Two Salinas, Calif., men pled guilty to conspiring to deny injured workers their workers’ compensation benefits, the California Department of Insurance announced. David Lawrence Polk, 53, and Douglas Minoru Tateoka, 61, both former managers of the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. plant in Salinas entered guilty pleas in Monterey County Superior Court on March 25.
According to the DOI, in October 2006, two Smurfit-Stone Container employees contacted the Monterey County District Attorney’s office complaining that workers were being discouraged by Polk and Tateoka from opening workers’ compensation claims for injuries sustained at the Salinas plant.
The original complaints stated Polk and Tateoka drove injured workers to the “company doctor” who was actually a physician’s assistant. It was alleged that Polk and Tateoka remained in the examination rooms with the employees, attempting to influence the diagnosis and treatment of injuries. It is alleged that Polk and Tateoka concealed workers’ injuries. It was also alleged that Polk and Tateoka tried to prevent leave time from being medically prescribed, and that they denied injured workers time off work to recover from their injuries.
A joint investigation between the Department of Insurance and the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office revealed that from 1999 through 2007, Polk and Tateoka allegedly managed the care of at least 25 injured workers outside the workers’ compensation system and discouraged injured workers from filing claims and receiving entitled benefits. One employee was purportedly given a prescription written in Polk’s name with the understanding that the prescribed medication could be given to other employees at Polk’s discretion and without seeking medical consultation.
Polk and Tateoka allegedly required injured workers to be present at the plant and watch training videos, answer phones, or even remain in their vehicles in the parking lot so that no lost time incident would be reported. Some workers’ compensation claims were ultimately opened when the injury persisted or the employee insisted on having a claim opened as they were not getting sufficient medical treatment.
Polk and Tateoka were arrested on October 31, 2007. They are scheduled to be sentenced on May 20, 2010 at 1:30 pm.
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