A CBC News investigation has uncovered questionable methods used by WorkSafeBC to avoid compensating workers for costly injuries.
"They're trying to force me to go on welfare," says former tow truck driver John Peeters, who was badly injured when his truck crashed into a light post two years ago.
"It's like[my shoulder] is on fire ... like somebody is beating you with a baseball bat continuously," he says.
Peeters' compensation was cut in April, after he turned down a security guard job on the advice of his doctor.
"I told them I can't ... I'm on a cane, I've got a blown knee, my shoulder is [injured], I've got a concussion that's turned from more of a concussion to a [cognitive] problem," he said, stuttering and struggling to speak.
Peeters blacked out in the crash. He doesn't know if he hit his head, but says he has experienced headaches, confusion and memory loss ever since.
"My memory is like a filing cabinet that was kicked over," says the Surrey man.
People who knew Peeters before the crash say it turned a quick-witted man into a shadow of his former self.
"Prior to this, he was articulate, smart. Now he stutters. He can't hold a regular conversation," said Jordie Brown.
WorkSafeBC denied his claim for his knee and head injury, and will only compensate him for the damage to his shoulder.
Last September, it tried to cut Peeters off workers' compensation, after he refused to get back behind the wheel of a tow truck patrolling the Pattullo Bridge.
"It was dangerous because you have to have your [faculties] ... I could kill somebody," he said, a claim backed up by his own doctor, who reminded his case worker he was on a morphine patch and driving would make him "a danger to himself and others."
Eventually, Peeters got his benefits back, but WorkSafeBC hired a private investigator to look into the case.
Even after hidden cameras showed that he was unable to walk normally, WorkSafe hired a psychologist to review his medical file.
Without ever seeing Peeters in person, the psychologist concluded that he was likely faking his symptoms — a finding at odds with his team of doctors.
The psychologist quoted a doctor who flagged validity concerns, not because she suspected deceit, but because Peeters was in so much pain he was "unable to tolerate testing."
Another psychologist who saw Peeters found "no indication of exaggeration or embellishment."
A lawyer who specializes in WorkSafeBC cases says while Peeters' injuries are complex, WorkSafeBC often focuses only on evidence that helps avoid compensation for costly injuries.
"This is frontline adjudication at its worst," says Janet Patterson, who reviewed the case.
"This type of decision — denying the obvious — causes immense hardship for injured workers and their families; it effectively shifts the burden of proof onto them, while taking away any financial, medical or moral support that the Board could offer."
By the numbers
According to the latest WorkSafeBC statistics, in 2011:
- 141,559 injuries were reported.
- 103,940 claims were accepted and paid the first time.
- 142 fatal claims were paid the first time.
- 6.6 per cent of claims were disallowed.
- Compensation costs totaled $1,003,925,572.
(Source: WorksafeBC Statistics 2011)
"And in this case, I think there's just such a mound of evidence to the contrary that a fair look at it would have required a different view," Patterson added.
But Trevor Alexander, vice-president at WorkSafeBC, denies his case manager ignored evidence from the doctors who actually treated Peeters.
"We need to look at the totality of the evidence. Mr. Peeters has been to a number of specialists... who have determined his presentation was inconsistent with the expectations and they were not able to substantiate that he had a cognitive disability," said Alexander.
But WorkSafeBC's own documents do substantiate Peeters' cognitive problems. CBC reviewed hundreds of pages and found several medical records saying he did "exhibit cognitive inefficiency [and] word-finding difficulties" in an evaluation in June 2011, two months after the crash.
A separate team assessment of his brain injury documented his "memory deficits," "slow information processing" and "difficulties with organization."
WorkSafeBC says specialists "were unable to substantiate that his self-reported symptoms were related to the injury" because his MRI was normal.
WorkSafeBC has offered Peeters a $30,000 annual pension to compensate for only his shoulder injury. He says half of that will go towards paying for his pain medicine prescription.
The former Unitow driver has not received any compensation since March 31. He refuses to go on welfare and is appealing WorkSafeBC's decisions.