Reno Police Department Detective Janira Varty was injured in 2019 during a car accident when she slid on black ice while on duty.
Afterward, her entire body was in pain, and she was unable to lift things or raise her arms above her shoulders.
Despite doctors attesting that her injuries were a result of the on-duty accident, her workers’ compensation claim was repeatedly denied. After two years, she was able to get treatment using private health insurance, but that came too late, she said, and she’s still in pain. She’s not sure if she’ll be able to finish out her career in law enforcement.
“My body has been in constant pain for over three years, and I will likely have permanent life altering injuries for the rest of my life,” Varty told the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor on Wednesday.
Varty was one of several injured workers in Nevada to testify in support of Senate Bill 274, which would revise the workers’ compensation system by allowing injured workers to sue insurers and third party administrators for acting in bad faith when denying their claims or delaying payment to workers.
“What hurts the most is not being able to carry my daughters to bed when they fall asleep on the couch, or carry them whenever they get hurt,” Varty said. “All my daughters want is for their mommy to lift them up, to hug them tight, to carry them … but I can no longer do that for them. The system is broken. The system is harmful for employees seeking treatment as an injured employee.”
The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Skip Daly, D-Sparks, is the brainchild of former Washoe County sheriff’s Detective Kim Frankel, who, like Varty, was injured on-duty when a drunk driver hit her. She won her case, but the third party administrator is still denying her treatment.
After the Las Vegas Review-Journal published its first article highlighting the issues with the workers’ compensation system, Frankel decided to be the voice and face of all injured workers in Nevada and advocate for change, sharing her own story about her experience.
“I believe, if there were a deterrent, such as ‘bad faith,’ the cruel actions of employers, insurance companies and third party administrators would be mitigated,” Frankel told the committee Wednesday. “This bill is a deterrent. It does not open up the system to frivolous lawsuits.”
During the committee hearing, police unions and other labor representatives testified in support of the legislation, while representatives of insurers and chambers of commerce testified in opposition.
Jason Lesher, president of the Washoe County Sheriff Deputies Association, said the bill would help police officers injured in the line of duty while serving their communities, however it will help all workers injured in Nevada.
“These delays in treatments cost employees their health, their careers, as you’ve heard, and so much more,” Lesher said. “This bill simply seeks to level the playing field and allow employees some recourse when negligent or bad faith cases are proven to have occurred.”
Opponents to the legislation argue there are already systems in place to penalize insurers who refuse to pay or unreasonably delay the payment to an injured worker. They say the legislation would disproportionately impact small businesses and cause insurance rates to increase. It could also lead to insurance companies leaving the state, said Emily Osterberg, director of government affairs for the Henderson Chamber of Commerce.
“The system that you have crafted is not perfect, as no system is, but ‘bad faith,’ we believe, would be a mistake to introduce,” said Dalton Hooks, an attorney representing the Nevada Self Insurers Association.
The legislation also seeks to increase the benefit penalties that are given to injured workers from insurers when they refuse to pay or are unreasonably delaying payment to an injured worker from an amount not less than $5,000 to $15,000, and from an amount not greater than $50,000 to not greater than $200,000. Some opponents of the legislation did express support for that particular element of the bill.
The Nevada Division of Industrial Relations, which investigates benefit penalty complaints from injured workers, was neutral.
Victoria Carreon, administrator at the Nevada Department of Business and Industry Division of Industrial Relations, said about 230 cases come to the division each year, and there is currently a backlog of 178 complaints. Last year 361 cases were resolved, but there is limited staff, Carreon said.
Two investigators handle the complaints and can only investigate four per month, limiting the division’s ability to resolve cases for workers in a timely manner, Carreon said. The division estimates that demand would increase if the legislation is approved, so it would need additional support.
Daly concluded his arguments that as long as insurers are following the rules, “nobody has anything to fear.”
“Comply with the law … file the claims in good faith, you’ll have nothing to fear from anything we put into this statute,” Daly said.