Ontario WSIB facing fraud allegations

Doctor alleges WSIB asked her to change medical opinion to avoid payout
By Liz Foster
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/16/2015

A lawsuit filed against Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) is alleging the unlawful dismissal of Brenda Steinnagel, a doctor, is indicative of a broader pattern of fraud within workers’ compensation. 

Before she was fired, Steinnagel worked for Workplace Health & Cost Solutions (WHCS) in Vaughan, Ont. Steinnagel provided medical consultations to assist WSIB case managers in adjudicating claims. Steinnagel consulted on claims to determine whether workers’ injuries were connected to a workplace accident and, therefore, eligible for benefits. 

In a statement of claim filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Steinnagel alleged WSIB attempted to coerce her to change her medical opinion about an injured worker. When she refused to do so, WSIB pressured WHCS to fire her, she said.

“In a desperate effort to reduce claims paid out, WSIB and WHCS have been conspiring to deny legitimate claims in a shocking display of arrogance and corruption,” read the statement of claim. “They pressured Dr. Steinnagel over a period of months to reverse her medical opinion on a high-cost case. When she refused, she was fired.”

Contractors — including WHCS — were given orders to reduce the number of claims paid out to workers, even if that meant benefits may be unfairly denied, according to the claim.

“Even more disturbing, this fraud upon the public has been repeated by WSIB and WHCS in other cases.”

Because WSIB oversees a roster of doctors approved to carry out its assessments, Steinnagel alleged she is now effectively unemployable in her field. She is seeking more than $1.3 million in damages from the WSIB and more than $1.8 million from WHCS, as well as a declaration she was wrongfully terminated. 

WSIB and WHCS denied the allegations: “There is no truth to Dr. Steinnagel’s allegations and we deny acting wrongfully in any way,” said WSIB senior public affairs consultant Christine Arnott. “The WSIB will vigorously defend the lawsuit.” 

The board receives more than 200,000 new claims each year. It says upwards of $2.6 billion in benefits are paid out annually.

Because the issue is still before the courts, WSIB declined to provide any further comment.

WHCS also declined to comment, with Gred McGinnis — a lawyer at Mathews, Dinsdale & Clark in Toronto representing WHCS — saying only “Steinnagel is an apparently disgruntled former employee of WHCS, who has brought an action against WHCS and WSIB following the end of her employment. The claims she has made about improper conduct are without merit, and we have brought a motion to the court to strike out many parts of the claim.” 

The motion to strike much of the claim was to be heard in court on Oct. 26, with the lawsuit itself expected to follow in November. 

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