Former nursing home cook wins $12 million in workers' compensation case

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A federal court in South Dakota awarded a former nursing home cook more than $12 million in a lawsuit involving a worker's compensation claim for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Alice Torres, a cook at Meadowbrook Manor nursing home in Rapid City, SD, filed the claim in 1999, seeking $8,000 for medical bills, lost time and physical impairment. Insurance adjusters denied the claim, saying Torres lacked proof that her hand problems were caused by her work. The insurers, which are likely to appeal, are the target of the $12 million judgment.

Torres had reported the pain in March 1998. She took three weeks off work because of it. In April of 1999, she underwent surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, according to court records.

Torres filed suit in 2001, alleging Travelers Insurance Co., Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, Constitution State Services (a subsidiary of Travelers), and Beverly Enterprises (Meadowbrook's parent company) conspired in bad faith, abuse of process, and interference with business and contract relations. Beverly Enterprises settled out of court on Jan. 8 for an undisclosed sum, before the $12 million judgment was given.

A key part of the allegation was that Travelers Insurance's incentive program created a conflict of interest. It offered claims adjusters end-of-year bonuses up to 20% of their pay if they reduced overall payouts from one year to the next. Torres' lawyers argued that claims adjusters have to be fair to claimants, instead of concerned about insurance companies' cost control.