Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

Panthers’ Super Bowl Football Player (Thomas Davis) Joins the Big Game While Still Recovering from Surgery (or, in Work Comp Terms Panthers’ Employee Returns Full-Duty Pre-MMI)

Super Bowl 50 what a game! As a Panthers’ fan, it was depressing to see our usually high-scoring offense crushed by the Broncos’ defense. However, the Panthers’ defense kept us in the game until the bitter end. The dedication of Thomas Davis, a Panthers’ linebacker, was quite a site. Davis, who sustained a broken forearm in an earlier game, played through Super Bowl 50 with a surgically implanted plate and 11 screws in his right forearm. Davis shared a post-surgical photo after the Super Bowl on social media. In his post, Davis said:

This post is not about me, or how tough I am. It’s not to shine any light on me or my injuries. Our team doctors and trainers did an amazing job giving me an opportunity to get back on the field. This post is strictly to show how much love I have for my brothers and #PantherNation. Thank you all for your support and we will #KeepPounding.-TD

Take a look at the photo (if you’re not too squeamish) and you will be amazed that Davis played through the Super Bowl with over 20 stitches. Clearly, Davis is a strong individual. His decision to join the game, despite his injuries, was not taken lightly and was made with the consultation of his treating physicians.

Like Davis, many injured workers are extremely eager to return to work. Whenever possible, and medically acceptable, returning to work is the best option for the injured worker and the employer. However, the decision to return to work after an injury must be carefully evaluated. All too frequently, our firm receives calls from injured workers who prematurely rush back to work only to find out they can’t perform their old job duties. Sadly, their employer, although understanding at first, becomes frustrated with the injured worker’s physical constraints and the injured worker is terminated. Under these circumstances, the injured worker may have an additional cause of action (retaliatory discharge claim) but the end result could have been avoided if they monitored their recovery carefully and focused on healing before returning to work. 

I was injured at home while working for my employer. Am I entitled to workers’ compensation benefits?

We’ve all seen the ads for “work from home” jobs (spoiler alert – many are scams). However, corporations like Apple, IBM, CVS, and many, many more are frequently advertising work-from-home or telecommuter jobs to employees thus providing a flexible work schedule. The question then arises – what happens if the telecommuting employee is injured at home? For example, what if the employee is injured during a personal coffee break? What if he slips on his driveway? Or, if she trips over her pet while walking to her van to get work supplies?

 

In deciding on whether an employee’s injury may be compensable, courts have generally considered (1) how regularly the employee works from home, (2) the presence of work equipment at home (e.g. work computer or corporate phone), and/or (3) other conditions particular to that employment that make it necessary for the employee to work from home. The courts specifically look to whether the employee is working from home for his or her convenience, or if it’s necessary from the employer’s standpoint that the employee work from home (e.g. there is no other suitable place of employment offered by the employer).

 

For example, in Utah, the Court of Appeals held that a sales manager who was spreading salt on his driveway in anticipation of an important business delivery sustained a compensable slip and fall at work. The Court determined that the manager’s motivation in spreading the salt was to assist the employer’s business. [AE Clevite Inc. v. Labor Comm’n, 2000 UT App. 35, 996 P.2d 1072 (2000)]. Also, where a custom decorator for J.C. Penney was walking out to her van in her garage to get fabric samples and tripped over her dog, that injury was also compensable [Sandburg v. J.C. Penney Co, Inc., 260 P.3d 496 (2011)]. The Court explained that the home premises was also her work premises and the decorator had to keep samples in her van to show potential customers.

 

The bottom line is that when telecommuters are injured at home during the actual performance of their jobs, regardless of how insignificant, the injury may be compensable.

 

Call “Reform” What It Is: Death By A Thousand Cuts For Workers’ Rights

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

This week I attended the 20th anniversary of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group (WILG) in Chicago. I am a proud past president of this group – the only national Workers’ Compensation bar association dedicated to representing injured workers.  

As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 25 years, I have seen their rights and benefits shrink under the guise of “reform”. After the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, which killed almost 150 women and girls, workplace safety and Workers’ Compensation laws were enacted. For the next half century or so, many protections and safeguards were implemented. However, many of these reforms were not sufficient, and in 1972, the National Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation Laws, appointed by then-President Nixon, issued a report noting that state Workers’ Compensation laws were neither adequate nor equitable. This led to a decade when most states significantly improved their laws. 

Unfortunately, there has once more been a steady decline in benefits to injured workers, again under the guise of reform. One major argument is that many workers are faking their injuries or they just want to take time off from work. There was even a recent ad campaign in which a young girl was crying because her father was going to jail for faking an injury. Workers’ Compensation fraud does exist, but the high cost of insurance fraud is not as a result of workers committing fraud.

A colleague of mine compiled a list of the top 10 Workers’ Compensation fraud cases in 2014 in which he noted that the top 10 claims of fraud cost taxpayers well more than $75 million dollars with $450,000 of the total amount resulting from a worker committing insurance fraud. That leaves $74.8 million as a result of non-employee fraud, including overbilling and misclassification of workers. We are told that insurance costs are too high; yet, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) in 2014, estimates show that private Workers’ Compensation carriers will have pulled in $39.3 billion in written premiums, the highest since they began keeping data in 1990. More premiums result in higher net profits. Despite this, many states have implemented changes in their Workers’ Compensation systems aimed at reducing costs to the employer. The end results, however, is that fewer benefits are given to the injured worker and more profits go to the insurance companies.

In New York, one of the reform measures increased the amount of money per week to injured workers but limited the amount of weeks they can receive these benefits with the idea that they will return to work once their benefits run out. Additionally, limitations have been placed on the amount and types of treatment that injured workers may receive. Again, this is with the notion that once treatment ends, injured workers miraculously are healed and will not need additional treatment. In reality, those injured who can’t return to work receive benefits from other sources from state and federal governments at the taxpayer’s expense.  This is what is known as cost shifting, as those really responsible to pay for benefits – the insurance companies who collect the premiums from the employers – have no further liability. The reformers of 100 years ago would be appalled at what is happening to injured workers and their families today. It is time that those who are generating profits at the expense of injured workers do what is fair and just – provide prompt medical care and wage replacement to injured workers for as long as they are unable to work.

To stay on top of important Workers’ Compensation happenings, please visit the Facebook page of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP and “Like Us.” That way you will receive the latest news on your daily feed.

 

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

 

OSHA Fines Nebraska Railcar Almost $1 Million after Explosion

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

The incident referred to in this article was extremely tragic, as two workers were killed in April. Now OSHA has found that Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services knew “that moments before the blast, an air quality check indicated a serious risk of an explosion. OSHA says that despite the warning, Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services sent two employees into the railcar to work without monitoring the air continuously for explosive hazards as required, nor providing the employees with emergency retrieval equipment or properly fitted respirators.”

Sympathies continue to go to the loved ones of both Dallas Foulk and Adrian LaPour.

Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program and fined $963,000 for “seven egregious willful, three willful, two repeated, 20 serious, and one other than serious safety and health violations.”

In addition, the article said the EPA is doing an investigation regarding the company’s hazardous-waste disposal.

For those who argue that businesses have safety and the best interests of their workers in mind, please read the article linked to above, and really think about that philosophy, especially when an explosion led to workers dying. Then read the quote from the article below and ask yourself about workplace safety again.

“This company has regularly failed to use appropriate equipment and procedures to keep their employees safe, and in this case it had tragic consequences,” Jeff Funke, OSHA Area Director in Omaha, said in a written statement. “The company needs to immediately reevaluate its procedures for entering and cleaning railcars.”

States with Opt-Out Workers’ Comp System are Strict on Injured Workers

Dallas attorney Bill Minick (Photo credit Dylan Hollingsworth for ProPublica)

Texas and Oklahoma have both adopted an “opt-out” system for Workers’ Compensation. ProPublica along with NPR recently published an in-depth look at the results in these two states. Under this system, employers can opt-out of state mandated workers’ compensation insurance by creating their own policy for injured workers. These employer-written policies give employers 100% control over the terms, the benefits, and even settlements.

Specifically, ProPublica and NPR found that these employer-created policies generally have strict 24-hour reporting requirements or even require an injury to be reported by the end of a shift. This means, if an employee does not report their injury within their shift, or within 24 hours, they are prevented from bringing a claim at all. Period. End of discussion. Employers can also dictate how much benefits will be paid and some employers have capped death benefits for employees who are killed at work at $250,000. Whereas under the State Workers’ Compensation system, if a deceased worker leaves behind minor children, they will continue to receive benefits until they turn 18 (which could easily end up being well over $250,000 when you factor in lost wages until the worker would have been 65). This is potentially detrimental to a young widow or widower who is left with very young children.

Yesterday we tweeted a recent ABC news article that a worker was killed when he fell at a construction site in Charlotte. I’d hate to think that his or her family would be limited to recovering only $250,000 in the event the worker left behind dependent family members and young children. Money can’t begin to replace someone who is lost to us too early from an accident at work, but $250,000 would hardly cover a lifetime of income that the family will lose, especially if young children are left behind.

 

To read more on how the Opt-Out system is affecting injured workers in Texas and Oklahoma, go to: ProPublica: Inside Corporate America’s Campaign to Ditch Workers’ Comp.

Why I Am Thankful – Two Photographs

Recently I took photographs of two men who remind me of why I am thankful every day. One man is sitting in a wheelchair at a restaurant, with his right hand in a contorted position and he is being fed by another person. The other man, also in a restaurant, is in shorts and is holding a small child in his arms.  But something is missing – his right leg – he has a flesh colored prosthetic device as a substitute.

photo for LTJ blog 2 10.9.15 copyI have spent a lifetime helping disabled people and I have never heard any of them say “You know, Mr. Jernigan, when I got up to go to work that day, I knew I was going to be severely injured and my life would change forever.” We never know when life will take a turn like that. We never know when we will lose our independence and sometimes our dignity. Fortunately, that day will never come for most of us. But it could.

When I think about the man in the wheelchair and the man holding his child, I think how lucky I am, and I am thankful each and every day.

Is Cancer a Compensable Workers’ Compensation Claim?

Sometimes prospective clients ask whether they developed cancer as a result of their job. Most claims arise from accidents and obviously cancer is a slowly developing process. However, cancer can be an occupational-related disease for which medical and disability benefits may be awarded under the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. A doctor must give his or her medical opinion to a reasonable degree of medical probability that the patient was at an increased risk of developing the disease (i.e. cancer) as compared to the general population, and did in fact develop the disease as a result of exposure to a cancer causing substance at work.

 

Case in point:  in September, a Texas firefighter was awarded workers’ compensation benefits after he developed lung, colon, and liver cancer. In the firefighter’s case, he had been a firefighter for over 20 years and was exposed to “carcinogens such as firetruck exhaust, heat, smoke, and chemicals.” The Texas administrative law judge awarded benefits, but keep in mind “Texas has a presumptive disability law that says firefighters and other first responders are presumed to have developed cancer while on the job under certain conditions.” Unfortunately, North Carolina does not have this presumption for our first responders and firefighters, and the burden of proof is more difficult in this state.

 

Here is a link to the OSHA website containing standards that apply to substances that are classified as carcinogens or potential carcinogens according to the National Toxicity Program.

Number of Workplace Fatalities Higher In 2014

According to a recent article published by the U.S. Department of Labor, workplace fatalities have increased from 4,585 in 2013 to 4,679 in 2014. This is the highest number of workplace fatalities since 2008 when 5,214 deaths were reported to the Department of Labor.

The most shocking rise in workplace deaths occurred in the oil-and-gas industry. There were 142 workers that died in the oil fields in 2014 which was 27% higher than the 112 workers that died in the fields in 2013. Other industries that saw a sharp incline in the number of employee deaths include construction, agriculture, manufacturing and mining. Female employee deaths also rose 13% from the previous year, mostly due to road accidents and homicides.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez issued the following statement: “Far too many people are still killed on the job — 13 workers every day taken from their families tragically and unnecessarily. These numbers underscore the urgent need for employers to provide a safe workplace for their employees as the law requires.”

 

Read more here: 

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Workplace Fatalities Likely at Highest Level Since 2008

www.workerscompensation.com:Statement from Secretary of Labor on Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2014