Editor’s Note: A Hot Seat Webinar on this topic, Spotting The Abusive Elephant in the Room: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Workers’ Comp Cases, will be on Thursday, October 28, 2021, at 1 PM eastern. Registration is free and may be accessed here.

The tragic case of Gabby Petito that gripped the nation last month brought an intense focus to the topic of domestic violence and abuse. Most notably in that saga was the well-documented incident in Moab, UT, where police were called to the scene of an alleged disturbance between Ms. Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. Armchair quarterbacks from across the nation have roundly criticized the police for that interaction, saying that there were clear signs of domestic abuse in that case, and if police had intervened, Gabby might still be alive. 

I have not been as critical of the police. It is much easier to judge after the fact than in the heat of the moment, and there is no way to say what, if any, different actions would have ultimately changed the outcome of this heartbreaking tale. But it has raised the question, what if Ms. Petito was a workers’ compensation claimant in your care? Would an abusive domestic situation affect the outcomes you would be seeing? Would you be able to recognize the signs of abuse? And as importantly, what could you do about it if you did? Could you be as roundly criticized as the Moab police if you failed to act?

A discussion with my Hot Seat Webinar Co-Host, Judge David Langham brought up several scenarios where awareness and response to domestic abuse situations would be beneficial in our industry. A spouse who is beaten or abused may have a host of psycho-social issues that will affect their ability to heal. A boyfriend more interested in “cashing out” on his girlfriend’s injury claim could also have a strong negative impact on outcomes.  

We also recognized that, for all the opining and analysis that goes on within the world of workers’ compensation, this topic has been rarely, if ever, discussed. Personally, over 22 years in the industry, I do not ever recall the topic being covered at a conference or seminar. Nor have I read about it in any blog that serves the industry.

Domestic abuse might just be the elephant in the room that no one in workers’ comp ever talks about. That is especially true when you look at the national numbers.

  • Every year, more than 10 million men and women in the U.S. are subjected to Domestic Violence.
  • More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the U.S. will experience rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. 
  • Nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this adds up to more than 10 million women and men. 
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime. 
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes.  
  • Women with disabilities have a 40% greater risk of intimate partner violence, especially severe violence, than women without disabilities.  
  • On average, more than 3 women and 1 man are murdered by their intimate partners in the U.S. every day.   

More statistics on the subject may be found here.  

Looking at those statistics, are we really willing to believe that this phenomenon doesn’t cross our industry path on a daily basis? Judge Langham and I wanted to look into this further, and have scheduled the next Hot Seat Webinar to directly address this topic. We’ve invited well-known industry expert Dr. Geralyn Datz back for the discussion. Datz recently participated in our Workplace Violence Hot Seat Webinar, where she offered terrific advice for those who are threatened in the workplace. We will also feature Marsha Travis and Lori Prettyman of Favor House, a certified domestic violence center for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in Florida. Travis is the Favor House Executive Director, and Prettyman is their Injunction for Protection Project Attorney. 

It should be an informative program on a critical topic. A topic that has not been given the attention it deserves with the workers’ compensation industry. 

I hope you will join us and help us start to change that narrative.

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