Monthly Archives: January 2012

These Things Don't Have To Happen: Metal Plant Receives $51K Fine After Employee Is Burned

Following basic safety precautions woud keep employees like these injury-free.

A recent blog post (below) by Jon Gelman about OSHA violations at the Anthony River, Inc plant is another example of why we need to change the lax culture of safely compliance in America. It’s human nature to pick out articles in newspapers, magazines and on-line that interest you, and when I see articles about plant explosions (like the chemical plant explosion in Apex, NC or the chicken processing fire in Hamlet, NC), or mine disasters (West Virginia), or oil spills (Louisiana), I have a heightened awareness because I have represented people in similar tragedies and I know what they are going though.

People die and families are devastated, and the really sad thing is that it didn’t have to happen. Most of us may notice these events, but until it happens to you it’s usually just a news item and not much more. Employers don’t want these things to happen, but unfortunately some of them are willing to gamble with heath and safety. They have liability insurance and workers’ compensation to clean up the mess they make, and some times they actually think the risk is worth it. No life is worth that risk.

People die and families are devastated, and the really sad thing is that it didn’t have to happen.

Here is Jon’s post (reprinted with permission):

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Anthony River Inc. for nine serious and three repeat violations of workplace safety standards after an employee was burned at the metal finisher’s Syracuse plant.

“While it is fortunate that no life was lost here, this is a graphic example of the harm that workers and businesses can suffer when basic, common-sense and legally required safeguards are neglected,” Continue reading

Imagining A World With No Workers' Compensation Lawyers

Survivors express their sorrow after a deadly and preventable mining accident in W. Virginia.

On January 13, the North Carolina Department of Labor announced that 53 people died on the job in North Carolina in 2011. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry was quoted as saying: “the real tragedy is that all of the these fatalities could have been avoided.” I wholeheartedly agree. 53 deaths is 53 too many. When I see news stories about explosions and other tragic events that needlessly harm or kill workers, often spewing toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment harming entire communities, I can’t help but think about how it all could be avoided if companies embraced a culture that puts safety first and simply followed the proper guidelines and procedures. I see companies spend a lot of time and money to fight the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) over fines and penalties but rarely see the same effort being put into protecting their workers in the first place.

Employers, I challenge you to make safety as much of a priority as profits. Stop wasting time and money fighting against worker safety and instead focus your efforts on saving lives.

It may be hard to believe given my chosen profession as a workers’ compensation lawyer but if I had my way, workers’ compensation lawyers like me would be obsolete. We’d go the way of horse-drawn carriages and 8-tracks. We exist because many companies treat worker safety as an afterthought. The workers’ compensation system provides employers with immunity from lawsuits for most on the job injuries — they are required to buy workers’ compensation insurance, so why bother spending more to protect workers if they get no return on that money spent? Continue reading

Dystonia Is Often Misunderstood

Dystonia FoundationSeveral years ago I had a client in North Carolina who was an insurance man. While taking some papers out of the back of his car at work he slipped, hit his head and developed a neurological conditon called “Dystonia.” I did some research and discovered that it is a disorder that affects the nervous system, causing muscles to contract involuntarily.

it is a disorder that affects the nervous system, causing muscles to contract involuntarily

Significantly, I also found out it can be caused by trauma, although often dystonia develops without any trauma and may be genetic. The case was denied by the workers’ compensation carrier (and Continue reading

Corrupt Employers Just Keep Cooking the Books

As you have seen me mention several times on this blog, the failure of many employers to play by the rules continues to plague the nation’s workers’ compensation system. In one type of fraud, known as misclassification, employers incorrectly designate workers as outside consultants or independent contractors.

When workers are misclassified, insurance companies do not consider them employees. The injured workers are then denied workers’ compensation benefits. Additionally, the insurance companies are not paid insurance premiums and are not adequately reserved for the risk of injury by those workers.

The following video excerpt is of an interview I did a while back with Sam Gold, director of the National Association of Injured Workers (NOIW) and producer of Injured On The Job. We discuss this continuing problem and the need for it be addressed by regulatory agencies so that workers’ and their families are protected from fraudulent employers.

How To Deal With Adversaries

NegotiationAs a workers’ compensation lawyer, by the time clients come to me they have often already had a series of frustrating interactions with their employers, insurance adjusters and sometimes even medical professionals. Clients come to me feeling stressed by these experiences.

My adversaries are not always easy to negotiate with, and over a long career I have honed in on a few methods that seem to work best for me. When meeting with clients, I try to pass along my methods so they can better navigate some of the new and confusing situations they have been thrust into as a result of a workplace injury.

Recently I came across some advice from Psychologist Jay Carter, who offers tips that closely mirror what I pass on to my clients. The following are some of his tips for dealing with difficult people:

See it for what it is. Rather than internalize the criticism or dwell on what you might have done to deserve the attack, recognize that the nasty person has personal issues.

Get away. Exit the room or the conversation calmly, efficiently, and without saying anything you’d regret.

Diffuse with humor: This is a Continue reading

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Is All Too Real

PTSD can be caused by traumatic events that happen anywhere - at war or in the workplace.

Last week Margaret Anderson, a Park Ranger at Mount Ranier National Park, was killed by an Iraq war veteran who may have been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Her tragic death reminded me of several workers I have represented who had this condition after experiencing and/or witnessing horrific trauma in the workplace.

One was a 20 year employee of a public gas company who was heroically trying to fix a gas leak in a neighborhood when the gas line exploded and burned off most of his face. He healed but has flashbacks of the explosion, nightmares, depression and is constantly irritable. Before this event he was a great worker, a good family man and had a good sense of humor. He hasn’t been the same since.

Adjusters, employers, co-workers, attorneys and family members should understand that PTSD is a serious condition that needs immediate medical attention and that the failue to recognize and treat the condition can lead to tragic consequences.

Another client was on an assembly line in Raleigh, N.C. when an explosion sent a ball of fire racing through the plant. The ceiling caved in and a worker right next to her was crushed to death. Fortunately, because of workers’ compensation, these injured workers got timely medical and psychiatric care, but what about those workers who don’t get adequate and quick treatment? Continue reading