When all is said and done, James Conrad will likely have two sides in the LTV bankruptcy unhappy with him, and if so, it will probably mean that he's doing the right thing.
As administrator and CEO of the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, Conrad has inherited the challenge of determining which of LTV Corp.'s employees are entitled to compensation for work-related injuries and which are not. This is a delicate balancing act.
Effect on others: Because LTV was part of the state's Self-Insured Guaranty Fund, the on-going cost of LTV's workers' compensation coverage will be borne by the other 1,100 self-insured employers in the state. That group includes the largest companies doing business in Ohio, because to be in the self-insured pool, a company must have a minimum of 500 employees.
Naturally, those companies will want each LTV case to be interpreted as strictly as possible so as to reduce claims and keep costs down. On the other hand, unions representing the employees will be arguing for the broadest interpretation of each claim, seeking full coverage for each of their members.
Conrad's philosophy is straight-forward: "If it's a legitimate claim, we'll pay it. If it isn't we'll fight it." Sometimes, gauging legitimacy is easier said than done, and that's where Conrad is likely to make enemies.
But Conrad has developed a solid reputation as a public servant. He has worked for years to provide injured workers with the coverage they need in an efficient and timely manner and to rein in costs so that employers will find Ohio a state in which they can do business.
Conrad can be trusted to ensure fair handling for LTV claimants. He won't allow this added responsibility for his department to sully the reputation for fairness that he has earned.
Cost factor: But with an estimated cost to the system of between $75 million and $100 million, his department cannot afford to be anything less than vigilant.
A liability of potentially frightening proportions could face workers' compensation in the future. That is the issue of asbestosis claims included in lawsuits filed by about 1,700 LTV employees, most of them from the Mahoning Valley. If those claims are valid, the eventual cost could exceed $1 billion, dwarfing the various other occupational injury claims that must be addressed in the short term.