Category Archives: Uncategorized

Injured Workers Suffer As ‘Reforms’ Limit Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon L Gelman, from Jon L Gelman LLC.

Dennis Whedbee, 52, lost half of his left arm in a drilling accident in North Dakota in September 2012. Several years later he's still fighting with North Dakota's insurance agency to get the help he needs.Dennis Whedbee, 52, lost half of his left arm in a drilling accident in North Dakota in September 2012. Several years later he’s still fighting with North Dakota’s insurance agency to get the help he needs.

Dennis Whedbee, 52, lost half of his left arm in a drilling accident in North Dakota in September 2012. Several years later he’s still fighting with North Dakota’s insurance agency to get the help he needs. Jeff Swensen for ProPublica hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Swensen for ProPublica

Dennis Whedbee, 52, lost half of his left arm in a drilling accident in North Dakota in September 2012. Several years later he's still fighting with North Dakota's insurance agency to get the help he needs.
Dennis Whedbee, 52, lost half of his left arm in a drilling accident in North Dakota in September 2012. Several years later he’s still fighting with North Dakota’s insurance agency to get the help he needs.

Jeff Swensen for ProPublica

Dennis Whedbee’s crew was rushing to prepare an oil well for pumping on the Sweet Grass Woman lease site, a speck of dusty plains rich with crude in Mandaree, N.D.

It was getting late that September afternoon in 2012. Whedbee, a 50-year-old derrick hand, was helping another worker remove a pipe fitting on top of the well when it suddenly blew.

Oil and sludge pressurized at more than 700 pounds per square inch tore into Whedbee’s body, ripping his left arm off just below the elbow. Co-workers jury-rigged a tourniquet from a sweatshirt and a ratchet strap to stanch his bleeding and got his wife on the phone.

"Babe," he said, "tell everyone I love them."

It was exactly the sort of accident that workers’ compensation was designed…

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Nurse Who Contracted Ebola in the U.S. Sues Her Hospital Employer

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon L Gelman, from Jon L Gelman LLC.

The nurse who was the first person to contract Ebola in the United States filed suit on Monday against the Dallas hospital where she worked, saying it knowingly left workers without the training or equipment needed to handle the disease.

The nurse, Nina Pham, 26, was one of two at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who were infected while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, who had the virus when he arrived from the West African country of Liberia.

Ms. Pham’s suit, filed in State District Court in Dallas, accuses the hospital’s parent company, Texas Health Resources, of negligence, fraud and invasion of privacy. Not only did the hospital expose her to a deadly disease, she contends, it also made false statements about her condition and released video of her without her permission.

A Texas Health spokesman, Wendell Watson, said Ms. Pham was “still a member of our team,” and declined to address the specific claims. He added, “We remain optimistic that we can resolve this matter.”

Ms. Pham has been free of Ebola for months, but she has lingering medical and emotional problems, and the long-term consequences remain unclear, said her lawyer, Charla Aldous.

“She still has fatigue and body aches,” and has not been able to return to work, Ms. Aldous said. “She’s been having some liver problems. Her hair started falling out.”

Mr. Duncan went to the hospital’s emergency room on Sept. 25 with fever, nausea and

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How to File a Safety and Health Complaint

Today’s post comes from the US Dept. of Labor.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 gives employees and their representatives the right to file a complaint and request an OSHA inspection of their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or their employer is not following OSHA standards. Workers do not have to know whether a specific OSHA standard has been violated in order to file a complaint.

Complaints from workers or their representatives are taken seriously by OSHA. OSHA will keep your information confidential.

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Employee Drug Use

According to The New York Times, employers are reporting difficulty in finding workers who can pass a pre-employment drug test and many applicants do not even apply for jobs when drug testing is a requirement.

Some industries, like trucking, are mandated by federal law to drug test their employees for safety reasons. Since 2013 Quest Diagnostics has found an increasing number of workers who have tested positive. The firm’s most recent report revealed that 4.7 percent of U.S. workers tested positive for illicit drugs in 2014. At least one state, Georgia, has discussed developing a program to provide drug counseling to individuals who test positive and assist them with job placement.

It should be noted that in North Carolina, an employee will not receive workers’ compensation benefits for a workplace injury if being under the influence of drugs caused the injury. At the end of the day, workers who use recreational drugs like marijuana should be aware that there are jobs potentially available, but if they want to get these jobs they need to make a lifestyle change. If drug use involves addiction, click here for assistance in North Carolina or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

Let’s Get to Zero

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from blog.dol.gov

A group of Boise construction workers listen to a presentation during the National Safety Stand-Down this May.
A group of Boise construction workers listen to a presentation during the National Safety Stand-Down this May.

For us at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the loss of one workers’ life is one too many. Workplace tragedies are devastating for the families and friends left behind. Their effects are long-term and far-reaching in our communities.

On Workers’ Memorial Day, we were reminded that every day, 13 American workers don’t make it back home at the end of their shift. That’s not a cold statistic but rather a fact of life for us here at OSHA. Our Boise office alone has investigated the deaths of 10 workers killed on the job in Idaho in the past 12 months. As recently as last week I watched as the bodies of two workers who had been installing a utility line were pulled out of a deadly trench collapse right here in Boise. Nobody should die for a paycheck.

Click to watch: OSHA's David Kearns talks safety at a recent event with construction workers and subcontractors.
Click to watch: OSHA’s David Kearns talks safety at a recent event with construction workers and subcontractors.

Click to watch: OSHA’s David Kearns talks safety at a recent event with construction workers and subcontractors.

Our investigation will determine exactly what happened in Boise and why it happened. But we already know this much: workplace fatalities and injuries often prove to be avoidable and caused by a lapse in safety protocol. Trench deaths are no exception. We have known for centuries how to prevent workers from getting killed in trenches.

In the coming days I…

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The Dangers of Working with Vibrating Tools

Vibration White Finger (VWF) or “Dead Finger,” now known as Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), is a chronic, progressive disorder caused by regular and prolonged use of vibrating hand tools that can progress to loss of effective hand function and necrosis of the fingers. In its advanced stages, the obvious symptom is finger blanching (losing color). Other symptoms include numbness, pain, and tingling in the fingers, as well as a weakened grip.

It is estimated that as many as 50 percent of the estimated 2 million U.S. workers exposed to hand-arm vibration will develop HAVS. Some common industries and the tools associated with HAVS are listed below:

  • Agriculture & Forestry – Chainsaws
  • Automotive – Impact Wrenches, Riveting Guns
  • Construction – Jackhammers
  • Foundries – Chippers, Grinders
  • Metal Working – Buffers, Sanders
  • Mining – Jack-Leg Drills, Stoper Drills

The time between a worker’s first exposure to hand-arm vibration to the development of HAVS symptoms can range from a few months to several years. Prevention is critical because while the early stages of HAVS are usually reversible if vibration exposure is reduced or eliminated, treatment is usually ineffective after the fingers blanch. 

Will It Hurt My Workers’ Compensation Case to Get a Job?

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

“Will getting a job hurt my case?”

I hear this question on a regular basis from my workers’ compensation clients. In my experience, the answer is almost always “no.” But if you do find alternate or part-time employment during your workers’ compensation case, you need to keep track of and disclose your earnings.

Why working when you are injured can help your case:

1.  Working helps your credibility with doctors and judges: 

Doctors and judges are the two most important people in your case, because the doctors drive the medical evidence and the judge weighs that evidence. Ultimately, those decisions come down to a doctor or judge’s determination of your character. A judge is going to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who is trying to help themselves. That’s also why complying with doctor’s orders and rehabilitation programs helps your credibility in court.

2.  Just because you’re working doesn’t mean that you are not significantly or even totally disabled:

Maybe your company is bending over backward to keep you. Maybe a sibling or a parent has you working at their business. In situations like that, a court is going to understand you are earning wages beyond your real potential to earn wages. You may also be enduring tremendous amounts of pain to maintain employment. In cases like that, especially if you had a good employment record and complied with your doctor’s orders, the fact that you are working through pain could very well help your credibility.

 

How to hurt your case when you work:

1.  Not disclosing your wages and employment: This is especially true if you are working while receiving temporary disability benefits or unemployment benefits. This makes you look dishonest, and you might be committing fraud in many states. Additionally, once you are in the legal process, you normally have a duty to disclose that information to your employer/insurer anyway. Even if a judge believes that you inadvertently forgot to turn over this wage information, you are still making it more difficult for your attorney to win you benefits.

2.  Clearly working beyond your medical restrictions: Let’s say a doctor takes you off work as a nurse because you can’t lift more than 25 pounds and bend and twist on a regular basis, but you keep working as a CrossFit instructor, where you regularly do heavy lifting that involves bending and twisting. If you are that person, don’t call our law firm. Though employee fraud is a very small percentage of overall fraud, conduct like that would likely be workers’ compensation fraud. Again, working can help with your credibility in a workers’ compensation case, but being dishonest about that work can hurt your case.

If you have questions about specifics in your or a loved one’s workers’ compensation case, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.

Insult to Injury: ProPublica’s Series “Demolition of Workers’ Compensation” Focuses on Ongoing Workers’ Comp Woes Faced by Injured Workers Nationally

Recent years have not been favorable to injured workers. States across the nation have enacted “reform” measures curbing injured workers benefits. Disability caps have been introduced, medical care restricted. In our last blog, we discussed Oklahoma’s Opt Out provisions as an example of the court system declaring that the legislature had legislated away too much of the injured worker’s protections. A couple years ago, Florida workers’ comp laws were declared unconstitutional by a judge. Although the decision was later reversed, the Florida judge (Judge Cueto) expressed concerns regarding the loss of an employee’s right to wage-loss benefits after an accident.  

 

NPR and ProPublica have been authoring an in-depth series on national workers’ compensation issues. ProPublica reviewed “reams of insurance industry data” and their findings confirmed what many workers’ compensation attorneys suspected for years:  insurance companies are increasingly controlling medical decisions, workers are unable to pick their own doctor in many states, and insurers are denying medical care based on internal “guidelines.”

 

As an example, ProPublica’s article talks about a case in California where the insurance company reopened an old case and denied medical care based on the opinion of a doctor who never even saw the patient. “Joel Ramirez, who was paralyzed in a warehouse accident, had his home health aide taken away, leaving him to sit in his own feces for up to eight hours.”

 

The article also brings up a good point about workers’ comp fraud. Repeatedly studies show “most of the money lost to fraud results not from workers making false claims but from employers misclassifying workers and underreporting payroll to get cheaper insurance rates.”