Workers comp doctor provides false information about injured employee

Investigations

Documents obtained by 8 On Your Side show that a doctor hired by workers comp carrier Travelers Indemnity provided false information on an injured worker’s condition.

Neil Eckelberger suffered serious burns as well as neurological psychological and orthopedic injuries when a reactor at Natural Advantage Food Flavorings in Lakeland exploded in Sept. 2017.

Neil spent 10 days in Tampa General Hospital’s burn unit undergoing painful debridement and graft surgery.

Seventeen months after the explosion, he still suffers from concussion-like symptoms.

“Everyday I have headaches,” Neil said. 

Travelers sent Neil to workers comp neurologist  Dr. Thomas Newman in Tampa.

Reports written up by Newman state Neil denied having multiple symptoms, including insomnia, fatigue, depression, anxiety, light sensitivity and nausea.

“Neil is lying on the table in there, he’s complaining about the lights and his headaches and he’s not sleeping and he’s depressed and he’s angry,” Neil’s wife Robin stated.

Dr. Newman also wrote that Neil denied blurred vision, hearing loss and tinnitus.

“The ringing never stops,” Neil explained. “I lost hearing in my left ear. Sometimes my vision will be blurry.” 

But according to Dr. Newman’s reports to Travelers, Neil had none of that. 

“In terms of the neurologist, almost all of his revenues and patients come from workers compensation,” Neil’s attorney Michael Winer said.

Winer claims the doctor did not accurately chart complaints and provided false and misleading information to Travelers which allowed the company to deny Neil benefits.

Dr. Newman did not respond to our request for a comment regarding this report.

According to the Eckelbergers, Dr. Newman prescribed Zofran for Neil’s nausea.  

Dr. Newman also prescribed Tramadol every 12 hours for pain, Lidocaine patches for lower back pain and Cyclobenzaprine for muscle spasms.

Dr. Newman recommended to Travelers in July 2018 that Neil be treated by pain management. Then he changed his mind.

He continued prescribing pain medication and in November, Dr, Newman again recommended pain management for Neil.  

Travelers has yet to approve that benefit.

Other notes clearly show that Dr. Newman was aware Neil was seeing a psychiatrist for depression and anxiety.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Robin said.  

“If you’re a neurologist and someone is not really complaining, why are you filling three prescription bottles every visit and continuing to see them every six weeks?”

“It’s one of two things,” Neil explained.

“Either they’re lying about me, saying I didn’t have those symptoms, or they’re fraudulently prescribing drugs to somebody that doesn’t need them.” 

Travelers contends it has gone to great lengths to ensure Neil gets the proper treatment.  The insurance company claims the Eckelbergers’ attorney won’t grant permission to discuss specifics of the case. 

In a text, Winer said Travelers can discuss legal defenses and strategies and reasons for doing things but cannot discuss Neil’s private health information.

He added, “This is being used as a ruse to try to show that they are being muzzled when they really are not.” 

If you know of something 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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