By Paul J. Nyden
Spending nearly $600 million a year, the Workers' Compensation Fund creates vested interests.
As long as workers and employers fight about claims, lawyers for both sides make money. Doctors treating workers make money. And companies set up to help employers, often called "third party administrators," make money.
If the system worked better, they might make less.
Doctors, chiropractors, psychiatrists, physical therapists and hospitals get nearly 25 percent of all money the agency spends each year.
The four doctors on Occupational Pneumoconiosis Board made more than $12 million between 1988 and 1995, according to data released under the Freedom of Information Act. The board rules on benefits from diseases caused by dust in coal mines and glass factories.
The four doctors got $6 million for part-time work for the board and another $6 million for treating pneumoconiosis victims in their private medical practices.
Workers' Compensation generally pays health-care providers less than private insurance companies do. But many got paid handsomely.
The agency released an 800-page printout in 1995, covering payments between 1988 and 1995.
Joseph Saldanha, a Charleston orthopedic surgeon, was paid $1.7 million between 1988 and 1992. Saldanha paid more major medical malpractice settlements than any physician in state history and surrendered his license in September 1992.
Diane Shafer, Williamson orthopedic physician, received nearly $750,000 between 1988 and 1995. Medical boards in West Virginia and Kentucky fined and censured her for falsifying medical reports and loaning money to a Kentucky lawyer hearing medical complaints against her.
Twenty-two individual doctors got more than $1 million, including:
* Andrew E. Landis, a Beckley orthopedic surgeon, $3.2 million.
* Luis Loimil, a Charleston orthopedic surgeon, $2.65 million.
* Syed Abdul Zahir, a Beckley hand surgeon, $2.6 million.
* Mario Cui Ramas, a Beckley orthopedic surgeon, $1.98 million.
The agency paid 55 individual chiropractors and chiropractic clinics $25.8 million, including:
* Casto Clinics, based in Charleston, $2.99 million.
* Jordan Chiropractic Offices, South Charleston, $1.93 million.
* Thompson Chiropractic Clinic, Wayne, $1.02 million.
* Davis Chiropractic Associates, Beckley, $977,112.
* Smith Chiropractic Associates, Dunbar, $928,954.
The top individual chiropractors were:
* Paul Kominski, Glen Jean, $1.01 million.
* Joseph Martin, Clarksburg, $907,485.
* Douglas MacPherson, Weirton, $893,694.
* Michael R. Condaras, Charleston, $764,487.
* James D. Midkiff, $732,073. Midkiff is married to Charlotte Pritt, who last year was defeated as the Democrats' gubernatorial candidate.
Chiropractors billed 3.5 times as much as medical doctors. Judy Greenwood's 1989 study of 200 workers with lower back pain found average charges from medical and osteopathic physicians were $2,132, while average charges from chiropractors were $7,970.
Greenwood's previous studies revealed workers treated by chiropractors typically remained in treatment longer and missed more work than those treated by physicians.
From 1974 to 1995, claimants' lawyers earned nearly $200 million in legal fees, according to figures released in late 1995. John Kozak, the agency's top lawyer, said the real total probably is at least double that amount.
Lawyers may charge 20 percent of benefits injured workers collect during the first four years. Among the lawyers making the most money are:
* Don Stacy of Beckley, a former United Mine Workers lawyer, $12.9 million.
* James Robinson of Huntington, $10.8 million.
* Mark Hrutkay of Logan, $8.4 million.
* Robert Stultz of Weston, a former Workers' Compensation Fund lawyer, $8 million, much of it representing glass workers.
* Former Delegate Linda Garrett, D-Webster, $5.2 million.
Pat Maroney, a Charleston lawyer, reduced his rates to 10 percent of client awards. Handling cases for the West Virginia Federation of Labor and the UMW, Maroney made $9.5 million.
Company lawyers also made hundreds of millions of dollars challenging compensation claims. On each side, the top 68 lawyers made more than 80 percent of the money.
Between 1988 and 1995, Jackson & Kelly handled 25 percent of all compensation cases for employers. John McClaugherty of Jackson & Kelly said it was impossible to estimate what his firm received from a typical compensation case.
Stuart Calwell, who represents injured workers, said if a large law firm had 10 lawyers charging an average of $125 an hour, each lawyer would get $250,000 a year. If each lawyer billed $50 an hour for paralegal work, it would add $100,000.
If these figures are accurate, Calwell said, the firm's compensation lawyers would take in $3.5 million a year, or $70 million in 20 years.
"That is how Jackson & Kelly built 18 stories of glass and steel in downtown Charleston," Calwell said. "Laidley Tower was built on hourly fees, partly on the backs of injured workers."
Three other Charleston law firms Steptoe & Johnson, Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, and Robinson & McElwee also represent many employers in Workers' Comp cases.
Write a letter to the editor.