Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

June 6, 1997

IN WHAT IS BELIEVED to be the nation's longest unsettled workers' compensation case, an electric power company lineman injured in 1962 still waits for economic justice.

"As Bob Manning descended a utility pole near the St. Lawrence Seaway one cold February afternoon, a jolt of electricity sent him flying," said the New York Times in reporting on the longstanding case. "The novice lineman, a young father with a pregnant wife, hit the pavement headfirst. Now Mr. Manning, 60, paralyzed from the neck down, is trying to collect his workers' compensation benefits. He fell in 1962."

The N. Y. Times explained the case thusly:

"MR. MANNING has required around-the-clock medical care for 35 years, making his the longest unresolved workers' compensation case that people close to the system can remember -- the longest by a matter of decades. This despite the fact that the workers' compensation system is designed to get quick but typically lower payment to workers.

"The State Workers' Compensation Board has granted him awards, the largest being $1.2 million, but the awards have been tied up in litigation ever since. Utilities Mutual Insurance Company, the workers' compensation insurer for Mr. Manning's former employer, the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation, maintains in court that it has no obligation to pay anything to Mr. Manning until its appeals are over.

"At the heart of Utilities Mutual's case is its refusal to pay for the care that Mr. Manning receives from his wife, Helen. She is a registered nurse, and her time is consumed by the need to care for her husband.

"The way the case has been going, his lawyers say, decades more will pass before he collects. The intervening years have been filled with litigation, appeals, awards, and challenges of awards.

"IN 1962, soon after he fell, Utilities Mutual started weekly disability payments of about $250, and in 1968 Mr. Manning won a jury verdict of $750,000 against the other owner of the pole, New York State Telephone. State law enabled Utilities Mutual to stop its payments then and to recover the $129,000 it had already paid Mr. Manning. In fact, Utilities Mutual would not have to pay any more until the award from the telephone company had been exhausted.

"By 1975, Mr. Manning says, he had used up the net from that New York Telephone award, and he began seeking resumption of payment from Utilities Mutual, ultimately winning an award of $1.2 million in 1995.

"Utilities Mutual has contested that award, but since 1988 it has been voluntary paying Mr. Manning $350 a week. The rates -- $50 in disability benefits and $300 for his round-the-clock medical care -- are roughly those settled on in the first award, in 1962. Those payments stopped a month ago, however, and when Mr. Manning asked for an explanation, he was told that the mistake would be corrected with a check sent by overnight letter. After a week though, no check had arrived.

"The Mannings, already deeply in debt, say that they face imminent bankruptcy and the loss of their house in Sacramento, Calif., which was built especially for them...

"UTILITIES MUTUAL has repeatedly authorized hospital care for Mr. Manning, but when the bills come it refuses to pay. Medicare has paid more than $2 million of those bills, and the Mannings still have $200,000 in medical bills...

"Utilities Mutual is owned by 35 utilities in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and as recently as 1994 its president was William J. Donlon. Until 1993, Mr. Donlon was also the chairman and chief executive of Niagara Mohawk and is still on the Niagara Mohawk board of directors...

"Despite his disability and his fight to be paid, Mr. Manning remains remarkably cheerful. The Mannings raised two sons and adopted three orphaned relatives."

AFTER THE TIMES reported on Manning's 35-year ordeal, New York Governor George Pataki called the unsettled case "a disgrace."

In addition, the state's attorney general stepped into the case, telling the companies they "must comply with the order and pay Mr. Manning," the New York Times reported.

Editorially, the newspaper commented: "...The company (Utilities Mutual Insurance) should wake up to the outrage it has caused and settle its debt to Mr. Manning."


THE LABOR PRESS has not heard of any Oregon workers' compensation claims going unsettled for decades but there are cases of injured workers waiting years for insurance carriers to settle up.

A major problem for Oregon workers involves getting their claims accepted by workers' compensation insurance carriers. While changes in workers' compensation law made by Senate Bill 369 passed by the Republican-controlled Oregon Legislature in 1995 raised benefit levels for injured workers, it also made it tougher for workers to qualify for those benefits, said R.C.A. Moore, a lobbyist and spokesman for attorneys representing injured workers.

SB 369 was the handiwork of anti-worker, anti-union Republican State Senator Gene Derfler of Salem, and Kevin Mannix, also of Salem, who in 1995 was a Democratic state representative. The conservative Mannix, no longer in the Legislature, has since become a Republican. Moore said Mannix, a lawyer who represents insurance companies and employers -- which makes him an adversary of injured workers -- may have had a conflict of interest on the subject of Senate Bill 369.


MANNIX WAS SUED recently by a former law partner, Conrad E. Yunker. According to the Salem Statesman Journal newspaper, Yunker alleged that "Mannix improperly used law firm assets for political campaigns."

Mannix, a conservative Democrat in his four terms as a state representative, did not run for re-election last year and instead campaigned for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general. He lost in the primary to Hardy Myers, who went on to win the November election. Early this year Mannix announced his switch to the Republican Party, which is a more appropriate home for his political views. He's expected to run for some office next year. Yunker's suit alleged that "Mannix fired him after he demanded an accounting and reporting of law firm assets -- including staff time, office space and office supplies" -- used in Mannix's political campaigns, the Salem newspaper reported.

Mannix denied the allegations with such vehemence that Yunker subsequently filed a second lawsuit, this one charging the former legislator with defamation.

Mannix was one of the sponsors of 1994's three so-called "get tough on crime" ballot measures, which spawned the need for more prison space that created such a furor in Wilsonville and Hillsboro from residents who donŐt want a new prison in their vicinity. One of the "tough on crime" ballot measures was reworked by the current Legislature to help it pass legal muster and it appeared as Measure 49 on the May 20 mail-in election ballot where it was passed by voters.

Another sponsor of those 1994 "tough on crime" initiatives was former Lake Oswego legislator Robert Tiernan, a Mannix ally. The anti-worker Tiernan, a Republican, was defeated last November by Democrat Richard Devlin. As has been previously mentioned in the NW Labor Press, the signature-gathering campaign for those costly-to-taxpayers 1994 ballot measures was heavily financed by low-profile multimillionaire and sometime hypnotist Loren E. Parks of Hillsboro, who owns a medical equipment manufacturing plant in Aloha, west of Portland. Little if anything was heard from Mannix, Tiernan, Parks and other "tough on crime" proponents during the prison-siting controversy. Maybe someone should have asked the initiative-instigating "crime fighters" if they'd object to having a prison in their backyards.


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