Michigan workers’ comp lawyer explains how insurance companies are using the Stokes evaluation to reduce or stop payment of wage loss benefits.
Michigan law protects employees hurt on-the-job. It is a safety net that covers medical bills and lost wages. The amount paid for lost wages should equal 80% of an employee’s after-tax average weekly wage. This is based upon the highest 39 paid weeks in the 52 weeks before the work accident occurred. It must include overtime, discontinued fringe benefits, and even second jobs. Weekly checks are owed for the entire length of disability and are income tax free. Unfortunately, insurance companies are using the Stokes evaluation to reduce or stop payment.
Michigan lawmakers enacted major changes to the workers’ comp law in 2011. This was in response to special interest groups who insisted that disabled employees were not trying hard enough to find alternate employment. Insurance companies can now use post-injury wage earning capacity (PIWEC) to reduce or stop weekly checks. It does not matter if the disabled employee has found a new job or is sitting in a hospital room recovering from surgery.
Insurance companies will hire a vocational counselor to perform a transferable skills analysis and labor market survey. This is commonly referred to as a Stokes evaluation. It is based upon Stokes v. Chrysler L.LC. that was decided in 2008 and later codified by the Michigan Legislature in 2011. Questions about education and training will be asked during an in-person interview. Medical reports from IME doctors will be used to establish work restrictions. This is not vocational rehabilitation, and these counselors are not on your side!
The problem with a Stokes evaluation is that insurance companies make all the decisions. It is their vocational counselor who will decide what jobs are available and how much each pays. They use IME doctors to set restrictions and ignore other critical factors. It is not a fair assessment and many of the jobs are unattainable or simply do not exist. Phantom wages are used to reduce or stop payment of wage loss benefits.
We represented a man who saw his weekly checks drop from over $500 per week to just $19 because of this assessment. The employer said he could work in a job that he was not qualified to perform. It required a college degree and that is not something he ever obtained. Our challenge resulted in a settlement of over $100,000.
We recommend speaking with an experienced workers’ comp lawyer if a Stokes evaluation if used to reduce or stop payment of wage loss benefits. It is also important to hire a vocational expert to present evidence about the job market based upon restrictions from a treating doctor. Evidence of a good-faith job search can also be used to show that no employment is reasonably available.
Michigan Workers Comp Lawyers never charges a fee to evaluate a potential case. Our law firm has represented injured and disabled workers exclusively for more than 35 years. Call (844) 316-8033 for a free consultation today.