Rulings critical of WorkSafeBC spawn call for review

Advocates say two egregious incidents of case mishandling underscore a system stacked against the worker

Giorgio Cima's WorkSafeBC claim was denied

Coquitlam man Giorgio Cima hasn’t once been interviewed by WorkSafeBC, yet his claim for workers’ compensation was rejected in a case his lawyer described as “outrageous.”

Fort Nelson resident Bruce Erskine remains hobbled by a forklift accident more than eight years ago, but his WorkSafeBC claim remains unresolved.

These two cases have prompted the NDP’s WorkSafeBC critic, MLA Shane Simpson, to call for a review of the organization.

Simpson was reacting to two recent B.C. Supreme Court decisions that found the decisions by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal— the independent body that hears appeals of WorkSafeBC rulings—were “patently unreasonable” in denying the claims made by Cima and Erskine.

“The system is far too litigious,” Simpson said. “This can go on for years…If you’re dealing with corporation to corporation, that’s one thing…but when you’re talking about individuals and their families and they’re worried about their income and families, it’s got to work a different way.”

Lawyer Sebastien Anderson, who represented Cima pro bono, said he believes many people with genuine workplace injuries that merit compensation, simply throw their hands up and walk away because they can’t afford to hire a lawyer or pay for medical experts to back their claim.

“If they don’t have a mental condition before they enter the system, they surely do shortly thereafter,” he said.

TOXIC WORKPLACE

Antibiotics were flowing into the vein in Giorgio Cima’s right arm at a clinic in downtown Vancouver when his lawyer phoned to deliver some good news.

It was Wednesday, May 25, and the B.C. Supreme Court had just ruled in the 57-year-old’s favour and set aside a decision by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal that rejected his claim.

“Finally, someone believed in me,” Cima wrote in an email to Black Press about the decision. He said it brought tears to his eyes and some hope to his family.

His supervisor at Delta’s Intact Distributors had been bullying him, Cima claims, specifically after an illness robbed him of his speech in 2012 and he began to communicate with e-mail and text messages. (Cima was previously diagnosed with the fatal neurological disease ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but is now undergoing treatment for Lyme disease, whose symptoms mimic ALS.)

The situation came to a dramatic head on Christmas Day in 2013.

As he sat down for dinner with family and friends, he received a shocking text message from his boss, who called him a “retard” and a “crayon-eating motherf**ker.”

WorkSafeBC denied his claim for compensation, and when he appealed, the tribunal said in its ruling that the supervisor didn’t intend to “intimidate, humiliate or degrade” Cima.

He has been reflecting since the court set aside that ruling, and is hopeful he’ll soon get better news about his claim.

“I was shocked to find that an organization that should be there for workers is in fact more for the employer,” wrote Cima, who has worked in Canada for more than 25 years. “The fact that they didn’t interview me or contact me to this date supports that.”

Anderson said he agreed to represent Cima because it was “one of the most outrageous” cases he’d ever come across.

“If his case didn’t meet the standard for workplace bullying and harassment, there is no standard,” he said.

INJURY, FIGHT TAKE TOLL

On the same day Cima was sitting inside that downtown Vancouver clinic, a Fort Nelson man heard from his lawyer about his own court case.

But Bruce Erskine, 63, didn’t view his win as good news.

Back in 2008, he was run over by a forklift driven by his boss at Skinner Bros. Transport in Fort Nelson.

“I thought he cut me in half,” Erskine recalled of the forklift knocking him to the ground and its tire crushing his left foot as his leg was pulled under the counterweight.

WorkSafeBC denied his claim for compensation, he said, because a doctor chalked his injury up to soreness from pushing an ATV weeks earlier and not the forklift after an initial X-ray suggested his foot was merely strained.

But eight months later, Erskine’s foot still hadn’t healed.

It wasn’t until 2014, four specialists later, that a different type of X-ray revealed an injury that another doctor attributed to the forklift accident.

He appealed to the tribunal, but the body refused to admit the new medical evidence, saying Erskine was not credible.

In May, the court ordered the tribunal to take a second look, saying that line of reasoning was “patently unreasonable.”

But the judge didn’t bring him any closer to his goal of getting WorkSafeBC to review how its staff handled his case and revoke their credentials.

The words of a WorkSafeBC claim manager many years ago infuriate him to this day.

“He told me on the phone, ‘If we had to look after people like you, we would be bankrupt overnight,’” he said. “They think they can walk over and step on people.”

WORKSAFEBC SAYS SYSTEM WORKS

Scott McCloy, spokesperson for WorkSafeBC, said he was unable to comment on the two cases, noting that both legal matters are ongoing.

WorkSafeBC and its staff “work hard to get decisions right the first time,” he said, and both the appeal tribunal and B.C. Supreme Court are in place “to ensure justice can be done.”

McCloy denied that WorkSafeBC is an adversarial system, and said it’s actually an “inquiry-based system.”

He said sometimes facts are obvious, but in some cases “issues are highly complex. Often people try to make them simple, but they’re not.”

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