Category Archives: Workplace Injury

“Opting Out” of Worker’s Compensation Hurts Workers and Employers (Part 2)

Today’s post comes from guest author Tom Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Last week we explained Wisconsin’s rich history of protecting injured workers through its mandatory workers’ compensation system. This week we’ll look at what is happening in Texas and Oklahoma, where it is not mandatory for employers.

Alternative worker’s compensation programs( like that of Texas’—and now Oklahoma— non-subscriber / “Opt Out” scheme) have the potential to significantly reduce workplace safety. Since experience rating is a fundamental component of worker’s compensation insurance systems, the comp system provides economic incentives to employers through reduced insurance costs to companies with reduced injury rates and safe workplaces.  Texas’ “opt out” option  means that an employer can choose to be self insured or become a non-subscriber and opt out of worker’s compensation insurance entirely. Those employers opting out of worker’s compensation systems are not experience rated and there is no economic incentive to reduce workplace injuries and ensure safe work environments for their employees.

Most recently on April 17, 2013 a fertilizer plant exploded in Texas, killing 15 and injuring approximately 200 people. EMS workers, firefighters, and other first responders were among the casualties.  The West Fertilizer Company was approved to have no more than 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate in the plant, but instead, 270 tons were reported to be on site. West Fertilizer failed to inform the Department of Homeland Security of the amount of fertilizer it had. Texas had as well the worst recorded industrial accident in America in 1947 when 3,200 tons of ammonium nitrate resulted in almost 600 deaths and 3,500 injuries.

Texas has the worst work-related fatality rate in the nation.

Texas has the worst work-related fatality rate in the nation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 433 reported fatalities occurred in 2011 alone in Texas with the highest (4.79 per 100,000 workers) for the last ten years. (Oklahoma is in line to follow). 

Oklahoma’s worker’s compensation measure was signed into law May 5 and it drastically changes how Oklahomans are compensated for on the job injuries. Republican Governor Mary Fallin has tried to change the worker’s compensation system for over 20 years in State politics.  She indicated the bill would reduce costs for businesses. The law changes worker’s compensation system from a judicial to an administrative one, allowing businesses to opt out of the worker’s compensation systems as long as they provide “equivalent” benefits to injured workers. Opponents of the law indicate that it is unfair to injured workers because it will reduce their benefits. The implementation of “equivalent” benefits, and what kind of injuries are covered or uncovered by those who “opt out” of the system is yet to be determined.

Cautionary note to employers: since those employers that “opt out” of worker’s compensation are no longer allowed the benefit of the exclusive remedy provision of worker’s compensation, workers who are not covered by worker’s compensation can sue their employers. For example, in a recent Colorado case where an undocumented worker (who by Statute in Colorado was not covered under worker’s compensation) received over a $1 million verdict against the negligent employer.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_industrial_disasters

Worker’s compensation systems benefit both employers and workers, and the dangers of opting out of the system means a retreat to harsh industrial conditions, producing  the same kind of inequities  that workers’ comp remedied over a century ago. The situation calls to mind the maxim that those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.

The 12 Things You Must Do If You Are Hurt At Work

Today’s post comes from guest author Paul J. McAndrew, Jr. from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.

Injured workers call me all the time asking me what they need to do to make sure they protect their legal rights.  If you are hurt on the job, whether it is due to an acute traumatic injury (like cutting yourself on a saw), cumulative-trauma injury (like carpal-tunnel syndrome) or some other job-related injury, there are several basic things you should do. If you do not do any of the things on the list below, you may lose your rights under Iowa’s workers’ compensation law. 

Although there may be rare exceptions to this list,  following it will leave you reasonably secure that your rights are protected:

  1. Report the injury. By “injury,” I mean almost any condition including but not limited to (a) an acute traumatic injury, (b) a cumulative-trauma injury, or (c) a disease or a hearing loss. You should report the injury to your supervisor or company nurse (for clarity we’ll just call these people your Supervisor from here on out), making clear your injury was caused by work. Under Iowa law, you need to make the report within 90 days of the date of your injury.
  2. Make sure your Supervisor prepares a company accident report.  If your Supervisor won’t prepare the report, Continue reading

Why Do Roofers Fall From Roofs? Is it just because of gravity?

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

Today I received an urgent call from attorney representing a client in New Jersey who fell from a roof. Before she told me the job description of the injured worker, now in a coma, I correctly anticipated that it was probably a roofer who had fallen from a roof, yet again.

This scenario has played out in workers’ compensation claims for decades. How the accident happened is usually an argument with the employer. The employer claims that the employee was either intoxicated or not following safety precautions. My instinct always tell me that this is probably incorrect, since roofers tend to lose their balance and fall for many other reasons, including “gravity.”  Some reason a deprivation of oxygen and/or exposure to toxic neurological irritants contained in the roofing materials, and weather related events that make roofs slippery.

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“Opting Out” of Worker’s Compensation Hurts Workers and Employers (Part 1)

Today’s post comes from guest author Tom Domer from The Domer Law Firm.

More than a century ago, Wisconsin’s initial efforts in worker’s compensation led the nation. In 1911 Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to place a broad constitutionally valid worker’s compensation system into operation. Recent events, specifically Oklahoma’s passing legislation to allow employers to “opt out” of worker’s compensation (following the “lead” of Texas) calls into question the great bargain made between employers and workers over a century ago. Prior to the enactment of worker’s compensation in the early 20th Century, workers who were injured on the job had to overcome three common law obstacles in order to recover from their employer.

Under contributory negligence, a worker could not recover from the employer if the worker had been negligent in any way and that negligence contributed to the accident, regardless of how negligent the employer may have been.

Under assumption of risk, if a worker knew or should have known of the danger inherent in the task at issue before undertaking it, the employer was not liable for an accident arising from the task even if the employee was not negligent.

Under the fellow servant rule, employers could not be held liable for accidents caused by fellow employees. 

The combined effect of these common law defenses served to deny Continue reading

Nanotechnology in the Workplace

During cancer research in 1986 an accident created the first man-made nanoparticle, an incredibly small particle which can absorb radiant energy and theoretically destroy a tumor. One type of nanoparticle is 20 times stronger than steel and is found in over 1,300 consumer products, including laptops, cell phones, plastic bottles, shampoos, sunscreens, acne treatment lotions and automobile tires. It is the forerunner of the next industrial revolution.

What is the problem? Unfortunately, nanoparticles are somewhat unpredictable and no one really knows how they react to humans. A report out of China claims that two nano-workers died as a result of overexposure, and in Belgium five males inhaled radioactive nanoparticles in an experiment and within 60 seconds the nanoparticles shot straight into the bloodstream, which is a potential setup for disaster. In a survey of scientists 30% listed “new health problems” associated with nanotechnology as a major concern.

Lewis L. Laska, a business law professor, wrote an article in Trial Magazine (September, 2012) in which he advised lawyers to become knowledgeable about nanoscience and be aware of the potential harm to workers and others who come in contact with this new technology, particularly because the EPA, FDA and OSHA have neither approved nor disapproved the use of nanostructures in products. It has been said that workers are like canaries in the cage (in mining operations), and if nanoscience is a danger then workers’ compensation lawyers will be the first to see it and appreciate it.

Who Calls The Shots, Your Employer-Selected Doctor Or The Insurance Company?

Insurance companies sometimes tell doctors that they will not pay for procedures that the doctor says are medically appropriate.

Today’s post comes from guest author Nathan Reckman from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.

In Iowa, employers have the right to control an injured worker’s medical care. This means that if you are injured at work, your employer gets to send you to a doctor of their choosing. The doctors chosen by the employer are called “authorized treating physicians.” In theory, after an employer chooses their authorized treating physician, they are required to pay for any care that doctor believes is necessary to treat the work injury. In practice, the employer and their workers’ compensation insurance company often try to interfere with the care the injured worker is entitled to by refusing to pay for procedures or tests recommended by their handpicked doctor.

Typically, when an authorized doctor suggests an expensive course of care (like surgery) the first thing the doctor will do is check with the insurance company to make sure the surgery is going to be paid for. Instead of immediately scheduling the needed surgery, the doctor will wait until the insurance carrier agrees to pay for the procedure. Doctors do this so they don’t have to worry about how they are going to be paid. Asking for this unneeded authorization from the insurance company means the insurance company now has a say in determining what individual procedures are proper for the care of the work injury.

We often see injured workers whose injury was initially accepted by the employer until the doctor requests authorization for an expensive surgery. When faced with the additional cost of surgery, the insurance carrier denies the work injury hoping the injured worker will either forego surgery or try to pay for the surgery through other means, such as their personal health insurance.

This situation may also arise when the authorized doctor recommends expensive diagnostic procedures, like CT scans, or refers the injured worker to a specialist, for example a psychiatrist for depression related to the work injury.

To make sure your rights are protected, it’s often helpful to have an experienced workers’ compensation attorney on your side if you’re facing a situation where your employer is trying to interfere with the decisions of their handpicked doctor. Injured workers should get the care that their doctor, not an insurance company, determines is medically appropriate.

PTSD and Police Officers at the Newtown Massacre

First responders may develop PTSD after a traumatic event.Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that can occur after a person has seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death. In civil war battles a soldier may be sitting next to his best friend when a cannonball takes off his friend’s head. The horror of such events put some soldiers out of action. Similarly, police officers have a higher incidence of PTSD/Anxiety Disorders than the general public due to the gruesome scenes and situations that they witness in their occupation. Classic symptoms of PTSD fall into three main categories: (1) reliving the event (such as nightmares and flashbacks); (2) avoidance (including feeling detached, numb, and avoiding things that remind them of the event); and (3) arousal (including difficulty concentrating, startling easily, and difficulty falling asleep).

Some of the police officers who responded to the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut are suffering from PTSD, calling it the worst crime scene they ever walked into. They are suffering from severe emotional distress and shock and have been unable to return to work due to the trauma they witnessed. Unfortunately, PTSD is not covered by workers’ compensation in Connecticut. Therefore they have been forced to use vacation and sick time to cope with the situation.

Our law firm has represented multiple police officers who have developed PTSD as a result of the gruesome scenes and situations they have been involved in at work. Fortunately, PTSD may qualify as an occupational disease under North Carolina workers’ compensation law. Hopefully the Connecticut legislature will amend their statutes in light of the school shootings to help these police officers get medical care and get back to work as quickly as possible.

“I’m In It for the Money!”

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

Surprisingly, many employers and insurance companies actually believe workers hurt themselves on purpose or at the very least put themselves in positions where they think an injury is likely. We hear this a lot as a basis for not settling claims for existing employees. Employers are worried that it will encourage other employees to get injured as well. What does that say about the particular employer who believes this? Either they are downplaying lots of injuries or they truly believe employees are willfully getting hurt. 

The reality is that most of our clients come to us because their injury-related medical bills are not being paid or they’re not being paid for time off from work due to their injury.

In this age of limited, and in some cases very limited, workers’ compensation benefits, you would have to be an imbecile to actually believe people are willingly causing permanent injuries to themselves to cash in on the “windfall” that is workers’ compensation. Who would honestly trade even thousands of dollars for a lifetime of uncompensated pain and suffering? The reality is that most of our clients come to us because their injury-related medical bills are not being paid or they’re not being paid for time off from work due to their injury. The vast majority of them don’t even ask how much they could get for their injuries in their initial meeting with us, as I’m sure is the case with most workers’ compensation law firms. 

This is one of a long line of personal-injury myths perpetrated by the insurance industry to make filing a workers’ compensation claim a stigma. It’s similar to the one about “if you file a claim our premiums will go up and they’ll have to shut down the plant.” Shouldn’t the question really be: are we requiring too much physically of our employees, and if so, what can we do to make things safer? Instead, Continue reading