Workers comp decides injured worker is fit for duty without tests

Investigations

Neil Eckelberger, of Lakeland, was badly burned in a workplace explosion. Now, an insurance company is telling him it is stopping its workers comp disability payments because its doctors claim Eckelberger is at maximum medical improvement and can return to work.

Travelers Indemnity Company decided Neil doesn’t need tests for a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that its doctors recommend.

Eckelberger was injured in an explosion at Natural Advantage Food Flavorings in Lakeland back in Sept. 2017.  

Rescue workers rushed him to Tampa General Hospital’s burn unit for treatment.  

Today, he still suffers physical and emotional wounds.

“PTSD doesn’t get better with time, it’s been 17 months and I still can’t even think about stepping foot in that building, even when it’s empty,” Eckelberger said as he wiped tears from his eyes.

His employer’s workers comp insurance carrier, Travelers, determined Eckelberger is ready to go back to work.

“He can’t go back to work,” his wife, Robin Eckelberger, said. 

Robin spent 10 days and nights with her husband at TGH in the aftermath of the explosion.  

She claims Travelers continually denied treatment for Eckelberger’s injured back and refused testing to determine if he suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“If you don’t take Neil to be properly diagnosed for the TBI, then there’s nothing on record that he has a TBI that you have to treat,” Robin explained.  

If there is no TBI to treat, that means less doctor bills for Travelers to pay as well as less in disability compensation.

In Florida, the legislature gave insurance carriers control over which doctors injured workers can see and how they are treated.  

No state government office, not the Office of Insurance Regulation, no one works to ensure injured workers receive quality medical care.

Travelers sent Eckelberger to Psychologist D. Frank Schultz, Ph. D.

“His is truly a traumatic and damaging experience,” Dr. Schultz said. 

Dr. Schultz found that Eckelberger showed classic signs of TBI and PTSD. He recommended treatment.

Travelers denied it and refused to allow him to see Dr. Schultz again.

“The adjuster, on her own accord, and the attorney for Travelers decided, ‘we’re not going to provide that,'” Eckelberger’s attorney Michael Winer stated.  

“‘We don’t care what the physician or the psychologist in this case, who we authorized and we picked says or recommends, we’re just not going to provide it.'”

Michael Winer contends the inmates (the insurance companies) are running the asylum.

Another doctor to which Travelers sent Eckelberger recommended that he be tested at TGH for a possible traumatic brain injury.

It didn’t happen.

Regardless, it claims he is at maximum medical improvement and he is ready to go back to work.

“Who in the world, in their right mind would say that?” asked Dr. Schultz.  “This guy can barely make it to the breakfast table.”

Without the tests, there is a question as to whether Travelers really knows the extent of Eckelberger’s injuries.  

That means it will stop his workers comp disability compensation payments.

Travelers did not respond to 8 On Your Side’s request for a comment for this report.

The company is obligated to provide medical treatment for his injuries.

According to Robin, her dog gets better medical care at the vet than workers comp doctors gave her husband.

If you have a problem that you think should be investigated call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1 800 338-0808. Contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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