Cannibal Negotiation

Cannibal negotiation refers to a deal where parties figure out how to get money from an entity not at the table.

The term originates from an arrangement where OldCo paid NewCo to keep NewCo’s cheaper, competing product off the market. NewCo is paid for not selling anything. The buyers who need that product have to pay OldCo’s high price. The buyers are being cannibalized.

Honest disagreement can thwart parties’ good intentions to reach a workers compensation settlement. Cannibal negotiations can ethically resolve disputes over the value of future medical benefits.

The first place a true cannibal negotiator should turn is Medi-Cal. Medi-Cal can fill the gap between parties’ valuations and provide a safety net to pay for the injured worker’s health care at no cost to any party. A special needs trust or structured settlement may be needed to keep an applicant eligible for traditional Medi-Cal. Under expanded Medi-Cal, the applicant can receive a settlement of any size without losing eligibility so long as Modified Adjusted Gross Income is under the limit. Caution: home health care and non-emergency medical transportation are not included in expanded Medi-Cal. 

Medicare is the next source a cannibal should think of for a funding entity not at the negotiating table. Medicare is different from Medi-Cal in that the injured worker had to contribute the required number of quarters to achieve eligibility. Also, a Medicare Set-Aside must be depleted before additional funds can be tapped to pay for a claim-related Medicare-eligible expense.

Lastly, the parties may be able to use part of the settlement to fund health insurance premiums for the injured worker. A health insurance agent can provide a quote for Affordable Care Act coverage regardless of the injured worker’s pre-existing condition. A (cannibalized) subsidy may indeed keep the premium cost affordable.

Cannibal negotiators can “prey” on more than one source. Some applicants are “Medi-Medi”, enrolled in both Medicare and Medi-Cal. MSAs should not be tapped until the applicant is eligible for Medicare; for the period up to 30 months before then, Affordable Care Act insurance can provide coverage.

Tricks of the Settlement Trade

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Negotiations can founder when parties (and some mediators) don’t know the tricks that remove settlement obstacles.

Structured Settlements

Structured settlements are ideal for funding Medicare Set-Asides. Structured settlements provide tax-free periodic payments over a specified period of time, which can be for the life of the injured worker. The structure costs less than lump-sum funding, freeing up the balance of the employer’s authorized settlement amount for the injured worker’s other needs. What’s more, unlike with lump-sum funding, lifetime payments cannot be exhausted. The injured worker receives the amount paid by the employer plus income earned from professional investment management. This trick can help bridge a negotiation gap.

From time to time I hear that a structured settlement broker was not called in order to avoid expense. This reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how structures work. There is no cost to consult a structured settlement broker. The structured settlement life insurance company (not any party) pays the broker a commission if a structure is placed.

A structured settlement is not the right choice for every case.  But workers compensation professionals should always investigate this no-risk option.

Special Needs Trusts

Many injured workers and their families rely on Medi-Cal for their non-industrial medical needs.  However, receipt of a large sum pursuant to a Compromise & Release can disqualify the injured worker’s entire family from receipt of these benefits until funds are spent down. Placing settlement funds in a Special Needs Trust allows the injured worker to retain public benefits and still C&R the claim.

Pooled Special Needs Trusts are similar to an attorney trust account in that the trustee pays expenses from a fund holding money for many participants. Compared to a single-beneficiary trust, pooled special needs trusts are inexpensive and quick to set up and administer.

Professional MSA Administration

Did you know professional MSA administration which protects the injured worker’s continued access to Medicare benefits is available for little or no cost? One of the biggest faults of the Medicare Set-Aside system is its reliance on self-administration. Administration mistakes can jeopardize the injured worker’s continued access to Medicare.

Injured workers are more often laborers than MBA’s.  Determining which expenses are Medicare-eligible is complicated and requires constant vigilance as policies change. To retain benefits, the MSA beneficiary must submit an annual report, a burden many injured workers cannot handle. Knowing who to call to obtain free or low-cost professional administration, including reporting, can mean the difference between an open claim and a Compromise & Release.

Reversionary Trusts

The reversionary trust is probably the least used settlement trick.  When parties disagree about future medical needs, a reversionary trust can satisfy both sides’ interests.  A reversionary trust can pay for claim-related medical expenses over a specified time.  If the money is not needed, at the conclusion of the trust the money reverts to the payer.

Some adjusters object that there is no way to account for refunded amounts without leaving the claim open. Applicants may balk at the lack of unfettered access to trust funds. I had one case where the prospect of a reversionary trust caused the claimant to reduce the demand on condition the money was paid in cash now; the case promptly settled.

With the right parties, a reversionary trust is a solution which allows everyone to be right. Or just raising the possibility can get parties to settle.

There Are Many More Tricks

Every workers compensation professional in the process from Notice of Injury to Compromise & Release has a distinct role. If you are considering closing the claim, it’s time to bring in the person whose focus is settlement, a knowledgeable mediator.

Does This Mediation Make Me Look Fat?

Nobody wants to look bad. Turns out some workers compensation professionals think recommending mediation makes it look like they couldn’t get the claim settled themselves. Mediating a claim doesn’t make you look bad. It makes you look smart.
Are You A Litigation Expert?
Most claims settle. Mediation makes it happen sooner.Litigation experts realize that going to trial on an issue risks losing it all. It takes a long time to get to trial; meanwhile the claim gets expensive (how many medical exams do you really need?) Facts may become less favorable.Parties in mediation retain control of the outcome rather than surrender to an unpredictable result.  Often I help parties invent a solution they had never previously considered.

A Safe Place for Bad News
Attorneys may be hesitant to deliver bad news. One fear is that the client will get new counsel. Mediation provides a forum for a neutral person, the mediator, to deliver the message.  The attorney can commiserate with the client, look like a hero, and yet get the case settled.

How Good Do you Want To Look?
I have successfully helped parties settle even when negotiations stalled in prior informals.  With a mediator’s help, parties (even skeptical ones) who come to mediation willing to settle on acceptable terms generally do settle. The next time the professional who mediated comes up for evaluation, that person doesn’t look bad—that person looks great.

3 Signals It’s Time to Close the Claim

Some Workers Compensation Claims seem to have a life of their own. Before you know it, years have passed since the Date of Injury. Here are 3 signals telling you to take a hard look at settling now. The Injured Workers is 61 years old. Once an injured worker reaches age 62½, any buy-out of future medical […]

‘Twas the Night before Mediation

(c) Teddy Snyder WCMediator.com

‘Twas the night before mediation
And all through the firm
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even a worm

But then one lawyer
Asleep on a couch
Shot up, hit his head
And said with an “Ouch”

Oh my, I’ve got
That mediation tomorrow
I didn’t do a brief
Much, much to my sorrow

Then what to his exhausted eyes should appear
But WCMediator with news of good cheer

You don’t need it fancy
You don’t need it long
Just give me some clues
So the time’s not spent wrong

Just send me an “e”
It’s all confidential
Tell me the issues
What’s the dollar potential?

With that she was gone
The lawyer banged out a brief
He’d be ready tomorrow
Oh what a relief.

This holiday season
When your time seems too short
Turn to mediation
And stay out of court.

Happy Holidays!

 

Tactics vs. Strategy

Tactics are steps you take to win short term goals on the way to achieving your strategic objective. Sometimes tactical skirmishes distract workers compensation professionals from pursuit of their strategic goal. On the other hand, you can’t reach your strategic objective without well-thought-out tactics.

The Disputed Doctor’s Deposition
Take the case where an attorney insisted that the deposition of the doctor who provided the most recent report had to precede settlement discussions. The problem was that by the time that could happen, all the permanent disability would be paid out. After providing for future medical expense, that would leave no cash for the applicant or the attorney fees, jeopardizing the chance of a future Compromise & Release. When I pointed this out, the parties realized that a tactical victory could prevent achieving the strategic goal. The case C&R’d.

The Tale of the Two Interpreters
I arrived at a recent mediation to find the attorneys at loggerheads because both had ordered an interpreter. Both interpreters were court-certified. I convinced one of the attorneys that agreeing to dismiss the interpreter that attorney’s office had ordered would create a negotiating advantage. In the give-and-take of negotiation, opposing counsel might well feel beholden to make the next concession. Conceding the interpreter battle demonstrated the attorney’s reasonableness and set the stage for a productive mediation. The case C&R’d.

A litigation plan should be more than a checklist. Every tactic should further the effort to achieve the strategic goal.

Ghosts, Goblins and Mediators

Halloween is just around the corner, a time when people love to be scared. It’s fun, because everyone knows there’s really nothing scary at all.

Mediation isn’t scary. Yet some claim and legal professionals fear it.

Fear of losing control
Adjusters and attorneys know their jobs. They may bristle at the idea of someone else getting involved in the settlement process. Yet, they don’t hesitate to call in other experts.

Claim and legal professionals retain control in mediation. Only the parties can choose an outcome. The mediator cannot order anyone to take any action. What the mediator can do is help parties define issues, resolve differences, and see new routes to settlement.

Fear of looking bad
Some professionals worry that calling in a mediator makes them look like they couldn’t do their job. On the contrary, professionals who use every tool in their arsenal look smart. Referring a claim for mediation can short-cut litigation, saving time and money. This makes you look like someone who knows how to get things done.

What are you scared of?
You don’t need a costume, and you don’t need a candy bucket to get started.  Treat yourself to mediation to move that difficult case forward.  Mediation can benefit all parties, and that’s no Halloween trick.

Get “In Pro Per” Claims Off The Books

You know the claims I’m talking about: the really old claims where the Injured Worker is representing himself/herself. Let’s call them “in pro per”s.  Active in pro pers file one court paper after another, causing the insurer or self-insured employer to fund what seems like a never-ending stream of money to send a representative to the Board. The in pro per’s papers may not state a recognizable claim. Pressed for time, the Information and Assistance officer may give the in pro per short shrift.  Defense attorneys with varying degrees of patience usually do, too.

But what if what the parties really need is a sort of an interpreter, a mediator.

Mediating an in pro per’s claim demonstrates respect for the in pro per.  The feeling of lack of respect and inability to get heard is often what drives the in pro per to keep summoning the employer to court.

“Why would I waste time and money on a worthless claim?” you may ask. Because you’re spending time and money now, and mediation is a way to end that endless cycle.

Sometimes the in pro per has a bona fide complaint, but without professional assistance has not been able to communicate it. The neutral mediator is often able to re-state the concern in a way the parties can address and put past them. The mediator can help each party see the other side’s point of view.

Are You A Rule-Breaker?

Workers Compensation professionals have to know a lot: the California Labor Code, Title 8 regulations, state and federal rules governing health care entitlements. To make things even harder, the rules of this highly-governed road keep changing. Workers Compensation may be the most intricate, heavily regulated area of practice. These rules can constrain the parties’ ability to negotiate satisfactory settlements.

You only have to know one rule about mediation: everything that happens within the mediation, including pre-mediation and follow-up communication, is confidential.  You don’t have to share your mediation brief with the other side if you don’t want to. In mediation, in contrast to WCAB practice or arbitration, you can get creative. You can break the rules.

 Mediated agreements can include provisions a WCJ could never order, such as agreements relating to actions in other forums.  You can settle claims which haven’t been made yet.  Parties can use creative solutions like structured settlements and medical care trusts. The mediator can help you brainstorm.

As mediator, I help parties settle cases.  There are no rulings in mediation, so no one loses.  Go ahead, let’s break some rules– and settle the case.

WHAT TO EXPECT AT MEDIATION

Mediation remains unfamiliar to most California Workers Compensation professionals. To succeed, you– and your client– need to know what to expect. While all mediations share some similarities, each mediator has a unique style. Here’s what you can expect at one of my mediations.
We usually start in joint session. The discussion might be limited to the logistical: introductions, bathrooms, lunch, etc.  People get to look each other in the eye.The first real step will be for the Applicant to tell how the injury happened and how things are going now. The purpose of this is to allow catharsis and to build empathy and trust between the injured worker and the mediator. Usually this is in a separate session known as a “caucus,” but if the defense needs to hear this information or wants to ask questions, it might happen while the parties are still in joint session. If the defense has heard the Applicant’s story many times, I may have Applicant do the venting in caucus.

I usually start negotiations with the Applicant’s side. If there were prior offers and demands, I will review those to make sure we are all at the same starting point. Then comes exploring the positions which support those offers and demands. The parties’ briefs should explain the issues; the more complicated the case, the more important the briefs. Defining issues for the mediator in the brief makes for a more efficient mediation. But the briefs do not limit the number of issues; sometimes new issues emerge in mediation.

I might speak with one or more attorneys outside the hearing of their clients, for example, to discuss a point of law.  All parties might reconvene to brainstorm solutions to an issue.  If parties are disrespectful of one another, I will stop a joint session.
In the give and take of numbers, issues will be discussed and swapped.  Cases do not settle without compromise.  Parties should expect give and take to finalize the settlement terms.
Participants may be surprised by the amount of time spent in caucus with the other side.  As mediator, my job is to give all parties adequate time to express their concerns.   While there are certainly exceptions, a typical workers compensation mediation lasts three to five hours.