Worker, WCB continue compensation battle for 30 years
Lana Haight, The StarPhoenix
Published: Saturday, November 01, 2008
injured Saskatoon man off work for more than 30 years and addicted to pain medication paid for by the Workers' Compensation
Board can't believe the board expects him to find a job.
would be a danger to myself and others," said Ron Lewis, who takes several doses of prescribed morphine each day.
employer in his right mind would dare to employ a person this medicated."
1975, Lewis was working for Western Producer Prairie Books in the shipping/receiving department when he slipped on some ice
while carrying a loaded box. He was just days away from being promoted to a management position when the accident happened.
Lewis suffered a back injury while at work has never been disputed by Saskatchewan Workers' Compensation Board (WCB). How
much that injury affects his ability to work has been an issue for debate for decades. For the past 30 years, Lewis has fought
the board, which maintains he is capable of working a minimum wage job.
May 1997, a panel of three doctors determined Lewis was "unfit for employment." Yet the medical review panel ruled only five
per cent of Lewis' impairment was the result of his fall.
large part of his inability to work is due to his fixed idea that he is unable to work. His inability to work is also compounded
by chronic pain syndrome resulting from Lewis' psychological state, a congenital deformity of his lower limbs, multiple surgeries,
drug abuse and his back injury", says the certificate of the medical review panel.
applied to Queen's Bench for another review panel to be convened. His request was granted in March 2004, but workers' compensation
appealed the Queen's Bench decision. In May 2005, the Court of Appeal decided Lewis was not entitled to another medical review
Lewis, who receives about $300 a month from the board, is taking another stab at trying to get full compensation, based on
his dependence on narcotics paid for by the compensation board. While he takes issue with the term "drug abuse" used by the
panel, he maintains even the doctors reviewing his case recognized the narcotics contribute to his inability to work. He argues
the compensation board wouldn't be paying for the heavy doses of morphine if the narcotic wasn't needed to control pain caused
by his work-related injury.
the compensation board sees things differently.
WCB has chosen to assist Mr. Lewis by paying the full costs of drugs related to treatment of his chronic pain syndrome. The
alternative would be to only pay a small percentage of the drug costs, which would have meant that Mr. Lewis would not have
been able to afford to purchase the prescriptions," wrote Janice Siekawitch, director of planning and communication at Saskatchewan
Workers' Compensation Board.
signed a form giving the compensation board permission to discuss his case with The StarPhoenix. Siekawitch declined being
interviewed over the telephone.
want to be taking extra care that I, in a conversation with a reporter, in an interview with a reporter, don't inadvertently
share something, information or something, that is harmful to Mr. Lewis at the end of the day," she said, explaining why she
would only provide answers in writing to questions submitted by e-mail.
most recent correspondence from workers' compensation contains false information, says Lewis.
a letter dated Oct. 21, a team leader with the organization says the medical review panel "concluded that Mr. Lewis was fit
for suitable employment" even though he was on high levels of medication at the time.
repeated, in her e-mail, that the review panel found Lewis "fit for suitable employment."
in the panel's certificate, provided by Lewis to The StarPhoenix, does it say he is "fit for suitable employment."
fact, the medical review panel certificate states "the worker is unfit for employment."
assertion that he is unable to work is backed by his family doctor.
to the type of medication (Lewis) takes and large amounts of pain medication that he is prescribed, he could pose a risk to
himself and to others. These prescriptions are intended to help him be able to function in the basic activities of life,"
wrote Dr. Roy Chernoff, in a letter to the Workers' Compensation Board.
is my belief that Ron is not employable and could not function properly in any work setting."
is pinning his hopes on Occupational Health and Safety legislation requiring employers use "due diligence" in the workplace.
He is getting help with his latest petition to the compensation board.
wouldn't be paying for medication if it wasn't for the injury. They know how much medication Ron takes because they are paying
for it. They knew full well under the due diligence laws that no one can hire Ron and they've known it all these years," said
Jim Taphorn, who is advocating on behalf of Lewis.
says it's not Lewis' injury alone, but the back pain combined with the high doses of morphine, that makes him unemployable.
makes the same argument in his letter to the compensation board.
employer using due diligence when hiring would have to realize that high amounts of medication that can be sedating and are
used to treat chronic pain could pose a risk to the prospective employee, others working with the prospective employee as
well as clients within their particular industry. This would exclude Ron from any type of gainful employment," wrote the family
who is fighting his own battle with the compensation board, says he knows at least nine other men in Saskatchewan who are
trying to get full compensation because their high doses of pain medication would make them a danger in the workplace.
estimates Lewis is owed $247,000 in unpaid compensation, money that could have been spent providing a decent life for his
wife and two children.
believe there is a lot of merit in my case. I want justice," said Lewis, who will now take his decades-long fight directly
to the Workers' Compensation Board members.
© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008