Monthly Archives: November 2011

The NFL’s surprising occupational hazard: obesity that kills, PART 2

Today more then 350 NFL linemen weigh over 300 pounds.

Today’s post is the continuation in a series about one of professional football’s unexpected dangers: chronic obesity. 

In 1990, less than 70 players in the NFL weighed more than 300 pounds. Today there are more than 350 who weigh that much. All this weight adds up to higher death rates for retired NFL linemen than for the general public.

Retired NFL players are more likely to have medical conditions that go along with obesity like sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and high insulin and cholesterol levels. Put these together and the risk of deadly illnesses like heart disease, stroke and diabetes is also much higher.
So retired players are increasingly turning Continue reading

The NFL’s surprising occupational hazard: obesity that kills (Part 1)

Today's NFL linemen have to be bigger than ever.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve shared some thoughts on workers’ compensation and the NCAA in a two-part series of posts. Today our colleague Len Jernigan of North Carolina sheds light on an unexpected health hazard football players in the NFL face. Football players contend with some very serious health risks, including chronic obesity – yet another reason why the NCAA’s approach to health care for student athletes deserves reexamination. 

Most people know that football is dangerous. We see reports of NFL players with every kind of gruesome injury imaginable. Even suicidal depression, it turns out, is a potential hazard of playing football. Of course playing in the NFL is both rewarding and risky.

There is one common health problem among NFL players, however, that usually goes unmentioned. We thought it was a fitting topic for our workers’ law blog because NFL linemen must embrace this condition in order to stay in peak performance. It’s called chronic obesity.

These days, to be an NFL lineman, you not only have to be fast and strong, you also have to be fat. Continue reading

Wisconsin Workers Do Not Fake Injuries

I’m tired (and angry) when I read or hear news stories about alleged employee fraud in workers’ compensation cases. At cocktail parties, seminars, and social gatherings, when I say I represent injured workers, a common retort is “How many are faking their claims?” I respond, as calmly as I can, that in my experience with thousands of workers over 35 years, only a handful have not been straightforward, and that, compared to instances of employer fraud (not insuring workers, calling them “independent contractors”, telling them to file injury claims under group health insurance, etc., etc.) employee fraud is a drop in the bucket.

The Department’s six year study of such claims concluded that the public perception of workers’ compensation fraud is exaggerated. The documented level of workers’ compensation fraud is minimal.

Much fanfare (primarily fueled by insurance carrier advertisements) accompanied the mid-1990’s enactment of a fraudulent claims reporting provision in the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Act. Since then the statute has required insurers to report suspected fraud to the Department of Workforce Development on their own initiative and, at the request of the Department, to investigate and report on cases of alleged fraud reported to the Department by the general public.

In over 6 years, district attorneys initiated prosecution in 17 cases in Wisconsin, obtaining conviction in 14. 

Most fraud allegations are made anonymously, by telephone (608-261-8486), and from people who identify themselves as former friends or spouses, relatives, co-workers, or neighbors of the person alleged to be committing fraud. According to the Department summary report, “those allegations usually don’t pan out.” Continue reading

100 Years! – Today.

Wisconsin workers' compensation celebrates its 100th birthday

Wisconsin workers' compensation celebrates its 100th birthday

Today marks 100 years of protection for Wisconsin’s workers under the Worker’s Compensation Act.  Wisconsin led the nation in this progressive push for employee rights.  In 1911, the Wisconsin legislature passed the first effective Worker’s Compensation law in the country.   A test case was brought before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and one hundred years ago, today, the Court, in Borgnis v. Falk, 147 Wis. 327, 133 N.W. 209 (November 14, 1911), upheld the constitutionality of the Act—ushering in the very first, valid worker’s compensation law in our country.

The “grand compromise” in our state has served both sides for the entire century.  Employees gave up the right Continue reading

The surprising history of student-athletes and workers’ comp (Part 2)

In a post last week I mentioned a fascinating recent article in The Atlantic magazine on the history and often hypocrisy of the NCAA revealed the role workers’ comp played in the history of college athletics. As it turns out, the term “student-athlete” came into play in the 1950s when the widow of a student who died playing football in Colorado for the Fort Louis A&M Aggies brought a worker’s compensation claim for death benefits. Part of the ruling was based on the argument that, “the college did not receive a direct benefit,” from the athletic program – a description that would be difficult to use today.

Under Wisconsin worker’s compensation law,the value of an employee’s meals and lodging expenses become part of their average weekly wage for purposes of compensation. These items are provided to scholarship collegiate athletes, in addition to their paid tuition.

While some may see the term “student-athlete” as having a paternalistic or even sentimental notion, the nature of modern collegiate athletics suggest otherwise. With mega-deal television contracts, huge endorsement deals with corporate sponsors, ticket sales, concessions, and host of other profit-making ventures, the fact that student-athletes cannot receive compensation can appear hypocritical on the surface. (A counter-point response, however, is that such compensation may not be feasible, given the amount of money an athletic department and university must spend to maintain and upgrade all of their athletic teams and facilities).

Under Wisconsin worker’s compensation law, the value of an employee’s meals and lodging expenses become part of their average weekly wage for purposes of compensation. These items are provided to scholarship collegiate athletes, in addition to their paid tuition. Given the money generated by these athletes for the university and their receipt of these “things of value,” a viable argument exists for worker’s compensation benefits for injured student athletes.

In The Atlantic, Continue reading

The surprising history of student-athletes and workers’ comp (Part 1)

The term “student-athlete” has a surprising history

In Taylor Branch’s fascinating article, “The Shame of College Sports,” in September’s The Atlantic magazine on the history and often hypocrisy of the NCAA, acclaimed author Taylor Branch reveals an unexpected reason behind the usage of the term “student–athlete”: avoiding worker’s compensation liability.

Due to the “special” status of a student-athlete under the NCAA, however, they are not entitled to worker’s compensation for their injuries under the law.

Collegiate athletes certainly suffer injuries during their playing careers on campus. Many of these athletes receive items of value from the university, in the form of scholarships, lodging, meals, athletic gear, etc, which, if they were called “employees,” would be part of their wages for worker’s compensation purposes. Due to the “special” status of a student-athlete under the NCAA, however, they are not entitled to worker’s compensation for their injuries under the law.

According to Mr. Branch, the term “student-athlete” came into play in the 1950s when the widow of a student who died playing football in Colorado for the Fort Louis A&M Aggies brought a worker’s compensation claim for death benefits. The Colorado Supreme Court, agreed with the college that the student was not an employee at the time of injury, using the following interesting language (ironic in the big business of current revenue-driven college athletics):

“It is significant that the college did not receive a direct benefit from the activities, since the college was not in the football business and received no benefit from the field of recreation. In fact, the state conducted institution, supported by taxpayers, could not as a matter of business enter into the maintenance of a football team for the purpose of making a profit directly or indirectly out of the taxpayers’ money.” (State Compensation Insurance Fund v. Industrial Commission, 135 Colo. 570, 314 P.2d 288 (1957))

Wow. A court may have some difficulty using those words in today’s atmosphere. Regardless, Branch’s article detailed how, since that ruling, the NCAA has continued to use the term “student-athlete” as a shield.

Check back with us on Monday to find what Wisconsin workers’ compensation law can tell us about this issue.

 

Workers' Comp Q & A: I told my supervisor about the accident, is that enough?

Today’s post comes to us from our colleague Matt Funk of New York.

QUESTION: I TOLD MY SUPERVISOR ABOUT THE ACCIDENT BUT I DID NOT SUBMIT AN ACCIDENT REPORT. AM I GOOD TO GO WITH THE VERBAL NOTICE?

ANSWER: ALWAYS REPORT AN INJURY IN WRITING

Joe was working a construction job when Mike accidentally beaned Joe on the head with a 2X4. After seeing a couple of Tweety Birds and a whole bunch of stars, Joe went down to his supervisor’s station and told him he had just had an accident. Then he went off to the ER to make sure he was not seriously injured, relieved he had taken care of business at the job site. All he had to do now was get better.

No, Joe! No!

Yes, Joe satisfied the notice requirement. However, Joe was NOT good to go.

Supervisors sometimes have a funny habit of forgetting conversations or oral notices of an accident. Even if Joe’s supervisor were his best friend, when push came to shove there could be no telling what the supervisor might say in Court front of a Judge.

Furthermore, Continue reading

Sense of Injustice, Occupy Wall Street & A Tornado Survivor From Joplin

Finally, workers' compensation benefits for a first responder to the devastating tornado in Joplin, MO.

Today’s post comes to us from our friend Jon Gelman of New Jersey.

In a dramatic turn of events based upon pubic outrage, an insurance company has reversed its decision and now decided to provide workers’ compensation benefits to a first responder who was injured while providing assistance to tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri.

Mark Lindquist saved 3 developmentally disabled adults in Joplin following the tornado that devastated that community. Caught in the 200 mile an hour tornado, Lindquist lost all of his teeth, was in a coma for several months and ran up medical bills amounting to $2.5 Million. The insurance company initially had denied the claim and recent news reports and public outrage resulted in a reversal by the insurance company on the issue of compensability.

The same outrage against Corporate America and an imbalance in the socio-economic system is now being reflected in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Recently Amy Goodman, the host of Democracy Now!, commented about the growing recognition of injustice on the Charlie Rose show.

Continue reading