Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How Far Would You Go for another Hearing?

How far would you go to get what you want? An interesting story from Canada makes a point about one injured worker.

The Toronto Star reported in May about a workers' compensation claimant named Ippokratis "Jimmy" Velgakis. Mr. Velgakis is a 75 year old man angry about his workers' compensation claim, which has been ongoing for twenty years. He explained that "I have the injury. I prove that and they refuse to pay me." 

How angry? The picture on the story shows him protesting with a sign outside a government office. At the time the story was written, he was eighteen days into his "third hunger strike in the past four years." The Star reports that each of his "last two ended with promises that he would get a new hearing" on his claims and "be given an opportunity to tell his side of the story." 

I have been told over the years that hearings and even mediations are cathartic experiences. In a world that is populated with email and voicemail and messages, I am told that it is a relief to look someone in the eye and tell one's story. 

A member of the Provincial Parliament, which seems similar to our state legislature, named Cheri DiNovo is on Mr. Velgakis' side. According to the Star, she "went on a 10-day hunger strike with Velgakis in 2013."  She says that his case is illustrative of larger problems with the workers' compensation system saying "it's very indicative of what injured workers have to go through with (the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board). He's just not letting it go. Why should he?"

An earlier story describes his occupation as a "rink rat" where he "drove the Zamboni and did other odd jobs at the Baycrest arena." He was injured when he "pulled his back after lifting a large piece of wood." Mr. Velgakis has claimed he is entitled to "about $500,000 from the city." 

According to the Star, he was injured in the 1990s, and "continued to work for three years" in a position that was modified. He was then "laid off in 1994" and given a "one-time payout" that sounds like a Florida settlement. Mr. Velgakis "unwittingly he says," "signed away . . .his right to pursue further claims." 

In 1996 there was a decision apparently finding his condition compensable, the 2015 story says "recognizing his injury and granting him benefits." Within days, however, the benefits "were cut off." He attended another hearing thereafter, but "his temper got the best of him and he was asked to leave while his future was decided without him." He did not prevail in that hearing.

The 2011 story says that the claim was denied "based on medical inconsistencies." One specialist diagnosed "degenerative changes in his lumbar spine."

He has been represented by an attorney, Marion Endicott, since 2011 and "free of charge." His attorney says that Mr. Velgakis "has been the victim of an insidious transformation of our workers' compensation system from an inquiry-based one to an adversarial one." In 2011 she filed a request for a third hearing, "known as a reconsideration." She alleged that he deserved this "because the tribunal erred in the previous two by excluding witness testimony."

How far would you go to get a hearing? The Internet reveals stories written about Mr. Velgakis and his hunger strikes. References are there to change.org petitions drives and Facebook posts; YouTube videos and more. However, as of this time, there is no further news  of his 2015 hunger strike or any new hearing. 

#workerscomp

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