Our KELOLAND News investigation uncovered the tactics used by insurance companies to deny workers’ comp claims.
A South Dakota Senate Committee took up the issue on Tuesday of how these “bad faith” claims should be handled.
KELOLAND Investigates has been following this controversial bill.
In the end, the State Senate Commerce and Energy Committee killed the bill, but that was after three hours of testimony, during which they heard from injured workers who had their comp claims denied.
“I have been very much victimized,” Thompson said.
Kris Thompson of Sioux Falls wanted lawmakers to know how the workers’ comp insurance company’s treatment of her claim affected her life.
“I had two surgeries; I have plates and screws holding my neck together. They denied me of my medicine. I had a $365,000 doctor bill. They offered me $5,000,” Thompson said.
Senate Bill 145 would have prevented injured workers like Thompson from taking their cases to court.
The insurance industry says these cases should not be subject to multi-million dollar jury awards because that results in higher premiums and costs for employers.
“We sure as heck don’t want to have job loss. We need to maintain our workforce and this is one of those things that helps to do that,” said Deb Fischer Clemens Avera Health
But trial attorneys who take bad faith claims to court told the committee about insurance companies doctor shopping for medical reports to allow them to deny claims and offering bonuses to their employees to keep the amount of claims paid out down.
“I’m talking about the deliberate, intentional malicious denial of an injured worker. That’s where bad faith comes in,” said Roger Tellinghuisen, Trial Attorney Lobbyist
State Representative Tim Rounds even testified against the bill. Rounds’ job was to investigate workers’ comp claims. But he’s been fighting to have his claim paid for more than two years after he got hurt while on the job.
“I know the system. I know how to work it. I called the Department of Labor, what’s going on? They couldn’t help me. I called the insurance company so I am forced to do nothing to hire an attorney to handle this for me,” Rounds said.
The bill would have put caps on civil damages and other penalties that insurance companies are ordered to pay out in these claims. But some opponents were concerned this option would have put too much of a burden on the Department of Labor, which isn’t set up handle these claims. Lawmakers promise to study the workers’ comp issues over the summer.