Monthly Archives: May 2012

“Opting In” to Worker’s Compensation: Wisconsin’s Very Good Idea

Wisconsin Capitol BuildingThis is part 1 of a 3 part series.

Oklahoma recently faced a proposal in legislative session that would have allowed employers to “opt out” of the State’s mandatory worker’s compensation system. The bill ultimately died but it was closely monitored by the business community. Similar bills may soon surface in several other states including Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee.

Wisconsin’s initial efforts in workers’ compensation led the nation.

With several states proposing to “opt out” of worker’s compensation, it is important to revisit, after 100 years, why Wisconsin “opted in” leading the way for the other 50 states in worker’s compensation. The next several blog entries will tell that story.

Part I. Workers Denied Recovery

Wisconsin’s initial efforts in workers’ compensation led the nation. In 1911, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to place a broad, constitutionally valid workers’ compensation system into operation.

Prior to 1911, Wisconsin workers who were injured on the job had to overcome three common law obstacles in order to recover from their employer. Under the contributory negligence doctrine, a worker could not recover from the employer if the worker had been negligent in any way and that negligence had contributed to the accident regardless of how negligent the employer may have been.

Under the doctrine of 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 (i.e., co-workers) of the victim.

The combined effect of these common law defenses served to deny workers adequate remedies for their injuries.

Please visit our blog next week for part 2 of our series on states opting out of workers’ compensation.

Dystonia Is Often Misunderstood

Dystonia Foundation

Today we have a guest post from our colleague Len Jernigan of North Carolina.

Several years ago I had a client in North Carolina who was an insurance man. While taking some papers out of the back of his car at work he slipped, hit his head and developed a neurological conditon called “Dystonia.” I did some research and discovered that it is a disorder that affects the nervous system, causing muscles to contract involuntarily.

it is a disorder that affects the nervous system, causing muscles to contract involuntarily

Significantly, I also found out it can be caused by trauma, although often dystonia develops without any trauma and may be genetic. The case was denied by the workers’ compensation carrier (and Continue reading

What Should I Do If I Receive A Bill From My Workers’ Compensation Doctor?

Put your money back in your wallet. Your employer's insurance carrier is responsible for medical treatment of work-related accidents.

Today we have a guest post from our colleague Amanda Katz of New York.

Question: I received a bill from my doctor for treatment relating to my workers’ compensation claim. Am I responsible for payment?

Answer: You do not have to pay your doctor for treatment resulting from your work-related accident.

There is often confusion about paying doctor bills related to work-related accidents, but the reality is relatively simple. Take for example Joanna. While at work, a heavy box fell on Joanna’s foot. As a result, she was unable to walk and had to immediately go to the emergency room. Following treatment for her broken foot, Joanna received an expensive bill from the hospital. What should Joanna do?

Joanna should not pay the bill!

Under workers’ compensation law, Continue reading

Professionalism: A Choice Between The Art of War and Aikido Principles

Morihei Ueshiba, the Japanese founder of the martial art of Aikido.

Today’s thoughtful post comes to us from our colleague Len Jernigan of North Carolina.

Lawyers are often engaged to resolve conflicts. Sometimes the conflicts are resolved peacefully and harmoniously in a win/win environment and other times the resolution comes out acrimoniously and bitterly in a win/lose scenario. The former outcome is always preferred, yet many of us unwittingly choose a method of professional behavior that drives us toward a hostile, embittered and emotionally draining environment that we didn’t want.

How can this happen?

For insight, let’s look at an ancient Chinese military philosopher, Sun Tzu, who wrote The Art of War during the fourth century, B.C., and then compare it to the relatively recent principles expounded by Morihei Ueshiba, the Japanese founder of the martial art of Aikido. The Art of War was brought to the attention of the western world when it was translated into French and published in Paris in 1772. Napoleon is believed to have read and studied it. In more recent times, trial litigators and corporate executives have quoted from it in order to justify their tactics. Sun Tzu recognized that war was a matter of vital importance to the state and that it was mandatory that it be studied and mastered. (Machiavelli, when he wrote The Prince in 1513 A.D., had a similar vision about the importance of obtaining and holding power).

Sun Tzu was ruthless. He once had two of the King’s concubines beheaded after they repeatedly failed to follow his explicit instructions. Afterwards, all the other concubines followed orders as told. Sun Tzu was clever. He believed that all warfare is based on deception. He advocated angering the opposing general in order to confuse him, and sought to keep him under strain so he would wear down. Sun Tzu was aggressive. When his forces were abundant he urged attack. He encouraged agitation of the enemy and counseled striking where the enemy was most vulnerable.

Many lawyers follow these tactics in an attempt to gain strategic advantage over opposing counsel. Their goal is to win “the war” for their client and they will use any tactic allowed by the Local Rules or the Rules of Civil Procedure, etc., and can adamantly defend their actions by saying nothing they have done violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. Although Continue reading

A Word Of Caution On Facebook

A word of caution to injured workers: use Facebook at your own risk. An Arkansas Court of Appeals has held that Facebook photos can be used to deny worker’s compensation to an injured worker. The photos showed a man drinking and partying at a time he claimed he was in excruciating pain. The Appeals Court found there was no abuse of discretion in allowing the photographs into evidence because they had a bearing on his credibility.

Our office routinely cautions injured workers against any Facebook postings after a work injury for just that reason. While clients may feel that this impinges on their “private” life, they need to be aware that the insurance company will scour the internet, past employment histories, and medical records for any information that can be used in defense of a claim. Whether or not the photos are related to the injury or the need for medical care, they can often affect client credibility. In fact, we have dismissed several claims because of Facebook postings—and had to salvage some settlements due to post-compromise social media postings! Tom Domer is one of the editors of the national magazine for the Workers Injury Law and Advocacy Group (WILG) called the Worker’s First Watch. This month’s issue contains an article (starting on page 37) on the dangers of social media and its use against injured workers and worker’s compensation proceedings (the link is to a PDF document).

NIOSH Alerts Home Healthcare Workers About Latex Allergies

latex glovesToday we have a guest post from my colleague Jon Gelman of New Jersey.

NIOSH (The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety) has published a booklet to educate Home Healthcare Workers about preventing latex allergies. Latex products are made from natural rubber, and sensitivity can develop after repeated exposure. Limiting exposure to latex can help prevent allergic reactions for both home healthcare workers and their clients.

Once Natural Rubber Latex (NRL) sensitivity occurs, allergic individuals continue to experience symptoms, which have included life-threatening reactions, not only on exposure to NRL in the workplace but also upon receiving or accompanying a family member receiving healthcare services at inpatient as well as office-based settings.

In September of 1997, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final rule requiring cautionary statements in the labeling of all medical devices that contain natural rubber likely to come in contact with humans. The rule provides that such products must contain the following cautionary statement in bold print: “Caution: This product contains natural rubber latex which may cause allergic reactions.” Additionally, the FDA issued a final ruling that the labeling of medical devices that contain natural rubber, likely to come in contact with humans, shall not contain the term “hypoallergenic”.

Over the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of workers’ compensation claims filed against employers on behalf of individuals who have suffered latex allergic reactions. Scientists and government officials estimate that about 950,000 U.S. health care workers have developed an allergic sensitivity to latex.
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For over 3 decades the Law Offices of Jon L. Gelman have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.

Celebrating Workers – An Ad Campaign That Warms the Heart

Today post comes to us from Kit Case of Washington.

General Electric is running a series of advertisements that portray their employees, working in several industries, celebrating the impact of their work on our communities as well as on individuals.

In one spot, workers who build jet engines explain the precision of their work and are shown watching a plane take off using a set of engines they built, with smiles on every face.

In another, workers in a plant that builds medical scanning machines are visited by a bus load of cancer survivors whose treatment included scans by the devices. In a third spot, workers who build engine turbines are toasted at their local watering hole because, without them, there wouldn’t be cold beer (Bud, specifically).

More than just television – Social Networking Aspect

General Electric has launched a website which encourages individuals to participate in its “Celebrate and Power What Works” campaign. Visitors are able to upload photos and vote on their favorites, hooking into Facebook and entering to win prizes. For every action taken on the site – - upload or like a photo, or like GE on Facebook – - GE will donate $1 towards a non-profit group supporting workers, with a new non-profit recipient each week, giving up to $10,000 to each group. Past groups that benefited from this campaign include: Veterans Green Jobs, College for Every Student, Hire Heroes USA, and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. In order to participate, you have to Continue reading

Pro Athletes Need Worker’s Compensation Too

For minor league athletes especially, Workers' Compensation can be crucial.

Most of us do not associate a professional athlete’s injury with workers’ compensation. Because of pro athletes’ generous contract wages, and the relatively modest recoveries available under workers’ compensation, most fans don’t recognize that when it comes to receiving workers’ compensation, professional athletes are just like other office or factory workers who can recover worker’s compensation when injured.

Not every professional athlete, however, has a contract worth millions of dollars. Some of the athletes injured on minor league teams literally make no more than minimum wage, and receipt of workers’ compensation benefits is significant for those athletes.

Not every professional athlete, however, has a contract worth millions of dollars. Some of the athletes injured on minor league teams literally make no more than minimum wage, and receipt of workers’ compensation benefits is significant for those athletes. Wisconsin law places a cap on the amount of money an athlete can receive for his injury. The maximum weekly wage for 2012 is $1,281, yielding a temporary disability rate of $854. The right to workers’ compensation is contained in the collective bargaining agreements with the respective players unions in football, basketball and baseball. In Wisconsin, insurance companies charge employers like the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Milwaukee Bucks for workers’ compensation insurance.
Pro athletes regularly get hurt on the job, but few pursue workers’comp claims. In the ten years from 1994 through 2004 a total of 37 cases involving the Packers were litigated, and in the same period 20 cased involving the Brewers were contested. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sunday, June 25, 2006 “Paying for Pain”) Cases that went to a hearing were even more rare : only four cases involving the Packers went to a hearing in that ten year period.

It’s a popular notion that athletes assume the risk of injury, since that is the nature of professional sports. Some states have bought into this concept and leave professional athletes unprotected.

Athletes apply for worker’s compensation largely for two reasons: vocational retraining and Loss of Earning Capacity. Many pro athletes have not completed college, or when they did, they were not scholars, so the only thing they know how to do is play sports. If they get wrecked and cannot play, they have to find a way to earn a living. Loss of Earning Capacity is measured by the player’s residual ability to earn a living considering the limitations of the injury.

It’s a popular notion that athletes assume the risk of injury, since that is the nature of professional sports. Some states have bought into this concept and leave professional athletes unprotected. In Pennsylvania recently the Courts ruled the Pittsburgh Steelers do not have to pay the attorney fees related to a former player’s workers’ compensation case, because although he clearly suffered injuries while with the team, the team argued he was not “disabled” since he continued to play for other pro teams. Pittsburgh Post Gazzette, April 24, 2012. All pro athletes are covered in Wisconsin.