Worker’s Compensation Benefits Increase; Employers Costs Historically Low

A new study released by the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) indicates worker’s compensation benefits rose by 1.3% to $61.9 billion in 2012 while employer costs rose by 6.9% to $83.2 billion. Even though total benefits and costs increased in 2012, worker’s compensation benefits and costs per $100 of covered payroll have been lower from 2007 to 2012 than at any time over the last 30 years. In 2012 benefits were 98 cents per $100 of covered payroll while employer costs were $1.32 per $100 of covered payroll. 

Over the last 30 years medical benefits have accounted for an increasing share of total benefits from 33% in 1984 to nearly 50% in 2012. Medical benefits accounted for almost 50% of the $61 billion in total benefits paid. In Wisconsin medical benefits exceed cash benefits, indicating that medical cost containment is a significant issue.

The Academy’s report Worker’s Compensation: Benefits Coverage and Costs 2012 is the 17th in an annual survey. The report provides the nation’s only comprehensive data on worker’s compensation benefits coverage and employer costs.

Tom Domer Speaks Out on Worker’s Compensation Fraud

Tom Domer recently spoke at the SEAK National Worker’s Compensation and Occupational Medicine Conference, July 2014 in Cape Cod, MA.  The talk centered on fraud in worker’s compensation—by employees and by employers.   Not all “fraud” is created equal.  According to Tom, “The actual incidents of employee fraud is miniscule relative to employer fraud.”

An interview with Tom on the topic of fraud in worker’s compensation can be found here:

 

Death Of A Client

The circle of life always moves forward, with death as the single, inevitable constant. Despite that knowledge, I am always taken aback when I receive word that one of my clients has passed away. Unfortunately, this happens on numerous occasions throughout the year.  Some individuals pass away from the effects of a work injury, and of course, others for a variety of causes both known and unknown.

A worker’s passing is always difficult for family and friends, including myself and our office staff who represented the worker. For many workers, our office has a profound and intimate involvement in their case, including a multitude of in-person conversations and phone communications (many involving significant and meaningful conversations related to the individual’s family and health, well-being, and status for the future).

When an injured worker dies, there is some potential relief for that worker’s dependents in the form of a death benefit claim. While no monetary compensation can be sufficient for a worker’s death, the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Act does provide the potential for some benefits for those left behind. 

Specifically, if a worker dies from the effects of a work injury or if a permanently totally disabled employee dies, there is the potential for a death benefit equal to four times the worker’s annual earnings. Statutory “total” dependents are determined by the law: a surviving spouse, a domestic partner who lived with the deceased, or a surviving child under the age of 18 years old (or older if physically or mentally incapacitated). Other rules apply if there are no statutory dependents for those deemed “partially” dependent on the deceased injured worker (partial dependency is capped at two times the deceased’s annual salary). 

Other rules apply under the Worker’s Compensation Act if an injured worker – who has permanent partial disability (PPD) left to be paid – dies with some PPD still owing. Unaccrued permanency disability benefits can be payable to dependents as death benefits, as well. 

Additionally, burial expenses (up to $10,000) are payable in all cases where an employee dies from a work injury, regardless of whether or not there are dependents. 

The rules for dependency benefits, admittedly, are convoluted and difficult to decipher. The rules about who is a total or partial dependent can be confusing and difficult to follow. Competent worker’s compensation counsel is necessary to navigate the ability to pursue a death benefit.

Courthouse Door Slammed Shut for Workers

The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that an injured worker can be forced to accept an offer from a third-party if his employer’s worker’s compensation carrier wants to accept the deal, even if the injured worker wants to try to the case in court.

I was interviewed by Work Comp Central regarding that claim.

I labeled the decision a travesty, indicating it diminished the right of all workers in Wisconsin who, for over 100 years had an unfettered right to sue a third party.  This case,  Adams v Northland, reverses that.  I was dismayed because the decision indicates the worker’s compensation insurer can call the shots and take a deal the worker finds unacceptable.  Essentially, the worker’s compensation insurance carrier should stand in the shoes of the injured worker.  This case allows the insurance carrier not only to stand in its own shoes but to throw away the worker’s shoes.

The worker’s compensation insurance carrier had paid about $150,000 to Adams in medical benefits and compensation after he injured himself while driving a snowplow for the Village of Fontana.  He hurt his neck and spine when his head struck the cab ceiling.  He sued the Northland Equipment Company for putting in the wrong shock-absorbing springs on the plow, which he says would have precluded his injury.

Northland offered to pay $200,000 to settle Adams’ claim and the worker’s compensation insurance carrier asked a judge to compel Adams to accept this settlement.  The Judge did so and the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court affirmed that Judge’s decision.  Justices Bradley and Abrahamson dissented, indicating there was nothing in the deal struck in 1911 when workers gave up their right to sue their employers suggesting that workers would also give up their right to sue a negligent third party.  This decision essentially takes away the right of an injured worker to proceed to trial against the negligent third party if the employer’s worker’s compensation insurance carrier wants to settle.

Major Cargill Plant in Milwaukee Shuts Doors: Work Comp Impact

A major Milwaukee employer shut its doors last week.  Cargill, which had run a beef processing plant south of downtown, shut down the facility–resulting in the loss of 600 jobs!  (The Journal Sentinel ran a story documentating the devastation to the workforce: Bitter and Stunned: Cargill Workers Share Sense of Betrayal.).

Despite the job loss, many of these workers now have further worker’s compensation claims to pursue.  If any injured worker had returned to Cargill with accommodated permanent limitations, they now can pursue vocational claims for academic retraining or loss of earning capacity.  The statute of limtiations in Wisconsin is long: 12 years.  Even if Cargill had accommodate a worker’s permanent limitations for many years, the plant layoff still allows a worker to pursue further benefits. 

Specifically, if an injured worker has permanent limitations from a work injury and they cannot return to work for the time-of-injury employer (which includes a layoff), they can bring a claim for vocational retraining or for loss of earning capacity, depending on the body part hurt.  Laid off workers with permanent restrictions shoudl contact a worker’s compensation attorney right away to determine if they have a further worker’s compensation claim to bring.  The attorneys at Domer Law can assist to make this assessment. 

Workplace toxins – are you a victim?

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp News and comes from www.jdsupra.com

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Every day throughout Illinois, and the rest of the country, workers in nearly every field and in a range of working environments are exposed to toxins, such as chemicals and gases, in the workplace. In some cases, this exposure can cause occupational injuries, ranging from an allergic reaction or pulmonary irritation to much more serious, long-term issues, like asbestosis or cancer. This makes it important for employees to know what they could be coming into contact with in their workplaces.

Common workplace toxins

These toxins can be in use themselves, or be present in other solutions and substances that are used for any number of purposes and processes by employees in many occupations. Additionally, toxins can be released as a result of, or in the course of, workers’ regular occupational activities. Some of the most common toxins that may be present in a workplace environment include the following:

  • Chemicals or materials used in, and released from, construction and manufacturing processes, including asbestos, benzene, lead, manganese, formaldehyde, and silica dust.
  • Solvents and chemicals used to repair and maintain motor vehicles and other types of equipment, such as antifreeze, gasoline, diesel fuel and oil.
  • Cleaning supplies and pesticides, as well as nail and hair care products often contain chemicals that can be harmful.
  • Some medical equipment and processes may use harmful chemicals, including the use of Beryllium in dental work and ethylene oxide in…

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OSHA Chief: Inequality in America Is About Workplace Hazards, Too

Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from www.nbcnews.com

Image: Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration attends a full committee hearing on Capitol Hill on June 23 in Washington, DC.
Image: Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration attends a full committee hearing on Capitol Hill on June 23 in Washington, DC.

Inequality and poverty have taken center stage in American politics in the years since the recession. Fast food workers have raised the profile of low-wage work, cities and states around the country are raising the minimum wage, and elected officials in both parties have made the struggles of poor Americans core political issues.

But David Michaels, Ph.D., M.P.H., who leads the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under the Obama administration, says that workplace inequality is more than just wages. In an interview, Michaels, who is responsible for enforcing federal laws to project workers from illness and injury, says the regulatory structures he oversees aren’t sufficient to protect vulnerable workers from harm.

NBC: The political conversation about inequality in recent years has focused on wages. You’ve made the point that when addressing inequality, we should focus more on workplace health and safety issues. Why?

Michaels: Wages are clearly a core component of the discussion of inequality and the ability to get into and stay in middle class. But workplace health and safety issues also have an enormous impact. Workplace injury and illness can push workers out of middle-class jobs and make it hard to enter into the middle class in the first place.

Studies show that workplace injury…

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Don’t Demean FMLA Leave

Workers do not have many rights.  It’s an unfortunate mantra I recite to many of my injured worker clients.  Of course, union protections exist in certain settings.  Protections against discrimination and harassment exist if unlawful conduct occurs.  However, in most circumstances, Wisconsin employees are “at will” employment–meaning they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all.

An “at-will” employee who is forced to miss work for their own serious health condition (or for a child’s health condition) can face a difficult situation.  Missing work can put their employment status in jeopardy.   In these situations, the protections provided by the federal and state Family and Medical Act are crucial.  While FMLA leave only applies to certain employment settings (generally those with over 50 employees), the FMLA can provide job protection for a certain amount of unpaid weeks while an individual is out of work.

Given this invaluble security, a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel caused me concern (“Agency scrutinizes family medical leave in Milwaukee County“).  The article raised questions about the amount of Milwaukee County workers using FMLA leave.  The article certainly paints this type of leave in a negative light, even suggesting the potential “abuse” of this FMLA leave by employees.

 FMLA leave is unpaid leave.  Unless an employee has other available/accrued leave benefits, when they are off on FMLA leave, the employer is not paying wages.  The employee is off work, not getting paid.  Thus, FMLA provides some job protection for the employee, but the employee is not getting rich being off work.  I find it questionable that many employees are abusing a benefit that does not pay them anything.  Demeaning the FMLA is concerning.