Workers' compensation became front page news during the summer of 1991, when Maine's governor refused to sign the state's budget unless the Legislature reformed the system. Although the vehemence of the governor's demands stunned both the public and the Legislature, the dire state of workers' compensation was well known to those involved. In fact, the Legislature has debated reforming the system nearly every year, and sixteen significant changes have been made since the program's inception in 1915. In 1991, the Legislature focused on cutting costs. The system requires two types of highly paid professionals—doctors and lawyers. Therefore, an obvious way to reduce system costs is to reduce the involvement of these expensive people. The Legislature wanted a system where medical decisions would be made by medical practitioners. They hoped to discourage doctor shopping, foster more objective and consistent decisions, and generally streamline the dispute resolution process. Toward this end, the Legislature enacted a statute that radically alters the process for determining the validity and value of a claim. The new system employs independent medical examiners (IMEs) to render all medical findings necessary “in any dispute relating to the medical condition of a claimant.” On its face, this concept may not seem so extraordinary. The new law, however, also provides that “the board shall adopt the medical findings of the independent medical examiner unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary in the record that does not support the medical findings.” This arrangement effectively relegates the workers' compensation hearing officers to the role of appellate judges, reviewing IME decisions under a clear error standard. Unfortunately, this revised process may not save the state any money at all. It may also be unconstitutional. This Comment will focus on whether the independent medical examiner system satisfies the requirements of due process.

First Page