Category Archives: Reform

Death On The Job – AFL-CIO's Releases Its 21st Annual Report

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

The AFL-CIO has released its 2012 report on worker fatalities which also examines the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) role in ensuring safe workplaces. The AFL-CIO has been producing this report for 21 years, and we hope they continue to do so.

Since Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, workplace safety and health conditions have improved. But too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death.

In 2010, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,690 workers were killed on the job—an average of 13 workers every day—and an estimated 50,000 died from occupational diseases. Workers suffer an additional 7.6 million to 11.4 million job injuries and illnesses each year. The cost of job injuries and illnesses is enormous— Continue reading

Tom Domer Quoted On Workplace Deaths In Workers' Compensation System

Attorney Tom Domer

Recently our own Tom Domer was quoted in the Oshkosh Northwestern in an article entitled “Special Report: Wisconsin Companies Insulated From Stiff Penalties In Worker Deaths.” The article, based on a review by the paper of 240 workplace fatalities in Wisconsin over an 11-year period, exposed that the fines imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on companies have been small and are often negotiated down from an already low starting point. Of the 240 workplace fatalities, fines were assessed in just 184 cases, and the median fine was a mere $4,200.

While workplace deaths have dropped dramatically since OSHA implementation in the 1970s, tragedies still occur.  OSHA’s limited penalty mechanisms in these cases “cheapens” the value of life. Wisconsin’s workers’ compensation system also protects employer’s against bad behavior.  A death benefit in Wisconsin is equal to four times the deceased’s annual wages, but the deceased’s family members cannot bring a personal injury claim agains the employer (meaning no recovery for pain and suffering or loss of consortium).  Under the worker’s compensation law, the only “fine” against the employer is a potential safety violation (with a minimal $15,000 cap). In Tom’s words “No matter how evil, nefarious or even negligent an employer is, there is no lawsuit potential.” Tom further remarked that “The law unfortunately protects employers even against their own negligence.”

We recommend that you read the article in its entirety by clicking here.

Too Much Government Regulation?

Last week in Chicago I participated in a conference for the Work Injury Law and Advocacy Group (WILG). I have been a Board member since its inception in 1996, and edit its national magazine Workers’ First Watch. The conference commemorated the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Commission on Worker’s (then Workmen’s) Compensation. The conference presenters, Republican appointees of the Nixon administration, concluded that only a few of the 18 basic recommendations for injured workers (sufficient and timely benefits, medical care, etc) had been reached.

One lonely success story was the OSHA record. Nick Walters, a Regional Director of OSHA, presented devastating news for the “we need less government” crowd. He noted before OSHA was created in 1970, fourteen thousand Americans died annually on the job. Forty years later, in 2010, based in large part on OSHA safety regulations, work related deaths were reduced by 70%. For those on the “job-killing regulation” bandwagon, the undeniable fact is that OSHA is helping prevent employers from killing workers. Additionally, a recent Harvard-Berkley study indicated a Continue reading

Healthcare Budget Double Talk and the Walker Recall

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin

I ordered my “I Recalled Walker” bumper sticker today.  I’m proud to be part of a grassroots campaign to elect a new governor, one who will be more attuned to the needs of Wisconsin workers.  And as delighted as I am that over a million concerned Wisconsin citizens have signed a recall petition, I am also reminded daily of the need to fight against the Koch brothers who are backed by corporate cash.

Injured workers call our office every day indicating they have been denied worker’s compensation benefits, asking about how they can obtain necessary medical treatment.  Now, Governor Walker, in a misguided attempt to balance the budget, wants to cut an additional 50,000 adults from the State’s health care rolls.

In a remarkable display of political doublespeak,  Walker’s administration– which in its fundraising efforts have proudly extolled successful efforts at balancing the budget– quietly indicated to the federal government in December that the State had in fact, a deficit.

Why this duplicity? Because federal law allows Wisconsin to drop medical coverage for adults to save money on health care costs if the State can show it has a deficit.

Dropping over 50,000 adults would obviously but shortsightedly save the State money.  Walker’s administration used a “cash accounting” method in its promotional materials indicating that it will have a balanced budget, but when it reported to the federal government the administration used more generally accepted accounting principles showing debts that include promises to pay in the future.

The net result is that over 50,000 Wisconsinites may now be dropped from State health coverage because Walker’s administration duplicitously told the feds that it had a “budget deficit”.

On behalf of Wisconsin’s injured workers: shame on you, Governor Walker.

 

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

Injured at work in Wisconsin?: You CAN choose your doctor.

You can choose your doctor when you are injured at work.

In my daily conversations with injured workers, I am amazed at how few people know their right to control medical care after a work injury. While many states still use closed panels of doctors, injured workers in Wisconsin have a choice in deciding which doctor to see after an injury.

Current Wisconsin worker’s compensation law allows for employee choice of physician, chiropractor, psychologist, dentist, podiatrist, physician assistant or nurse practitioner.

This free choice extends to two practitioners (and any referrals to another practitioner from either of these two doctors) except by agreement with the employer.

Trust between a physician and a patient is important in providing quality medical care with good outcomes. If employers direct injured employees to “their” specific practitioner or facility, employees may be less open about their condition or symptoms.

This freedom of choice is a successful component of the worker’s compensation system and is favorable for the state’s injured workers. However, there is a recent push by insurance carriers and employers Continue reading

Workers' Compensation “Reform" and Vocational Rehabilitation

Recent news articles suggest that several states are in the throes of workers’ compensation reform, with legislators attempting to create a business-friendly environment in their state—on the backs of injured workers.

The main focus of any workers’ compensation system should be to restore the earning capacity that a worker held before suffering a work injury.

One victim of these efforts at workers’ compensation reform is the reduction or evisceration of vocational rehabilitation.

The main focus of any workers’ compensation system should be to restore the earning capacity that a worker held before suffering a work injury. As a public policy, the hope is that an injured worker – after reaching their healing plateau – can return to their time of injury employer, earning similar wages. Continue reading