1,258 days. That’s how long it’s been since Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam has failed to contact his deputy, Detective Kim Frankel, after she was struck, on-duty, by a DUI, hit-and-run driver she chased down and apprehended despite her injuries. 1,258 days.
By Steve Pomper
It isn’t easy to wrap your head around Kim Frankel’s workers’ compensation system, a three-and-a-half-year, nightmare. That’s why the NPA is doing multiple articles so you—and we—can understand it properly. Please, forgive any repetition, but that’s part of the nature of this debacle.
The why continues to hover over the apparent malice inflicted on Kim by people who hold positions specifically created to help workers like Kim injured on the job.
First, I want readers to understand that when I use critical or disparaging language toward the assclowns (like that) involved in this pathetic treatment of an honorable cop, that’s all me, not Kim. Repeatedly, when I’ve asked Kim about the callous people involved, she shows grace even to those who don’t deserve it.
Second (but related to the first paragraph), let’s reiterate this nauseating fact: Sheriff Balaam, Kim’s boss and her husband David’s friend (I suppose former, now), has not contacted his injured deputy since the DUI hit-and-run collision took place on June 25, 2020. It’s now Dec. 4, 2023 (did I mention that was 1,258 days ago?). Can you explain this? I’m asking you because Sheriff Balaam won’t explain it.
In this article, we’ll look at Kim’s successful effort to fix Nevada’s workers’ comp system. While they were successful in changing the law for the better, they weren’t able to restore a “bad faith” clause into the law, which would allow workers intentionally, wrongly denied medical treatment the option to sue.
Kim said she received reports that the sheriff ordered assigned legislation deputies not to support her in any way during her testimony. This is unconfirmed, however, despite those deputies being seen in the building, they were not present during her testimony.
Yet, insurance companies opposed the bill before it was even written. They believed it would encourage lawsuits. But this objection seems, again, like their apparent default setting when denying costly claims.
Kim’s saga is a 100-arm Kraken with tentacles flailing in all directions and new tentacles continually emerging. Kim’s going through all this and says she has difficulty keeping up. So, bear with us, and we’ll be as complete and accurate as possible.
Workers’ Comp System “Kraken” attacking ship carrying those wrongly denied proper medical care like Det. Kim Frankel
For example, Kim said she can’t recall how many hearings she’s had. However, there are some numbers she’s very aware of. She was fired three times, had five independent medical evaluations (IME), and three orders requiring the county to provide her treatment, which they have ignored.
Kim’s been running this serpentine and zigzag but never straight administrative gauntlet for nearly three and a half years, so it’s a blur. You can read articles #1 and #2 in this series at the NPA for more details. But here’s a brief overview.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s (LVRJ) Jessica Hill summarizes Kim’s story as well as anyone. After the collision, “The 16-year veteran of the department was taken to the emergency room, and a workers’ compensation claim was generated.
“After delays in office referrals and treatments, Frankel was diagnosed about six months later with dystonia, a condition where muscles involuntarily contract and cause repetitive or twisting movements.
“Although she won her workers’ comp case in the Nevada Department of Administration (NDA) hearings and appeals offices as well as through the District Court, Frankel says she still has not received treatment for dystonia. Her case is ongoing [and going, and going, and…] pending further litigation.”
In a previous article, I asked Kim about this betrayal, and she quoted an unknown author, “If you don’t know the value of loyalty, you will never understand the damage of betrayal.”
But some people know the value of loyalty, even to someone they don’t know. This is especially true for cops who feel loyalty to their own, which makes all cops extended family.
For example, retired Lt. Randy Sutton, founder of The Wounded Blue (TWB), who still lives in Nevada, came to Kim’s aid at a moment’s notice, flying in to testify at a legislative hearing to support her attempt to change the workers’ comp law. Sutton has shown her far more loyalty than have her sheriff and command staff, who’ve known her for years.
Contrast Sutton’s support with what Kim has repeatedly said about the sheriff, command staff, and CCSMI, “If I dropped dead today, they would celebrate.”
While we’ve dealt with the malice against Kim in previous articles, today, let’s look at what she did to help the people treading water in the toxic churn of the cruel workers’ comp system’s whitewater. Her mission: pass Senate Bill 274 to restore the “bad faith” clause to the system, which gave Kim a new focus and, she said, “saved my life.”
Ed Pearce of KOLO 8 News wrote, “It saved my [Kim’s] life, and it gave me a purpose. I’m going to be fine. My family’s good. We’re going to be moving forward.”
“[Reno P.D. Det. Janira] Varty was one of several injured workers in Nevada to testify in support of Senate Bill 274, which would revise the workers’ compensation system by allowing injured workers to sue insurers and third-party administrators for acting in bad faith when denying their claims or delaying payment to workers.”
Like Kim, after an on-duty collision, doctors validated Officer Varty’s injuries. “‘My body has been in constant pain for over three years, and I will likely have permanent life-altering injuries for the rest of my life,’ Varty told the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor on Wednesday.”
“The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Skip Daly, D-Sparks, is the brainchild of former Washoe County sheriff’s Detective Kim Frankel who, like Varty, was injured on-duty…. She [Kim] won her case, but the third-party administrator is still denying her treatment.”
A 31-year-old injured fast food restaurant worker said he got a similar run-around. Then things seemed headed toward a resolution. His surgery for severe carpal tunnel was finally scheduled. Then, three and a half hours prior to the procedure, he received a phone call denying his coverage.
The idea originally sparked from an article Kim read in the LVRJ about the “utter and complete shambles” Nevada’s workers’ compensation system is in. Injured workers spoke of waiting months, even years, to receive proper medical care.
So, Kim narrowed the issue to when they removed the law’s “bad faith” clause in 1993 when the system was privatized. Workers still had recourse, but no effective deterrent existed for those who wrongly, even maliciously, denied claims. And in Kim’s strange case, for when they accepted the claim but denied four neurologists’ (two hers and two theirs) diagnoses.
Injured workers can only file complaints (not lawsuits) without a bad faith clause when insurers “issue de facto denials or don’t respond to requests.”
Kim filed a complaint, and CCMSI was fined (just deep pocket change for them). However, it still didn’t get her treatment (shattering the argument that a process already existed to help workers unfairly denied benefits).
Kim said something must hold the system accountable for “punitive damages charged against self-insured employers and third-party administrators.” Though they were unable, after contentious negotiations, to restore the bad faith clause, Kim said they were able to get “low-hanging fruit which was a start.”
She said it took several “very contentious behind closed door negotiations….” She described her, Rep. Skip Daly, and Leslie Bell’s efforts as “an all-out WAR against all the DEEP POCKETS… [she’d been warned about].
What Kim et. al. were able to get was transparency: fines and penalties publicly published. And the max penalty fine went from $50,000 to $125,000. Also, the Dept. of Insurance, with the power to revoke licenses, will now be apprised of all assessed penalties, fines, and settlement agreements.
Again, showing the kind of person Kim is, she agreed to “sacrifice my own gain… passing… SB274 by not making it retroactive.” Again, opponents fought viciously to make sure Kim would not benefit.
So adamantly opposed to the Bad Faith clause to make the system more accountable, Kim said, “[opponents] were going to kill our bill, so we felt getting the low hanging fruit gives us more ammo for the return of the Bad Faith clause if we decide to make another run at it in the next legislation session.”
Kim believed, “If injured workers had recourse for Bad Faith claims handling … third-party administrators and workers’ compensation insurers would do the right thing, including promptly, fairly and in good faith processing of claims including, medical treatment and financial assistance.”
At the time, the governor’s representative, when addressing the issue, said they “correspond regularly with… interested parties to formulate collaborative strategies to make the entire system work quicker and better.” “Collaborative strategies?” Gag! Bureaucratic gobbledygook.
Well, Kim collaborated with her husband and other compatriots, and they created strategies to improve the system.
So, with her husband, David, and her union advocate Leslie Bell, she said, why don’t we change the law? People scoffed at her chances. Even some supporters agreed the deep pockets of Nevada’s gaming including the casinos, insurance companies, and third-party administrators, would successfully lobby to defeat her.
But they misjudged Kim’s resolve. They also underestimated the impact that legislators meeting Kim in person, hearing her tell her story, watching how the injury affects her, and getting to know her would have on them.
Kim said, “A ‘bad faith’ clause is meant to be a deterrent. There’s a misunderstanding that making Nevada a ‘bad faith’ state would erode the state’s ‘exclusive remedy,’ which means that an injured employee generally cannot sue an employer for work-related injuries if the employer has purchased worker’s compensation insurance, according to the Nevada Division of Industrial Relations. But that is not the case.”
“‘I believe, if there were a deterrent, such as ‘bad faith,’ the cruel actions of employers, insurance companies and third-party administrators would be mitigated,’ Frankel told the committee Wednesday. ‘This bill is a deterrent. It does not open up the system to frivolous lawsuits.’”
Bad faith is a provable circumstance. Employers need not fear the change unless they act in bad faith and a worker can prove it, as Kim can. However, acting in bad faith, as they appear to have done with Kim, would explain their fear of the law changing.
“These delays in treatments cost employees their health, their careers, as you’ve heard, and so much more,” [Jason] Lesher, president of the Washoe County Sheriff Deputies Association (WCSDA), said. “This bill simply seeks to level the playing field and allow employees some recourse when negligent or bad faith cases are proven to have occurred.”
Opponents said the law is unnecessary and there are “systems in place” to hold insurance companies or third-party administrators responsible for delaying or refusing to pay legitimate payments to workers. Legislation sponsor, Daly said, “Comply with the law … file the claims in good faith, you’ll have nothing to fear from anything we put into this statute.”
Speaking of Kim’s success in the legislature, she told me something her fight pointed out that helps prove her case: “You can’t just stroll into the Nevada state legislature and change a law without evidence. The legislature had to see our evidence, be convinced, and act on it.”
Despite significant roadblocks, Kim and her rebel band prevailed—at least, partially. They changed the law and though they did not return the “bad faith” arrow to the injured workers’ quiver, they did make things a little bit better for mistreated, injured workers.
After changing the law, no small feat, Kim said neither Washoe County nor CCSMI altered their approach or even contacted her about it. Instead, changing the law apparently meant nothing more than another reason to retaliate against Kim.
“I know there are treatments available,” [Kim] said. “I also know my condition is now a permanent disability. I will never know if I would have recovered had I gotten the treatment recommended by medical experts. The workers’ comp system denied me this answer.”
With all the nonsense governments spend money on, it’s ridiculous how many essential government functions lack funding. And legitimately injured workers suffer. Since private insurance companies won’t cover an on-the-job (industrial) injury, workers must file a workers’ compensation claim.
However, after a claim is accepted, insurance companies or third-party administrators send workers to a doctor for a diagnosis. The doctor issues the diagnosis, but the insurance company can still deny or delay proper medical care. Or, in Kim’s case, accept the claim but deny the diagnosis and proper medical treatment.
Aren’t insurance or third-party administrators de facto accusing workers and doctors of committing fraud? As one anonymous worker’s lawyer said about his client (not Kim), “If we win the case, she’s entitled to treatment under work comp. If we lose it, then she’s entitled to her treatment under her private insurance.” In this case, that worker went two years without proper medical treatment.
One thing that struck Kim, as a former investigator of crimes, is these folks are accusing her of committing a crime: fraud. Kim has investigated some of the most egregious crimes imaginable—sex crimes against children. So, to have people maliciously accuse her of committing crimes insults her integrity.
But Kim’s integrity remains intact, while the WCSO, Washoe County, and CCMSI’s appear non-existent. Every time Kim seeks redress, they obstruct her. When speaking with Kim, I must have said “Wow!” two dozen times, hearing what is difficult to describe as anything other than malicious.
Kim said they accused her of “willfully misstating facts to obtain benefits.” That’s accusing her of a crime. That’s also a malicious insult.
The hearing officer wrote in the determination letter after that hearing, “No evidence of misstating facts to obtain benefits.”
To this, the county responded, “Please note, while Washoe County believes misrepresentation in fact occurred, we will not be appealing this decision; however, should this type of conduct occur again, we will evaluate it fully for further action.” The hearing officer said “this type of conduct” didn’t occur in the first place.
The thing about dystonia is you cannot hide it. Yet they not only deny her treatment but also continue to accuse her of wrongdoing and sic private investigators on her. She and her family moved out of state to escape the constant surveillance and harassment.
You may recall I asked Randy Sutton who he thought was the “villain.” He said, “CCSMI.” That may be true, but there’s intense competition from the sheriff and Washoe County for that title.
Still, Kim, a quality person, had a measured response to, who is the villain. She said while she has an idea, she doesn’t want to make “assumptions.” In other words, she’s still giving people who don’t deserve it the benefit of the doubt.
The system is so toxic that I noted throughout my research that both workers and lawyers commented anonymously, fearing revealing their identities might cause lawyers to lose cases and clients to also lose their jobs.
Employees working for the workers’ comp system appear to suffer from low morale, poor leadership, understaffing, and being overworked. The clients’ attorneys were so concerned, they contracted a private investigator to monitor the Senior Appeals Officer. They found she was in her office less than 35 percent of her workday, inspiring other employees to leave early, too.
Despite the case backlogs, one lawyer said the workers’ comp office during the day was a “ghost town.” “There’s no sense of urgency,” another lawyer said.
The agency defended itself by blaming the CCP virus (Covid) lockdowns and employees working remotely for the monstrous backlog. Attorneys said, “the nature of the job makes it difficult to take work home,” especially for meeting with clients.
The severely flawed workers’ comp system originally prompted Kim to go public. She learned there were other injured cops and workers also dealing with this mucked up system. This was after having “been in this broken system…” for nearly two and a half years as her health deteriorated.
If you wonder why Kim felt so strongly about changing the law, Hill’s summary in the LVRJ nails it. Kim won and they still wouldn’t authorize her treatment. Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of this case is the neurologists who diagnosed Kim’s dystonia said they expected her to recover, but she only had a three-year window to receive the treatment. It’s now beyond that.
“Making Nevada a ‘bad faith’ state is just a deterrent to stop malicious and retaliatory and intentional mishandling of claims,” Frankel said. She would know.
No law should be construed to protect those who act negligently, recklessly, or intentionally to circumvent regulations and laws to deny or delay workers’ benefits, which appears to have been the case with Kim.
Please, don’t just read this article and think, what a shame, and then go about your day as usual. Let everyone know—especially if you know someone in Nevada or you live there. Shout this travesty from the proverbial rooftops.
Remember, it’s not just about a broken system; it’s about a system intentionally creating broken people. Don’t forget this: doctors said Kim, a dedicated, decorated public servant, had an excellent chance to recover from this on-duty injury. From every angle, it seems, this system and the people in charge have prevented her recovery—on purpose.
Once again, Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam did not respond to a request for comment. We still don’t know why he has not contacted Kim to ask her how she’s doing 1,258 days and counting.