As the race intensifies for San Luis Obispo County sheriff, questions about former workers’ compensation claims for job-related injuries have surfaced for both candidates.
Retired Pismo Beach police Chief Joe Cortez and San Luis Obispo police Capt. Ian Parkinson are vying to replace Sheriff Pat Hedges, who is retiring after 12 years with the department.
Cortez filed a claim in 2004 for a temporary and permanent disability stemming from a cardiovascular injury and hearing loss. An administrative law judge denied the hearing loss and ruled that his heart condition warranted medical treatment but wasn’t a permanent disability. Cortez was paid $2,392 in 2007 for medical expenses.
Parkinson filed a claim after injuring his shoulder in 1990. He received $5,775 beginning in January 1991 toward his medical expenses.
Here’s a closer look at both cases:
Cortez, who worked for Pismo Beach from 2001 until his retirement in 2008, issued a statement Oct. 1 clarifying the details of a workers’ compensation claim filed in 2004, which stated he had sustained a cardiovascular injury during the “stress and strain of employment.”
The claim was amended to add hearing loss. It stated that both conditions happened between Nov. 19, 2001, and June 10, 2003, while he was serving as police chief, according to documents obtained by The Tribune.
“Even with my hearing aids, I have a real difficult time hearing the (police) radio or understanding the radio,” Cortez stated in a 2005 deposition.
Cortez said his wife had first noticed he had an irregular heartbeat in 2004, which he had checked by his physician and was obligated to report to the city. In his physical, the doctor diagnosed it as premature atrial contractions — a type of common heart arrhythmia.
Cortez said the short-term condition was corrected quickly and he did not miss any work, though he did voluntarily reduce his workouts on a treadmill and stopped drinking caffeinated coffee until he figured out whether there was a problem.
A statement provided Friday to The Tribune from Cortez’s physician, San Luis Obispo-based Paul Swedberg, said that Cortez’s health “at the present time is excellent with no other health issues that would in any way hinder or affect his duties as sheriff if he is elected.”
As to the hearing loss, Cortez noted Friday that hearing aid technology has improved over the years and his current pair, which he purchased for himself, is advanced.
Cortez had filed for permanent as well as temporary disability on the workers’ compensation claim form — a determination that is made by a medical professional, according to a spokeswoman with the state Division of Workers’ Compensation.
Workers’ compensation administrative law Judge Michael LeCover in 2006 found the hearing loss pre-existed Cortez’s employment with Pismo Beach. He also ruled that Cortez’s heart condition has not resulted in a permanent disability but had resulted in a need for treatment.
Cortez eventually received $2,392 in 2007 to cover medical expenses.
A successful workers’ compensation claim for permanent disability typically precedes an employee applying for an industrial disability retirement or a disability due to a job-related injury or illness, said Edward Fong, a CalPERS spokesman.
The minimum industrial disability retirement benefit an employee can receive is 50 percent of his or her highest average pay, and half of the disability retirement benefits are not taxable, he said.
Parkinson filed a workers’ compensation claim after an incident in 1990. Parkinson, an officer at the time, injured his shoulder in an on-duty accident while trying to break up a fight at The Graduate in San Luis Obispo.
Parkinson said Thursday that he had physical therapy for about three months and then shoulder surgery and was off work for about a week and a half and on light duty for about six months.
Documents show Parkinson received $5,775 beginning in January 1991 toward his medical expenses.Parkinson said he does not recall whether his claim sought permanent as well as temporary disability. Those documents were not immediately available.
Parkinson said he does not have any current complications, only some numbness that he’s not sure is related to the shoulder injury.
Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.