority of the more than 13,000 new claims every day get treatment, get benefits, and then return to the job. Still, there are some workers who do not receive what should be coming to them. Some are rightfully denied, and disagree with the outcome. There are some that get what is prescribed for them, but believe they are entitled to more.
And some of them are just bat ass crazy.
Add to that mix pain, anger, depression, rampant paranoia; and stir in a healthy dose of largely inappropriate medications, and you have a true recipe for disaster.
I learned this many years ago, when we discovered that many people have the tendency to mistake our company as the all knowing, all powerful entity responsible for workers’ comp and, subsequently, all the misery that has befallen their lives. This largely stems from a tremendous public ignorance about how workers’ comp works, and what our processes are. I’ve written about the medical bills and subpoenas we receive. I’ve mentioned the pleas for help, as well as the complaints and threats because “we” were screwing with their claim. We even, many years ago, had a worker appear at our office one day upset that his prescriptions were not being refilled, and wanted to know why we weren’t providing him his meds.
For the record, in case you are confused and unaware, we are not a government agency. We are not an insurance company. We don’t manage claims. I don’t know where your check is.
This is why our offices today are off the beaten path, unmarked, and in a location one would not generally expect to see. That is the way we like it. Safe and anonymous. Or anonymous and safe. Whichever.
The point is, workers' compensation is an industry based in injury and pain. No one calls us until something has gone wrong, and someone is hurt. This is not normally a position that creates a strong foundational relationship between all parties. How we approach and handle these cases may make all the difference between a successful case resolution and being shot 11 years after the fact. (Please note I am in no way implying Mr. Kogler did anything wrong; we have no way of knowing what the particulars of the case were. It is, in fact, far more likely that in this case he is the victim of someone in the “bat ass crazy” category.)
Several of us who write for the industry have started the call for a cultural change in workers' compensation. Evolving social mores and expectations mean that we must adjust our methods and mentality to stop the needless loss of productivity and purpose we are witnessing today. Most of us in the industry toil to meet current standards of statute and process; it is just those standards are no longer adequate given today's societal shifts. We have to find a path that leads to better recovery, and avoids the road of disability and despair. It will not be an easy path to forge, as attitudes on all sides will need to shift exponentially.
Until that day arrives, we must all be continually aware that the adversarial nature of our industry means that there are likely more Leonard Sullivan's out there. Whether we've earned them or not, we have enemies in the great beyond. We in the industry need to take care to make sure our workplaces are secure, and that safety protocols are in place. Dealing with people who are injured and scared can be difficult, but we should be ever cognizant that what we say and how we say it might make the difference between relaying necessary information and creating a sworn enemy.
When you look at what happened in Nevada, it is a reminder that “There, but for the grace of God, go I”.