Monthly Archives: May 2013

New Social Security Rules Make It Harder To Present Your Case

Today’s post comes from guest author Ryan Benharris from Deborah G. Kohl Law Offices.

In December, 2010, the Social Security Administration (SSA) implemented a set of rules put in place to enable more effective case review. One of the major changes was that Applicants will no longer know who their Administrative Law Judge is prior to their scheduled hearing. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted that these judges seem more concerned with the speed of case processing than on whether the applicants actually deserve benefits. WSJ also indicated that some judges were approving more than 85% of the cases they heard in what was allegedly an effort to have the cases resolved more quickly. Unfortunately, for applicants, this change in practice has made their cases much harder to litigate. Many Administrative Law Judges have different styles of practice in how their cases are heard. An attorney may present information in a different style depending on the judge. The importance of an applicant being represented by an attorney before the Social Security Administration has never been clearer. Since there is no way to know who the Administrative Law Judge is prior to the hearing, it is absolutely imperative that every case prepared in accordance to all rules governing how cases are tried before the court. If even the slightest detail is overlooked, it may prevent an applicant from being allowed to present evidence that could win his or her case.

Workplace Deaths Substantially Unreported

Earlier this year, North Carolina OSHA released a report stating that job-related deaths were decreasing. In fact, the report stated there were only 35 workplace deaths in North Carolina in 2012. However, as we mentioned in our earlier blog from this year (North Carolina Workplace Deaths Lower in 2012), these statistics appeared artificially low.

The study conducted by the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health (“National COSH”) entitled “North Carolina Workers Dying for a Job,” released in 2012 states that there were at least 83 work-related deaths in 2011 but NC OSHA only reported 53 work-related deaths for that year. Why the disparity? For one, NC OSHA’s report does not account for many fatalities due to car accidents. NC OSHA’s report also doesn’t include fatalities that occur as a result of workplace violence or fatalities suffered by the self-employed.

While it’s reassuring to hear reports that work-related deaths are on the decline, this doesn’t reflect the big picture. A report from the AFL-CIO (“Death on the Job Report”) shows that workplace fatalities vary widely by state (from 12.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers in North Dakota to 1.2 fatalities per 100,000 in New Hampshire). When considering the reported work-related fatalities for your state, keep in mind that this is just a fraction of the true fatality figures.

There is, however, one common underlying trend: Hispanic workers and young workers are disproportionately at a higher risk for job fatalities. For this reason, adequate training and safety protocols are critically important. And, sadly, many of the fatalities in 2011 were largely preventable. The two top reasons for workplace fatalities in 2011 were falls from elevated heights (20%) and machinery hazards (16%). With proper safety measures, those deaths should have been avoided.

 

 

Feds To Ban Truckers From Using (Hand-Held) Cell Phones

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

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

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is proposing to restrict the use of hand-held mobile telephones, including hand-held cell phones, by drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) while operating in interstate commerce. Cell phones have become a major cause of distracted driving accidents resulting in an increase of workers’ compensation claims by employees as well as liability lawsuits against employers directly. This federal rule would be in addition to the many states which already ban hand-held cell phone use.

The following is a summary of the proposed rule:<!–more–> “FMCSA and PHMSA are amending the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) to restrict the use of hand-held mobile telephones by drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). This rulemaking will improve safety on the Nation’s highways by reducing the prevalence of distracted driving-related crashes, fatalities, and injuries involving drivers of CMVs. The Agencies also amend their regulations to implement new driver disqualification sanctions for drivers of CMVs who fail to comply with this Federal restriction and new driver disqualification sanctions for commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders who have multiple convictions for violating a State or local law or ordinance on motor vehicle traffic control that restricts the use of hand-held mobile telephones. Additionally, motor carriers are prohibited from requiring or allowing drivers of CMVs to use hand-held mobile telephones.”

You can read the full text of the proposed rule here: http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/administration/rulemakings/final/Mobile_phone_NFRM.pdf.

For over 3 decades the Law Offices of Jon L. Gelman in New Jersey have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses. Jon is a prolific author, public speaker and educator on the topic of workers’ compensation law.

Why Are Worker’s Comp Claims Down

The number of worker’s compensation claims has dropped dramatically

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

The Wisconsin Association of Worker’s Compensation Attorneys (WAWCA) just held its tenth annual worker’s compensation seminar in Madison, Wisconsin. (I presented the annual case law update.)  A report on the economic health of Wisconsin worker’s compensation (presented by a colleague on the defense side, Paul Riegel) noted reported worker’s compensation claims have dropped from 55,000 in 2001 to less than 35,000 in 2011.  Based upon the first five months of 2012 reporting, 30,000 reported claims are anticipated to be made in 2012.

Applications for hearing on those claims have also diminished, from 7,000 in 2001 to about 5,500 in 2011.  Again based upon projections, the 2012 number of Applications for Hearing will be about 5,600.

Several potential explanations for this drop were provided including:

  1. The days of asbestosis, silicosis, and similar disease may have ended due to the aging population of those of exposed before the implementation of OSHA in 1970 and the lessening amounts of these substances in the workplace.
  2. Employers argue that workplaces are simply safer, resulting in lesser claims.
  3. The safer workplaces argument is rebutted by employee and Union data that fewer people are willing to make claims in a depressed economy for fear of losing their jobs.  While Wisconsin law assesses a “one year’s wages” penalty against an employer who fires or refuses to rehire an injured worker, in tough economic times, that may not be a risk an injured worker is willing to make.  Anecdotal evidence from a variety of sources indicates viable claims, specifically for “wear and tear” type injuries are simply not being made.
  4. The impact of extending Unemployment Compensation benefits from its initial 26 weeks through multiple extensions may diminish worker’s compensation claims since another “safety net” exists.  Additionally, the availability of Social Security may diminish worker’s compensation claims.  General employment trends also suggest Continue reading

Do I have to be on Social Security Disability Forever?

You aren’t prohibited from returning to work after being on Social Security Disability

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

Many of the people that I’ve spoken to over the years are under the impression that once you get Social Security Disability (SSD) you have to remain on benefits forever and can never go back to work. This is a common misconception, and one that prevents many people from receiving benefits they would otherwise be entitled to.

While you do not have to be on SSD forever, you do have to be out of work for at least twelve (12) consecutive months. However, once you’ve satisfied this durational requirement, you can return to work and receive SSD for a portion of the time that you were unable to work – Social Security doesn’t pay disability benefits for the first five (5) full months you’re out of work.

We have many clients who receive excellent medical care and have their medical condition improve and return to work. That’s great, and it’s something we love to see. SSD is there for you during the time that you’re unable to work.

…the Social Security Administration…even lets you work for a limited period of time before stopping your benefits.

Social Security also likes it when you return to work, and they have several different programs that help you get back to work, even if it’s a different sort of work than what you were doing before you became disabled. I’ll cover these programs in more detail in a later post, but for now, you should know that the Social Security Administration makes it possible for you to get vocational rehabilitation and retraining for free, and even lets you work for a limited period of time before stopping your benefits.

Once you know that you’ll be out of work for at least 12 months, contact our office to discuss filing a claim, even if you plan to return to work in the future. Because of the fact that you can lose benefits if you wait too long to apply (something I discussed here) you shouldn’t delay filing for benefits just because you plan to go back to work in the future.

What About Workers’ Compensation In North Dakota?

Workers have flooded North Dakota to work in the booming oil industry.

Today’s post comes from guest author Jay Causey from Causey Law Firm.

A recent article in the New York Times (An Oil Boom Takes a Toll on Health Care, January 28, 2013) recounted the growing burden on North Dakota hospitals because of on-the-job injuries to workers who have flooded that state to work in the booming oil industry. Apparently North Dakota hospitals are swimming in debt from unpaid bills because, as the article by John Eligon states, “many of the new patients are transient men without health insurance or a permanent address in the area.”

“Swamped by uninsured laborers flocking to dangerous jobs in the oil industry, the hospitals here in the North Dakota oil patch are sinking under skyrocketing debt, a flood of gruesome injuries and bloated business costs from the inflated economy.” – John Eligon, New York Times

Mr. Eligon goes on to discuss actions by the governor and state legislature to increase medical training and medical facilities in North Dakota, and to obtain increased Medicaid financing for the state’s rural hospitals. Not only are medical facilities groaning from the increase of gruesome injuries associated with highly dangerous work environments, Mr. Eligon recounts the health issues that arise from the cramped housing scenarios in the work camps that have sprung up near the oil fields. This includes a significant increase in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.

The North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance site includes its catchy motto – “Putting Safety to Work.”

However, nowhere in Mr. Eligon’s article is there any mention of, or reference to, North Dakota’s workers compensation system which would seemingly provide the principal coverage for the injuries and conditions that are the subject of his article. Is the NYT oblivious to the fact of coverage for industrial injuries and conditions under each state’s workers compensation law? Or are workers injured in the new booming oil economy of North Dakota somehow being denied coverage under that state’s system, or being engineered out of coverage by the terms of their employment with the oil companies? It seems that a minimal inquiry, at least, on these points was owed by the NYT in its article.

Photo credit: nestor galina / Foter.com / CC BY

“Mental-Mental” Worker’s Comp Claims Following Connecticut School Shooting Injuries

Connecticut’s workers compensation law does not currently cover mental injuries which do not stem from a physical injury.

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

Following the Connecticut school shootings, unions representing police and firefighters and school employees have held discussions about laws to expand situations under which worker’s comp benefits would be available for mental health issues. Connecticut worker’s compensation law does not provide for “Mental-Mental” claims, which are claims for psychological disabilities that do not stem from an original physical injury. Police officers, firefighters, and school officials do not meet the requirements of Connecticut’s Statute for psychological counseling or time lost benefits in the event they are unable to work because of psychological disability in the wake of the shootings. 

Since the mid-1970s Wisconsin has recognized non-traumatic mental injury (“Mental-Mental”) in worker’s compensation. Before 1974, compensable mental injuries were limited to post-traumatic injuries, mental disorders occurring after and due to a physical accident. The statute then defined injury as “mental or physical harm to an employee caused by accident.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court set a new “Extraordinary Stress” standard for compensability, indicating if the mental injury resulted from situation of greater dimensions than the day to day stress, which all employees must experience, benefits and medical expenses could be paid. Continue reading