Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Effective Pleadings and Changing Names

There is a long history of reliance on social security numbers in this country. Florida workers' compensation has been using those numbers to identify injured workers for a long time. It is generally believed that the first Social Security Number was issued sometime in 1936, and Florida's workers' compensation system began in 1935. 

Of course, the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims does not require injured workers to provide a social security number. That issue was debated, and some would argue litigated, early this century. But, those numbers are accepted when they are provided. When an injured worker declines to provide that number, the Florida Division of Workers' Compensation provides an alternative numerical designation, the "Division Assigned Number" or "DAN." The purpose is simple, a unique identifier for a particular individual. 

The identifier is necessary because names can become common. The proliferation of names has been studied by National Geographic. Simply stated, there are many John Smiths out there. The identification number, a unique identifier, is a method of trying to differentiate among those various John Smiths. And, the name need not be that popular; David Langham is an actor, a disc-golfer, a musician, a home builder, a candlemaker, the youngest son of a hot-rod hating father, an obscure Florida judge, and more. A unique identified helps to keep all of us straight. 

Unfortunately, people get hurt on the job. That is a simple underlying theme or workers' compensation. Without the employees and the employers, there is simply no point in us. The Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims exists for a singular specific purpose, the disputes that arise between these two regarding benefits. More unfortunate is that some people get hurt more than once. And so, a single person may be involved in litigation at various occasions during their working career, with one or more employers. 

And, life is a progression of changes. We see people marry, divorce, and otherwise change their names. These are purposeful changes. Other changes are merely in detail. For example, one lawyer may file a petition for Mr. Smith and state the name as "John Smith," and the next may use "John Q. Smith," and yet a third might use "John Quentin Smith." In short, there are a multitude of circumstances that result in confusion as to whether someone is or is not the same as an "apparently," or "potentially," different someone. 

Additionally, there is a practice by some to use other people's social security numbers. Read Kansas Cannot Prosecute Identity Theft and Brock is Gone

A conflict arises when a petition or request for assignment of case number (RACN) is filed with a name and social security number (SSN). That information may not match information already in the OJCC database. This can occur because of a name change, name difference, or even a simple SSN error, in which someone intending to type 1234 instead types 1324. Anyone can make a mistake. In short, it can occur because a name has changed or the way it is presented is merely different. 

The OJCC has experienced instances in which names are misspelled, a middle initials is incorrect, a last name is inconsistent with existing data, or another last name has been added (hyphenated or not). Sometimes it is as simple as one instance including a suffix (Jr., Sr., II) when another does not. When any of these occur, the filing is flagged by the database, and is dropped into the "pending" folder for further human evaluation, investigation, and in many instances an order. 

How might an attorney avoid the delay of a pleading dropping into the "pending?" Know that when there is no such conflict the filed pleading (Petition, "PFB," or Request for Assignment of Case Number, "RACN") will almost instantly result in assignment of the case and progress for the filer. The pending folder gets attention only during the normal workday. A "pending" designation could mean waiting until Monday, or tomorrow morning, to proceed with your case (until the case is established in the system, the lawyer will not be able to file further pleadings, motions, etc.). 

Attorneys may therefore find it beneficial to seek to avoid these name issues. One suggestion is to inquire upon intake: "have you ever filed a prior Florida workers' compensation case?" If the answer is yes, it may be helpful to know when, where, and what name was used (former, maiden, married, etc.). 

Attorneys can also utilize that new client's SSN in the OJCC case search function (on, under the "case search" tab). There, an attorney may try to verify whether the client's social security number is already in the OJCC database for some prior injury or accident litigation. 

This may assist counsel with issues regarding suffixes, middle initials and middle names. It is not likely to immediately solve issues related to names that have changed, but would allow an attorney to provide the OJCC guidance. For example, a client "John Smith" might be found to have filed an earlier claim under a previous name "Michael Smith," or "John Jones." Lawyers have been dealing with this kind of issue forever, and have long ago adapted to using initials like "f\k\a," meaning "formerly known as." 

So, an attorney finding that her/his new client had a prior workers' compensation claim could include that information easily in the PFB or RACN. Filing today on behalf of "John Smith," the lawyer merely notes the Claimant's name is "John Smith, f\k\a John Jones." This acknowledges that the pleading is likely to land in "pending." It acknowledges the potential that the current name may not match the SSN. And, it expedites the clerk's review and processing of the pleading. 

There is obvious benefit in expediting the transition from "pending" to the active case. The point of filing the PFB or RACN. They each begin a process that leads to action by the OJCC. To expedite that action, it is in the claimant's best interest to provide information that facilitates the clerk's office sorting out name and social security number issues. A quick search or two before filing might very well prevent delays and issues.

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