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Rater of the Lost Code
By Robert Warne - October 29, 2001

When President Clinton split hairs over what "it" really means, a good portion of Americans were insulted by the level attorneys would stoop to massage the English language in their favor. For many, the Clinton scenario was their first exposure to the extent some will take to use semantic manipulation to build a case. For others, it has become commonplace to see the lexis stretched like saltwater taffy until a collection of words achieve a desired outcome.

Moving beyond the question of what does "it" mean—in the California Workers’ Compensation system, "What does disability mean?" is debated on a daily basis. Because disability is a subjective term, the definitions vary depending on the background and motives of the definer.

Luis Pérez-Cordero, an independent disability-rating specialist, poses another question: "Are we rating words or disability? If we are rating words then we might as well start handing out state backed ATM cards."

From his observations, "the current methods of interpreting the codes pertaining to the disability rating system are producing conclusions out of line from what was ever intended or in many instances, what is supported by the medical reports’ findings."

Cordero operates in the bay area and is not afraid to assert and defend his rating interpretations. He sees himself as a restorer/reformer, not a conformer, when it comes to the status quo of rating permanent disability.

His credentials have earned him a voice of authority on the subject of disability rating. The course of his career has taken him throughout the state. Beginning as a benefits administrator for ADT Security Systems in the ’70s, Cordero then became a state rater for the Disability Evaluation Unit. He also worked for insurance carriers, self-insured employers, and third party administrative agencies. Since 1994 Cordero has worked independently as a permanent disability rating specialist, consultant, teacher and speaker. He has also published a series of manuals and articles on permanent disability.

Cordero is a Puerto Rican native decorated with a variety of certifications, including a BA and MA in Education from the University of Connecticut. His mission is to help people rate disability according to the California Code of Regulations and the Labor Code. He cites Packard Thurber’s book Evaluation of Industrial Disability, and most recently Mark A. Mandel’s article, Examination of the Hand, as representations of his school of thought.

For example, a statement from Thurber’s book Evaluation of Industrial Disability, cited by Cordero is, "In the State of California the computation of permanent disability ratings depends upon complete and adequate medical reports. …the medical examiner’s report, therefore, should paint a written picture, which can be re-created by laymen as well as other medical men."

"Where does it say that only ‘legal professionals’ can interpret a medical report or the California Code of Regulations and Labor Code?" says Cordero. "Why have we decided attorneys are the only ones that can speak or teach? We shouldn’t be afraid to express our thoughts, opinions and interpretations of what we read."

Cordero knows he’s outnumbered and accepts the challenges associated with independent rating in a system where "the preponderance of its mediators have plaintiff-oriented reasoning and mind-sets."

Despite his passionate opinions, Cordero realizes that it has been the legal profession that has advanced the right of individuals in many instances. But once you get him started he’ll tell you, "Attorneys want to treat workers’ compensation claims like liability and not like how it was originally intended to be—A compromise between the interests of both employer and employee for which a series of benefits would be provided by the employer," says Cordero. "In many instances attorneys are creating victims. They often send the employees to specialists for ‘treatment’ that encourages victimization.

"[Attorneys] impact the teaching of raters and other professionals. Until recently when the Industrial Medical Council took over the responsibility, they controlled the training of physicians." Today medical reporting has improved. Many reports are now detailed and well reasoned. The problem often times is according to Cordero "It’s not what they tell you, it’s what they leave out."

An adjuster was asked if he ever used independent raters. The adjuster replied that it was too risky. He explained that he wouldn’t want to subject himself to the possibility of the court shooting down an independent rater’s report. He said he preferred to do the rating himself or under certain circumstances use the DEU for a rating.

In response to the adjuster’s concern about using an independent rater, Cordero illustrates how people want to avoid vulnerability by going with the established system.

Cordero understands the system for what it is and is determined to do his part to advance it. There has been a lot of talk about a benefits increase recently. "We do need a benefits increase, but not an official one and another one behind the scenes."

He explains, "I refuse to let politics influence my ratings. I will not duplicate disability or just rate empty words. To me it’s a matter of integrity. I’m passionate about permanent disability and I think there is enough room to negotiate within the established and published guidelines. In the long run, duplicating disability and rating empty words doesn’t necessarily benefit the employee."

When Cordero does a rating he explains in detail his conclusions with supporting data. He says, "Disability descriptions have been inflated for so many years it has become an uphill battle to get back to the reality of rating disability as supported by both measurable and clinical objective findings."

Cordero is the Indiana Jones of rating. He goes up against those that want the Rating Schedule in their possession and under their control just like when Indy went after the Ark and the Holy Grail—ancient artifacts that Indy’s adversaries wanted to possess and control. Cordero’s statement, "They belong to all of the people and should be freely available," represents his philosophy of making ‘the artifacts’ available to all of the public to enjoy and benefit from, not just to a specific group.

As an independent rater Cordero continues as a workers’ compensation archeologist. He asks, ‘Why has Packard Thurber’s Evaluation of Industrial Disability disappeared from teaching circles?" (§8 CCR 9725). His adventure pits him against the agents of ‘the Department who guard the codes. He is committed to educating people to the raw, unadulterated permanent disability rating procedures.

He knows that his views are tough and thought provoking, but Cordero says, "I’ve been fortunate in my career. Not only have I traveled extensively as a state rater, I’ve been asked as a private rater to provide disability ratings for injured workers from Eureka to San Diego in every possible industry. All of this experience has widened my understanding of the system." He reminds us, "It is a viable system as long as we all maintain the spirit of Article 14 of The California Constitution, and don’t allow one profession to be its sentinel."


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