Is the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board making it more difficult to access accident benefits?
In January 2016, a group of Ontario healthcare professionals, lawyers, and labour groups submitted a 200-page document to the province’s ombudsman, urging the watchdog to investigate the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s (WSIB) “systematic disregard” for assessments made by doctors. The submission – which included contributions from more than 20 medical professionals and evidence from 41 pertinent case studies – claims that the WSIB regularly ignores professional medical advice in favour of assessments made by “paper doctors,” who have not had contact with patients.
The opinions of these paper doctors have led to restrictions in patients’ accident benefits, which can have a devastating effect on families and leave injured workers in poverty.
“Injured workers and their advocates have been sounding the alarm for well over 20 years about workers’ compensation that ignores the advice of treating physicians and kicks desperate injured workers off their benefits,” said Ontario Federation of Labour president Chris Buckley on the day the complaint was filed.
On such injured worker is Marvin Mulder, a middle-aged former mover from Hamilton who the Toronto Star profiled for their coverage of the submission. In 2010, Mulder seriously injured his back on the job, and claims the WSIB ignored his doctor’s advice to them. Mulder was asked to participate in the WSIB’s work transition program almost directly following his accident, even as he struggled through a painful recovery that eventually included six spinal injections and two failed back surgeries. Unsurprisingly, Mulder’s injuries kept him from completing the program, and he was subsequently deemed “non-co-operative” by the WSIB. His benefits were slashed, and he was forced to turn to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) for help. Despite the WSIB’s ruling, the CPP approved Mulder for accident benefits available to workers suffering “severe and prolonged disability.”
While injured workers bear the brunt of the WSIB’s disregard for medical advice, healthcare professionals have also been hurt. This April, the Star reported on a $3.2-million lawsuit being launched against the WSIB by Hamilton-area physician Dr. Brenda Steinnagel, who claims she was fired for not arriving at a medical opinion suited to the board.
According to the Star:
“Steinnagel is alleging that she was terminated last year after the WSIB repeatedly demanded that her employer, Vaughan-based WHCS [Workplace Health & Cost Solutions], change the medical opinion she wrote on hospital security guard Shawn McCabe, who was claiming benefits after suffering head injuries while trying to restrain a patient at Rouge Valley Centenary in Scarborough.”
McCabe claims he didn’t recognize himself after his injuries, and that he would cry for no reason. After examining him, Steinnagel concluded that McCabe’s emotional distress could indeed by related to his workplace injuries. The WSIB disagreed with her assessment, and according to her claim they “continued to resist her conclusion” and tried to force her “to participate in a fraud upon the public.” She refused to change her opinion, and was fired.
The WSIB denies Dr. Steinnagel’s allegations, and requested that the suit be thrown out and her statement of claim struck. This month, Superior Court Justice Elizabeth Stewart dismissed the WSIB’s request stating that “it is not plain and obvious that the causes of action pleaded have no chance of success such that they should be struck.”
The repercussions of both Dr. Steinnagel’s suit and the submission to Ontario’s ombudsman will not be known for some time, but it’s clear that the WSIB’s practices are having a negative effect on the injured workers having difficulty accessing their accident benefits, and healthcare professionals.
“The overall effect [of the WSIB’s actions] is that the injured workers are being re-victimized by the very system that was actually created to help them,” explained Aidan MacDonald of the Injured Workers’ Consultants legal clinic to the Toronto Star. “We’re hoping a systematic investigation and consequences from the ombudsman can start to shift the system back to an actual compensation system that treats injured workers with dignity and respect.”
If you or a member of your family believes they are entitled to accident benefits, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers today for a free, no-obligation consultation. We can determine the viability of your claim and help you on your road to recovery.
Canadian consumers are owed a standard of care by the manufacturers, distributors, designers, and retailers of the products they purchase. That is to say, when a person buys a product, they have a right to expect that the product will not cause them harm. When a product fails to meet reasonable safety expectations, the owner may have grounds for a claim under a special subset of personal injury law: product liability.
Product liability claims can stem from a wide range of products, from automobiles to electronics. For simplicity’s sake, though, let’s look at a particularly common source of product liability claims: children’s products.
Late last year, Loblaw Companies Ltd. recalled a baby’s jacket sold by Joe Fresh which was deemed a choking hazard.
“One instance of a child removing a button and putting it in their mouth has come to our attention,” the company said in a statement. While no injuries were recorded, the event shows just how seriously companies take product liability lawsuits. When the customer base is particularly vulnerable, companies must go to great lengths to ensure that their products are safe.
Each year in the run-up to Christmas, watchdog group W.A.T.C.H. (World Against Toys Causing Harm) releases a list of dangerous toys on the market. The 2015 list included products like dinosaur claws that children wear on their hands, which can cause facial or eye injuries; toys with pull strings which pose a strangulation threat; and a foldable trampoline, which can result in broken limbs. But the most common risk, as illustrated by Joe Fresh’s recall of the children’s jacket, is choking. Choking hazard claims are common enough that they are considered a distinct sub-set of product liability lawsuits.
In an effort to both reduce injury risk and avoid lawsuits, toy manufacturers put their products through a rigorous series of tests and quality checks, some of which Yahoo Finance examined in an article from November 2015. Safety and quality standards are decided based on the materials used in a product and how they are assembled. For instance, the fabrics contained in a toy doll will help to determine the standards around the toy, explained San Francisco-based failure analysis consultant Karen Raymet in the Yahoo article.
“If it is a toy with a wheel and axel that a child rolls along the floor, there’s a whole set of mechanical standards that say pieces can’t fly off – that’s a choking hazard – and it must be measured by dropping it from a prescribed height onto a concrete floor, and if it breaks, no small pieces can be small enough to be ingested,” Rayment explained.
Other standardization factors include where the toy is expected to be sold and what age group it is intended for. Testing is carried out by independent, third-party labs, and can include such procedures as impact tests, tension tests, textile tests, and compression tests.
Regardless of the testing a product is subjected to, though, there is always the potential for accidents and injuries, which is where product liability lawsuits enter the equation. Consumers have the right to expect a safe product when they make their purchase, and may be entitled to compensation if their expectation is not met.
If you or a member of your family has suffered an injury from a dangerous product, contact the product liability lawyers at Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers. They can help you understand your circumstances and assess the potential for a claim.