Imagine having to travel four hours or more to a medical examination. Now imagine that you cannot sit for more than an hour because of pain caused by a work injury. Imagine also that you have no choice but to endure the long car ride or risk losing your workers’ compensation benefits.
This was the case for many of our clients until recently. Under Vermont law, injured workers must allow themselves to be examined by a doctor chosen by the insurance company. If a worker refuses, they can lose their workers’ compensation benefits. Since the Vermont Department of Labor placed no mileage or distance restrictions on these examinations, despite requests to do so by our law firm, insurance adjusters often required injured workers to travel unreasonable distances. In some cases, workers have had to travel to Boston, or even further, if that is where the adjuster told them to go.
This placed an unnecessary burden on injured workers, many of whom have a difficult and painful time riding in a car for any period of time. It also encouraged “doctor shopping” by the adjuster, who could then send all Vermont workers to the same biased doctor who might be willing to help the insurance company with their report.
This past year Biggam, Fox & Skinner worked with the Vermont Association for Justice to change this policy. As a result, the Vermont Legislature addressed the issue and amended the statute. Now, most examinations must occur “within a two-hour driving radius of the residence of the injured employee.” Although we still feel this is too far to travel for many of our clients, it is a start in the right direction.
The statue does provide an exception to this “two-hour” rule. For example, at the discretion of the Commissioner of Labor, the worker may have to travel a greater distance if their injury is unique and requires examination by a specialist not available within the two-hour driving distance. We hope this will be the rare exception for injured workers.
Edward Shattuck, St. Johnsbury, VT
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