Costly "injuries"

Pamela Lichtenwalner has been employed as a special education teacher at the San Francisco Unified School District since August 1988 and between 1989 and 1999 has made multiple Workman’s Compensation claims for subjective injuries sustained in physical contact with six and seven year old children.

Religious Freedom Watch has learned that Lichtenwalner’s subjective injuries, mainly to the neck and back, are not substantiated by x-rays or other tests but are based solely on Lichtenwalner’s complaints. Typically Lichtenwalner reports a minor injury, is examined and treated by a physician designated by the School District, who finds no physical evidence of injury and clears Lichtenwalner to return to work after a short recovery period. Lichtenwalner then goes to her own doctor due to “dissatisfaction” with the original doctor and continues treatment until she obtains a medical statement from her personal doctor that she is permanently disabled and this permanent disability has stabilized which entitles her to permanent disability payment. The City of San Francisco has contested each of her claims and Lichtenwalner in each case has gone before the Worker’s Compensation Appeal Board and obtained substantial settlements.

Documents on file with the Worker’s Compensation Appeal Board show that Lichtenwalner has obtained at least two large pay-outs by the City of San Francisco to Lichtenwalner totaling over $65,000.

Some of the highlights of the extensive documentation are:

Less than a year later she went on paid disability leave from June 14, 1989 – June 27, 1989 due to an injury she claims to have suffered when she strained her back while lifting a child. Dr. Soong, who examined her, expressed some disbelief and noted that the injury was:

“Probable mild muscle strain with a multitude of symptoms that do not correlate with the nature of the injury nor the physical findings. To give her the benefit of the doubt, she will be placed on Ibuprofen…”

When re-examined Dr. Soong reported:

“There is no evidence of permanent disability nor need for future medical care.”

Three months later, on September 13, 1990, Lichtenwalner claimed a new injury by a 7 year-old child who kicked her in the cheek when she attempted to pick him up off the floor.

Lichtenwalner reported:

“Carlos, 7 years old, was laying (on the) ground, on his back, kicking out and fighting off the attempts of my para (adult assistant)…and I to hold on to his arms, gently, and pick him up. As we started to lift him, using his arms…back, he kicked me forcefully on the left side of my face. I saw stars, fell against the building, couldn’t see for a moment.”

The treating physician reported that Lichtenwalner’s “subjective complaint(s)” was that she had discomfort to the left side of her face. The treating physician reported that Lichtenwalner was:

“Quite emotional – Previous 21⁄2 years disability for injury to her neck at Napa State Hospital.”

The treating physician’s report indicated there was “no swelling to her face.”

The doctor examining Lichtenwalner’s X-ray concludes:

“Normal cervical spine,” and “Normal facial bones without evidence of bony injury.”

Lichtenwalner refused returning to work. She went to a personal doctor who reported that she needed further treatment for “6 – 8 weeks” but even her personal doctor only estimated her period of disability for regular work as between “1 – 2 weeks.”

Two weeks later Dr. Soong reexamined Lichtenwalner. His report states:

“I feel the patient has essentially recovered from her minor head injury. The patient does not want to go back to work as the boy who had hit her is still there. She stated she talked with her personal physician who will be referring her to Howard Siedler, MD, a neurologist in Marin County. I feel from my point of view the patient could return to work to full duties as of October 1, 1990 with no need for future medical care or with any evidence of permanent disability.”

Neurologist Dr. Robert Burton, examined Lichtenwalner about three weeks after the injury. Burton reported:

“She does not feel that she is capable yet of returning to work.” He also stated, “The patient also expressed some dissatisfaction with the care received from Dr Soong. She indicates that she would like to see her own private neurologist &Dr Seidler…”

Burton also noted that:

“The patient is well versed in neuropsychology and has read extensively on head injuries. At this point she feels certain that she has a post-concussion syndrome and that she will require time to heal.”

Dr Burton authorized Lichtenwalner to return to work as of 15 October 1990, one month after being kicked in the cheek by Carlos. He stated:

“At this point I do not anticipate any permanent disability…She is not in need on any further neurodiagnostic testing….I do believe the patient is capable of returning on a full-time, unrestricted basis to her previous position as of October 15, 1990.”

The same day Lichtenwalner and her attorney, Rosemary Ackerman, completed an “Application for Adjudication of Claim” to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, despite no evidence of any permanent damage and being given the OK to return to work.

On October 25, 1990, Lichtenwalner’s private physician, Howard Siedler, revealed the real reason that Lichtenwalner would not return to work. In his one-page report he stated:

“…She continues to be apprehensive about returning to work, since the student responsible for her recent injury is still in the classroom &I extend her return to work date to November 12th.”

A week later Siedler, MD wrote a letter stating that Lichtenwalner, “should not work with assaultive students.”

Dr. Siedler re-examined Lichtenwalner and wrote a one-page report in which he states:

“…in all I feel she is capable of going back to teaching her special education classes, with the exception that the assaultive student (7 years of age) who injured her is still in that class and still out of control…Thus, I do not feel that Ms. Lichtenwalner can return to that classroom until the troublesome student is controlled or moved to a different environment, since she is more vulnerable to reinjury at this time and for the foreseeable future.”

In other words, Siedler was the third doctor to state nothing is wrong with her physically. During this time period Lichtenwalner was giving lectures at San Francisco State – while collecting full disability.

Again in January 1991 Dr. Siedler examined Lichtenwalner and reported:

“I feel that… could go back to teaching, as I did in November, but she tells me that the assaultive student is still in the classroom…”

Lichtenwalner finally returned to work and began teaching summer school in June 1991 after collecting disability payments the entire school year. She then returned to the same elementary school in September of 1991.

Lichtenwalner changed attorneys and continued to pursue a claim for permanent disability with the Worker’s Compensation Board. She was examined in August 1994 at the request of her new attorney by a psychiatrist, Dr. Julius Heuscher and an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Morris Skinner (who share the same address).Dr. Heuscher submitted a twelve-page Psychiatric Evaluation on of Lichtenwalner on behalf of her attorney, Deborah Lieberman. Aside from misspelling Lichtenwalner’s name on every page of his report, Heuscher reported the following:

“-Walner (sic) explained to me that she developed a psychiatric disability superimposed on a physical disability, as a result of two physical injuries at work, one, rather minor, in May of 1989, the second, more serious and associated with considerable psychological trauma, on September 13, 1990. She further stated that her employer, the City and County of San Francisco…(CCSF) &has not accepted, to this date, her claim of having suffered and suffering from a psychiatric disability.”

“-Walner’s (sic) only significant residual psychiatric symptoms are 1/ an intense fear of being assigned to a class with physically violent children, as she is convinced that she would become unduly frightened and thus not be able to function optimally, and 2/ some blurring of her vision which she blames on the concussion of September 13, 1990.”

Lichtenwalner told Dr. Heuscher:

“…could at one time handle violent, acting out kids, but I can’t do that any more; we have more and more violent children come into the system; and I’m less mobile; I’m scared that they might give me some of them in my class. I have only one more year to teach before I obtain my Ph.D., and until I can continue to do my research on HIV children.”

Heuscher’s report states:

“…Lichten-Walner’s (sic) psychiatric disability has been permanent and stationary since she returned to work. She suffers from a chronic post-traumatic stress syndrome characterized by fear and phobic feelings, which are likely to prevent her indefinitely from resuming the type of teaching of those kinds of severely handicapped children that are potentially severely aggressive or violent.”

& “Furthermore, there is considerable risk of a more sever ongoing psychiatric disability in case she was again assaulted.”

On the same day, Orthopedic Surgeon Morris Skinner, MD (whose address is the same as the Psychiatrist Lichtenwalner saw on the same day) prepared a nine-page “Orthopedic Evaluation” report for Lichtenwalner’s attorney, Deborah Lieberman. Aside from misspelling Lichtenwalner’s name Dr Skinner’s report incorrectly describes Lichtenwalner as a “well-nourished black female…”

Despite the contrary earlier medical reports from the time the alleged injuries occurred, Dr. Skinner’s report opened the door for a settlement from Worker’s Compensation for permanent disability. In his report, Dr. Skinner states:

“For the injury which occurred on May 15, 1989, temporary total disability was reasonable until May 19, 1989. For the injury which occurred on September 13, 1990, temporary total disability was reasonable until May of 1991 &Her condition may be considered permanent and stationary as of the date that she returned to work.”

Lichtenwalner’s attorney pursued the Worker’s Compensation claim due to Lichtenwalner’s injuries (from 1989 and 1990) which they are now claiming caused permanent damage.

In November 1994 while pursuing the earlier claims, Lichtenwalner was again allegedly injured at the Raphael Weill elementary school by a ten year old. She claimed to have experience upper and lower back pain and went for treatment. She returned to work a couple of weeks later.In October 1994, Claims Adjuster for the City and County of San Francisco Worker’s Compensation Division had Lichtenwalner examined by another psychiatrist, Dr Pickel. His report, which was completed at the beginning of 1995, is highly critical of Psychiatrist Heuscher’s conclusions. Dr Pickel concludes that Lichtenwalner was not psychiatrically disabled from her alleged injuries, quite the opposite of Dr Heuscher’s findings. Lichtenwalner even denied to Dr Pickel that she ever suffered psychiatric injuries and denied receiving psychiatric therapy. Dr. Pickel’s report states:

“The claimant denied she had any psychological symptoms re-experiencing her injury. The nature of her injury combined with that history indicates that she did not experience a post-traumatic stress disorder, as was diagnosed by Dr Heuscher.

& “In addition, the claimant states she never had any psychiatric disability resulting from that incident. She also states that Dr Heuscher’s report is incorrect regarding her having ‘…psychotherapy for about three months after the September of 1990 injury.’ She never had any psychotherapy after that incident. She did not feel any need for treatment at the time or subsequently. She never did and does not currently consider herself psychiatrically disabled as a result of that incident.”

Despite Lichtenwalner’s representations to Dr. Pickel she had no psychiatric disability, she and her attorney pursued a claim for this with the Worker’s Compensation Appeal Board. She even signed a “Stipulation with Request for Award,” on 6-12-1995, which indicates that she was injured on 6-12-1989, 9-13-1990 and 11-23-1994 and “sustained injury arising out of and in the course of employment…(to her) ortho…psych &The injury caused permanent disability of 26.75% – the sum of $15,725.00”

In another case, from 1996 (case: SFO 0422485), Lichtenwalner made another job injury related claim to the Worker’s Compensation Appeals Board.

In 1999 Lichtenwalner made yet another Workman’s Compensation claim when she sustained an injury when a 60 lb special education child pulled her arm.The day after Lichtenwalner was injured she was examined by Dr. Kevin D. Harrington. He wrote a detailed description of the injury and put her on a three week (paid) disability leave from her work at the school district.When she returned to see him on November 8, 1999, Dr Harrington re-evaluated her due to continuing complaints of pain. Dr. Harrington’s report states:

“I reevaluated Ms. Lichtenwalner today with regard to her ongoing complaints of pain, numbness, weakness, and generalized dysfunction of her right arm which she relates to an incident occurring in a special education class on October 6th…As noted at that time, the patient continues to complain of essentially inability to perform her previous duties including typing at a computer, lifting more than five pounds, moving the arm or shoulder more than very minimally, of in essence, functioning in anyway that she was capable of prior to October 6th. It is interesting that she told me today that she haws had two previous industrial injuries at the same facility one occurring in 1990 and resulting in a ‘70% nerve loss’ in the left arm, and the other occurring in 1984 resulting in a significant injury to her right neck and shoulder…”

“On objective examination today, no obvious orthopedic abnormalities were notable…”

“In essence, I advised Ms. Lichtenwalner that I could not find any reason why she could not return to whatever level of work activity that she was performing immediately prior to the alleged injuries of October 6, 1999. She was quite unhappy with this advice stating that if she attempted to return to work, her right arm would quickly become ‘totally disabled’ and that it would be my fault. I attempted to reason with her at some length, but in essence she was quite adamant that, on the basis of her subjective symptoms, she could not return to her previous work activity. Be it as it may, I cannot in good faith state that she is disabled and I told her that I would release her to return to her previous work as of tomorrow November 9th…in parting she stated she was going to get ‘a real doctor.'”

Lichtenwalner went to another doctor, who after treating her for months this doctor reported, “It is unlikely that patient will be able to return to her pre-injury job as a disabled student instructor.”

Lichtenwalner again pursued a claim from the City and County of San Francisco for permanent disability from the Worker’s Compensation Appeals Board. She was on paid disability leave from the School District from October 1999 through August 2000.

Lichtenwalner submitted a hardship letter to the Worker’s Compensation Appeals Board asking for a lump some disability payment so that she could purchase her house.

In the letter she states:

“…Hardship Letter…/Injury 10-06-99…I am writing to request a fast resolution of my Workers Compensation Case, in order to apply for and receive the lump sum payment as soon as possible. I am attempting to purchase my residence and I need the lump sum payment for the down payment as soon as possible. Thank you very much. Pamela Lichtenwalner.”

In April 2001 Lichtenwalner received an award from the “Workers Compensation Appeals Board against the City and County of San Francisco. As a result of this injury, Lichtenwalner went on paid disability leave from the SF School District from October 6th 1999 – August 9, 2000 (ten months) and was awarded a lump sum Workman’s Compensation award of $49,342.50. As the school district is self-insured, the award was directly paid by the City of San Francisco.

Prior to her employment with the SFUSD Lichtenwalner was employed as a special education teacher at Napa State Hospital between 1980 and 1984. In 1983, Lichtenwalner received a 15-day suspension. She appealed and had it cancelled but shortly after she sustained a work related injury and from March 4, 1984 – September 15, 1984, was on paid industrial disability leave.Lichtenwalner made a Workman’s Compensation claim and the State Compensation Insurance Fund paid Lichtenwalner $26,252.90 for her claim plus $3,070.83 for medical costs. Lichtenwalner made the claim stating that she became disabled from a neck and arm injury after being struck by a patient. She never returned to work at Napa State Hospital.

Corroborative Documentation:

Report of Kevin D. Harrington, M.D. – 1999

Pamela Lichtenwalner’s “Hardship” Letter – 1999

Workers’ Compensation Award – 1995

Workers’ Compensation Award – 2001

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