Monthly Archives: October 2011

Can the Famous Stanford Prison Experiment Explain Arbitrary Benefit Denial by Insurance Adjusters?

Stanford Prison Experiment Guard

A Stanford student playing the part of a guard

Over the years I’ve seen a handful of workers’ compensation adjusters who seem to forget that injured employees are real people who have families and are going through a difficult time, physically and psychologically, because of a workplace accident.

Adjusters have complete authority over people who are subject to their control. In 1971, a Stanford psychology professor wanted to answer the question: What happens if you take good people and give some of them absolute power over others?

What happens if you take good people and give some of them absolute power over others?

He set up an experiment to see how Stanford students would behave if they suddenly found themselves in a prison, either as guards or as prisoners. The basement of the psychology building was transformed into a prison, and students who volunteered for the experiment were randomly assigned as a prisoner or a guard.

The results were horrifying Continue reading

Hot Coffee: A New Documentary Exposes the Lie of Tort Reform


Have you heard the story about the woman who ordered some hot coffee from McDonald’s, spilled it on her lap, burned herself, and sued McDonald’s for millions of dollars? Ridiculous, right? It’s the poster story for so-called “frivolous law suits.”

McDonald’s had already received and ignored over 700 reports that their coffee had burned customers.

Well, would you still think the story was ridiculous if you knew these facts?

  • Stella Liebeck, 79 years old at the time, wasn’t driving when the coffee spilled – she was sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car.
  • She suffered 3rd degree burns from the coffee and required 2 years of painful surgeries and skin grafts.
  • Properly brewed coffee NEVER reaches a temperature where it is capable of causing burns like the ones Ms. Liebeck suffered. McDonalds kept their coffee at 185 degrees, which causes severe burns in 3-7 seconds. Home brewed coffee never gets above 150 degrees, which would not cause these kinds of burns.
  • Even before Ms. Liebeck was injured, McDonald’s had already received and ignored over 700 reports that their coffee had burned customers.
  • Ms. Liebeck’s initial request was that McDonald’s pay $20K, the amount of her medical treatment that Medicare would not cover. McDonald’s offered her just $800.
  • After a trial, a jury of 12 ordinary people decided that McDonald’s blatant of disregard for hundreds of complaints about their coffee warranted an award (and penalty) of 2 days’ worth of coffee sales, which in 1994 was $2.7 million.
  • The jury’s award was appealed by McDonald’s and reduced, and then further reduced to less than $600,000 after McDonald’s mounted a multi-year legal battle against Ms. Liebeck.
  • As part of Ms. Liebeck’s settlement with McDonald’s, she was forced to sign a gag order, which prevented her from speaking about the case or the settlement. McDonald’s told its version of story to the press, while she was legally unable to defend herself or tell her side.

Hot Coffee, Susan Saladoff’s gripping and moving new documentary tells the story of Stella Liebeck and other regular Americans like her who have used the U.S. judicial system to fight for justice. It also tells the story of how corporate interests are, bit by bit, taking our right to trial by jury away. (video after the break)

Continue reading

What’s so dangerous about hotel room cleaning? It turns out, a lot.

Exposure to harsh chemicals and repeated bending can take its toll.

Today’s post is the continuation of a 2-part series which comes to us from our colleague Edgar Romano at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP in New York.

As we shared with you last week, hotel housekeeping may not seem dangerous, but it can be grueling physical labor.

A recent study published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported that tasks including dusting, vacuuming, changing linens, making beds, and scrubbing bathrooms may lead to a range of injuries. Some of the most common ones include:

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Suicide – Recognize the Signs Before It's Too Late

Work injury stress may bring about depression and suicidal thoughts, but suicide is preventable.

Several years ago I had declined to represent an injured truck driver until his wife called me and said she found a suicide note and asked me to reconsider. I did and was able to help him. I believe there is a connection between suicide and workers’ compensation. Clearly the pain of an injury, coupled with the stress of not being able to return to work can cause tremendous psychological strain.

One Texas doctor actually testified at a legislative hearing that prolonged decisions on workers’ compensation coverage in the state had lead to an increase in work’ comp’ related suicides in recent years. “The incidence of those reports has been astonishingly high compared to five years ago,” he told the legislators, “when they were, to my knowledge, nonexistent.”

Below are some signs that you or somebody you know may be at risk. This list of warning signals comes from the website of the American Psychological Association. If you see any of these signs, seek help from a doctor or therapist, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Continue reading

The most dangerous job in the service industry is done mainly by women

Hotel room cleaning is a job that comes with risks

Today’s post comes to us from our colleague Edgar Romano at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP in New York.

Hotels can be a dangerous place to work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of all service industry workers, hotel workers have the highest rate of injury at 5%. The average for all service industries is only about 3.4%.

Hotel room cleaners have significantly higher injury rates than other hotel workers, with nearly 8% experiencing Continue reading

Workers' Comp' Q&A: Punching In

Today’s post comes to us from our colleagues Matt Funk and John Merlino of Brecher Fishman Pasternack Walsh Tilker & Ziegler in New York.



Joe was running late.  A custodian at The City College, a CUNY school, the minute he got onto the campus, his radio crackled with news of a boiler freaking out in old Sheppard Hall.  Rather than punch in, he ran straight to the boiler to take care of business. Running down the hall to the boiler room, he passed a bunch of students hanging out on the floor as young people are want to do.  And before you could say Workers’ Comp, Joe went flying through the air.  The boiler wasn’t the only thing that broke that morning.  So did Joe’s right ankle.

After the ER and the X-rays, and the cast and the crutches and the really great painkillers, Joe called his supervisor to put in a claim.  Imagine Joe’s surprise when his supervisor told him that because he hadn’t punched in before heading to the broken boiler, he was not covered.  Joe panicked.  That ER visit was going to cost a bundle, and it was a bundle he didn’t have.  What should he do? Continue reading

If Obama’s Affordable Care Act is upheld, it won’t be the first time government has forced companies to provide insurance

Back in 1917 the Supreme Court ruled that Workers' Compensation should protect workers like these men.

Last week we posted on how Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which would require that every American must have health insurance, has been struck down by a U.S. Circuit Court. However, the Obama administration and 26 states filed appeals against this ruling, and the Supreme Court is widely expected to rule on the appeal this fall.

The fact of the matter is, if Obama’s Affordable Care Act is upheld, it wouldn’t be the first time that the government has forced companies to provide insurance for people. The constitutionality of mandatory insurance has been challenged in courts and upheld at the highest level.

The argument that state-mandated insurance for injured workers was unconstitutional was made after an employee was killed in 1914. The workers’ compensation system, in exchange for requiring employers to compensate employees for work-related injuries, exempts employers from liability beyond the limits of the insurance. Employers in 1914 said the United States Constitution prohibited state governments from forcing employers to buy such insurance. Some even called it socialism. Continue reading

Will the Supreme Court’s Decision on Obama's Healthcare Plan be the End of Workers' Compensation?

On September 28th, 2011, the Obama administration and 26 states filed appeals to a lower court ruling that struck down a provision of the Affordable Care Act (the Obama health care law) that required every American to have health insurance.

The Supreme Court is widely expected to rule on the appeal this fall, and its ruling may put the workers’ compensation system in jeopardy.

Dismantling the workers’ compensation system would make it much more difficult for the vast majority of workers with injuries to receive compensation. 

The workers’ compensation system is a mandatory insurance system which makes receiving compensation for a work-related injury simpler, faster and more certain than relying on the courts. Workers’ compensation makes it easier for all workers to get money for treatment of work-related injuries, since they don’t have to go to court to get it. It also limits the amount of money that the most seriously injured workers can receive.

If the Supreme Court decides that it is unconstitutional for the government to force all Americans to purchase health insurance, Continue reading