by Sean Handy –
It should come to no surprise that, especially in the field of Workers’ Compensation defense law, establishing and maintaining the best possible working relationship with the client and the employer is of the utmost importance. This is especially crucial when the employer is working under a high-deductible policy. This is a rapidly-growing trend. With a high-deductible policy, the employer generally demands to be much more involved given that the majority of the costs associated with litigating each claim are coming directly out of their pocket. As a result, there is a critical equilibrium that must be reached between working with both the carrier and the employer.
I currently work with just such a client: a large manufacturing plant with double-digit assembly lines. Each line involves a series of very precise and repetitive activities to be performed by a multitude of different employees. All must be in sync with each other or the entire line will grind to a screeching halt. Each assembly line involves a different variation of their product and, although the variations seem fairly minor to the untrained eye, they are significant enough that to move an employee from one assembly line to another requires weeks of training.
When taking depositions for this employer, I realized that the injured workers (the majority of whom were minimally educated and did not speak English as their primary language) were having a hard time describing their exact job duties due to the specialized nature of the parts and technology with which they were working. Therefore, it was difficult to take the most effective deposition possible and thus provide the best service possible. To correct this, I spoke with the employer contact to see how I could go about obtaining a better understanding of the exact job duties of the employees in his plant. I suggested that I take a tour of the facility and personally observe each and every step of the process.
The site tour was invaluable in providing me with knowledge and understanding of the business and essential job duties and functions of the multiple lines. This has resulted in a higher level of quality and efficiency in my handling of cases for this employer. The employer contact provided a guided tour of their facility for over two hours and explained in a great deal of detail who was doing what and why they were doing it. I was also able to take note of things such as the placement and availability of protective gear, the posted signs and warnings, and the size and weight of different parts and tools involved in each individual process. Armed with this increased and specialized knowledge, my depositions have now become much more effective, as I am able to go into much more detail and pin down the injured workers’ claims with greater specificity. Also, once the injured worker realizes that I have a specialized knowledge and understanding of their job duties, any exaggeration or embellishments the injured workers attempt to make about their duties quickly dissipate.
The insurance carrier has also played a key role in helping to foster the best relationship possible between all parties involved. They have dedicated one adjuster to handle all of the files for this employer. Likewise, our office has dedicated myself and only one other attorney to handle the legal aspect of all of the files from this employer. As a result, the employer has individual faces to put with both the firm and the carrier, making them feel much more comfortable and less like they are “just another account.”
This proactive approach has created strong personal relationships, and thus a great deal of trust with the employer and the carrier. We are in frequent contact with each other regarding anything from currently litigated cases to advice regarding ongoing situations at the plant.
This relationship also helps in the ability to effectively litigate files. I find it very easy to contact both the adjuster and the employer representative, and even if they are busy, they will stop what they are doing to answer my call or e-mail and be able to immediately provide me with any documents and/or answers that I may need. They also both trust that my actions have their best interests in mind. As a result, they trust me to utilize my best judgment on things such as strategy on a file, thereby streamlining the process.
In turn, the effectiveness of the litigation of the individual files serves to build more trust and better communication between the employer, the carrier and me. Thus, the cycle of positivity continues and leads to a heightened desire to work together and, ultimately, an increase in litigation referrals. This was never more evident than at a recent file review where my input was sought on not only files currently litigated with our office, but also with non-litigated files and even files currently handled by other offices. The input they received at this file review coupled with the current cycle of positivity between myself, the employer, and the carrier, led to a great number of new file referrals directly at the file review, with a promise of even more would be referred.
The working relationship with both the client and the employer is key in the field of Workers’ Compensation defense law. It is important to understand the framework within which both the employer and the client are working and to find a way to best mesh within that dynamic to forge the best relationship possible. The ability to create and maintain wonderful relationships is what leads to the most effective litigation of individual files, which is what we ultimately strive to achieve everyday here at Bradford & Barthel.
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