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IMR Survives Constitutional Challenge

Dated-October 2015

Sacramento, CA - The Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of the IMR process in one of the most closely watched cases in California workers' compensation. The case ofStevens v WCAB involved Frances Stevens who tripped and broke her foot as she carried boxes of magazines. She was diagnosed with chronic or complex regional pain syndrome and claims to be mostly confined to a wheelchair and was awarded total permanent disability. 

For several years she had the assistance of a home health aide. In late 2012, the aide was injured. This led the PTP to submit an RFA to SCIF for a replacement aide which was submitted to UR and denied. The request was also denied after the IMR process. Stevens appealed the IMR decision, but the WCJ found there was no provision for a reversal since the labor code provides only limited circumstances upon which IMR can be reversed.

Stevens challenged constitutionality of the IMR process. In response the WCJ said "section 3.5 of article III of the Constitution withholds from administrative agencies the power to determine the constitutional validity of any statute." The WCAB denied reconsideration and agreed that it could not rule on the constitutional issue saying "In sum, for purposes of appeal to the WCAB it does not matter whether the reasons given for an IMR determination support the determination unless the appealing party proves one or more of five grounds for appeal listed by the Legislature in section 4610(h) by clear and convincing evidence. Applicant did not do that in this case.

The First District Court of appeal concluded "that her state constitutional challenges fail because the Legislature has plenary powers over the workers’ compensation system under article XIV, section 4 of the state Constitution (Section 4). And we conclude that her federal due process challenge fails because California’s scheme for evaluating workers’ treatment requests is fundamentally fair and affords workers sufficient opportunities to present evidence and be heard."

Although Stevens may have lost the war, she may not have lost the battle since she was given a second chance to prove her case on the merits. The Court stated "we also conclude that the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (the Board) misunderstood its statutory authority in one respect when it reviewed Stevens’s appeal. The Board concluded that it was unable to review the portion of the IMR determination that found, "Medical treatment does not include . . . personal care given by home health aides . . . when this is the only care needed." Under the 2013 reforms, however, the Board is empowered to review an IMR decision to consider whether care was denied without authority because the care is authorized under the MTUS. (§ 4610.6, subd. (h)(1) & (5).) We therefore remand this matter to the Board to consider whether Stevens’s request for a home health aide was denied without authority."