Workplace injuries are not unusual. So many people are hurt while working that an entire system had to be created to address the problem. While an injury at home or on the roads may involve a finding of negligence, workplace injuries avoid that. Workers who are injured are, for the most part, barred from pursuing personal injury lawsuits against their employers. In exchange, employers must carry workers' compensation insurance which will pay for costs such as medical care, some lost wages and expenses tied to long-term disability.
Unfortunately, employers and their insurers are sometimes reluctant to live up to even the minimal requirements of workers' compensation law. One way they seek to avoid their responsibilities is through the use of "independent" doctors who are quite reliably not independent.
A stacked deck
Most employees will file zero or one workers' compensation claim over the course of their careers. Insurance companies handle thousands of these claims. They are repeat customers when it comes to needing favorable medical findings. They are naturally drawn to doctors who somehow always conclude that a worker is healthy enough to return to work, regardless of that worker's actual condition. In Wisconsin, these "independent" medical examiners don't even have to be licensed, or located within the state, to help employers deny valid compensation claims.
Part of the problem is that the independent medical examiners have nothing on the line when it comes to incorrect reports. They are not held to the same standards as a treating physician. They cannot be sued for medical malpractice. Their only financial incentive is in getting their fees paid by the employer's insurance company.
Who are they fooling?
Workers who don't understand the biased nature of these examiners could be pressured into returning to work before they are able. They could miss out on benefits to which they are legally entitled. Not everyone understands that these doctors can lie about a diagnosis with no repercussions.
In the courtroom, the injured worker and the employer each have an opportunity to present their side of the issue. While the results might not always be fair, there is a sort of balance. The damage these independent medical examiners do is limited once a case proceeds to trial. That is why it is so important for workers to realize that they should not take an independent medical examiner at his or her word. It is always a good idea to get the opinion of a non-biased medical professional when it comes to workplace injuries.