National Public Radio and Propublica have been running a series on worker’s compensation systems in various states. One such state is Texas. Billy Shawn Walkup worked for Tysons Foods in Vernon, Texas. Tyson is self-insured, meaning they do not carry worker’s compensation insurance. Instead, the company itself pays for the medical care of workers injured on the job. Billy Shawn was one such worker. He fell on wet stairs at the Vernon plant in 2011. He sustained injuries to his back. About two weeks after the fall, a manager approached him with a waiver and asked him to sign it. The waiver would prevent any lawsuit against Tyson. Wanting to protect his job, Billy Shawn signed the waiver. He continued working with restrictions. The pain worsened and he missed too many days. So, the company fired him. Tyson, did, however, continue paying for his medical care for another year.
But, then his doctor determined that he had multiple disc potrusions and numbness in his legs. The numbness would cause him to collapse on occasion. So, Tyson sent him for a so-called independent medical exam. The doctor, selected by Tyson, was a 77 year old doctor who had once been disciplined for not documenting a physical exam. After a 35 minute exam and reviewing his medical records, the doctor found that his back was simply strained. No further medical care was necessary. Tyson cut off Mr. Walkup’s medical benefits. The doctor did not return Propublica’s attempts to discuss the Walkup case.
Billy Shawn now gets around with a cane a motorized wheelchair. He has applied for social security disability benefits and hopes to get surgery someday.
And, of course Tyson Foods lobbied in Texas for the law that allows employers tho offer a waiver after an injury. Previously, a waiver could not apply to prior injuries. Under the old law, the sort of waiver signed by Billy Shawn would not have applied to any injury incurred before the date of the waiver. But, in 2005, a deal was struck in which an injured worker could have ten days to see a doctor and then decide whether to sign a waiver. The problem with that law, however, is that many injuries do not manifest themselves until long after ten days. This was Tyson’s law and it worked when the corporation needed it.
Tyson Foods is headquartered in Arkansas. Arkansas is where the worker’s compensation reform train first started back in the 1990’s. Now, Texas and Arkansas are seen by worker’s compensation opponents as the models of so-called reform. But, as I have heard from many workers, the worker’s compensation system in Texas is now heavily weighed in favor of the employer. Billy Shawn found that out the hard way.
See Propublica report.