Brown Appoints Marguerite Sweeney to WCAB

By Greg Jones, Western Bureau ChiefCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday appointed applicants’ attorney Marguerite Sweeney of Redding as a commissioner on the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.

Despite the appointment, the Appeals Board still has two vacancies. Brown did not reappoint commissioner and former chairman Joseph Miller, who was named to the board by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, and whose term expired at the end of 2011.

Sweeney has spent her 33-year law career representing applicants, but has also helped injured workers with Social Security law and civil employment law. Since 1990, she has been the principal attorney at the Law Office of Marguerite Sweeney in Redding.

Sweeney has been involved in legislative efforts to benefit injured workers and successfully argued a case on utilization review before the California Supreme Court, but she said her first-hand experience in the trenches as an applicants’ attorney will be the most important thing she brings to the board.

Ronnie Caplane, who was named chairwoman of the Appeals Board in December, also was an applicants’ attorney when she was in private practice. The remainder of the commissioners, Frank Brass, Deidra Lowe and Alfonso Morsei, came from the defense side of the industry.

Sweeney said it’s important to have different perspectives on the board to arrive at decisions that are fair to all stakeholders.

“My goal on the board will be to look at solutions that are good for everyone,” she said. “My philosophy is that you can come to decisions that are win-win; everything isn’t a win-lose paradigm.”

Sweeney said liens are the biggest problem facing the workers’ compensation system, and something lawmakers and regulators are both trying to tackle. While resolving the lien problem is largely an administrative and legislative task, Sweeney said the Appeals Board can help by providing clear rules and guidance to litigants.

The Appeals Board last August proposed rules that it said would expedite filings, reduce backlogs and free up calendar time for judges.

Rosa Moran, administrative director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation, said in January the WCAB was reviewing comments provided during a public hearing in September, but is almost ready to send the rules to the Office of Administrative Law for final approval. The rules would create a way for the defense to dismiss a lien when a lien claimant does not file a declaration of readiness within one year of becoming party to the case and would allow only one continuance.

Sweeney said she will need to learn more about the lien situation, having practiced in Northern California where they’re not as common or problematic as they are in the southern part of the state.

Sweeney has been actively involved in statewide issues facing injured workers through educational outreach and legislative efforts seeking to end discrimination in apportionment.

Senate Bill 899 strengthened apportionment in California’s system, stating that employers are responsible only for the extent of a worker’s injury that is related to his work. Some providers have interpreted the bill to require apportionment based on genetic makeup, and have reduced disability ratings, for example, because a woman is at a higher risk for osteoporosis or an African-American is at greater risk for hypertension.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled in Vaira v. WCAB that apportionment determinations can’t be based on genetic characteristics, but applicants’ attorneys say that hasn’t kept providers from trying to reduce ratings for applicants who may be predisposed to certain types of conditions.

In 2009, Sweeney headed Injured Women After Reform, an offshoot of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association focused on ending discrimination in apportionment. Last year, she supported the failed legislative efforts through AB 1155 to amend Section 4663 of the Labor Code to expressly prohibit physicians from basing apportionment determination on characteristics, such as gender, nationality or race.

In 2008, Sweeney successfully argued before the California Supreme Court that the Labor Code requires employers to use utilization review, and not the qualified medical evaluator process, to dispute or delay medical treatment. In the Sandhagen decision, the high court overturned a lower court ruling that Section 4062 allows an employer to seek the opinion of a qualified medical evaluator if treatment is not subject to utilization review under Section 4610.

The Supreme Court said in the decision that a claims adjuster doesn’t have to send every authorization request to utilization review if an employer approves the treatment.

Following the decision, Sweeney said the high court’s ruling would benefit injured workers by making authorization requests more efficient and also reduce costs by eliminating unnecessary UR.

Brad Chalk, president of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, said Sweeney will be an asset to the Appeals Board and her decisions will be fair and balanced.

The California Workers’ Compensation Defense Attorneys Association did not respond to requests for comment.

Sweeney said she hasn’t been told when she should report to work as a commissioner on the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board reconsideration unit in San Francisco.

The appointment requires confirmation by the California Senate and the compensation is $128,109 annually.


Redding woman named to state panel

By Record Searchlight staffRecord Searchlight

Marguerite Sweeney, 60, has been the principal attorney at the law office of Marguerite Sweeney since 1990.



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