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A Canadian newspaper recently reported serious accusations — workers’ compensation doctors were pressured to provide opinions so claims could be denied. The Canadian paper printed the story as if it were unusual. It’s not. We see it every day. It’s the sad reality of a compensation system full of claim managers with a goal other than helping injured workers recover. These claim managers know how to find biased doctors who will help with their goal.

Most injured workers hope to recover quickly. They want to return to their jobs and their normal lives. Instead, they often face unnecessary delays in treatment as well as biased caregivers. Their calls to the insurance adjuster go unanswered and unreturned. Imagine needing medical care and having your calls ignored for weeks. That’s the reality faced by many injured workers. These problems have become an epidemic for our system.

In the workers’ compensation system, medical providers face tremendous pressure from insurance companies. It’s unjust. And, it’s at every level of medical care.

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Earlier this summer an administrative law judge at the Department of Labor ruled for a truck driver who was fired when he refused to violate federal safety rules limiting driver hours. The judge awarded the trucker back pay plus compensatory and punitive damages.

The article about the incident tells a story that is far too common — a trucking company pushes its driver to exceed safety rules which protect us on the highway. In this story, the trucker refused to break the rules. And, the company fired him. In an effort to excuse the firing, the trucking company later argued the driver had refused other loads, was late to a meeting and ignored calls from the company dispatcher. Yet, the documents and other evidence did not support these “claimed” reasons for the termination. These other reasons were simply not true.

Too many truck drivers face pressure to break the rules. Pressure to violate service hour limits. Pressure to drive trucks exceeding weight limits. Pressure to continue driving trucks with faulty equipment. Pressure to act in a way that puts the rest of us in danger. Many needless personal injuries and deaths are the result. It’s good to read this story of a trucker who put safety first and was supported by the administrative law judge.

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At the Blackwell Law Firm we frequently get calls from injured workers with questions about maximum medical improvement (or MMI). We routinely handle workers’ compensation claims for Alabama workers.

What is MMI? How does MMI impact your case? These are important questions. Maximum medical improvement is an important issue in workers’ compensation cases.

1.  What is the significance of Maximum Medical Improvement?

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Earlier this week, I wrote a post discussing the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) push to install speed limiting devices in heavy commercial trucks. You can read that post at — Proposed Rule Would Stop Speeding Truckers. I think the proposal is an important safety step. At our firm, we have seen far too many families destroyed by a tragic highway crash involving an eighteen wheeler truck.

Much of the trucking industry supports the proposal for speed limiting devices. However, some drivers oppose the new rule. Some of the negative commentary is disappointing and troubling — such as threats to block lanes, generalized complaints against all regulation, claims that regular drivers cause all problems and protests that truckers should be allowed to drive as fast as they want. Such protests should not be a part of this important safety discussion.

However, we do understand valid concerns by some truck drivers that highway conditions or traffic flows might require a temporary change in speed. The DOT has proposed a period of discussion to determine the maximum speed setting for the new devices. While a slight increase may be understandable to account for these temporary conditions, does any fully loaded eighteen wheeler need to barrel down the highway as fast as its engine will allow? Certainly not. A reasonable limit exists and should be applied. A reasonable limit would protect lives.

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You are driving down the highway at a safe speed. You check your rear-view mirror. You see an eighteen wheeler rapidly approaching the back of your vehicle. Before you know it, the large truck is right on your bumper. The truck is not slowing. You quickly move out of the way and the truck roars by you. Most highway drivers know the fear of being around a speeding truck that cannot stop. In our firm, we regularly help families hurt by a negligent commercial truck driver. We know these crashes can cause life-ending and life-changing harm for drivers on our roads.

Speeding big rigs are dangerous for all of us on the highway. Speeding trucks cannot stop in time to avoid accidents, are more likely to jackknife, can topple easily and are difficult to control. Because of these tremendous dangers, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing a new regulation requiring all large trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating in excess of 26,000 pounds to be equipped with a speed limiting device. This is a device that would simply be installed by the truck manufacturer.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx strongly supports the new safety proposal. According to Secretary Foxx:

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In a world of billboards and commercials, how do you choose a good personal injury attorney? How do you separate truth from hype? How do you find an attorney who will prepare your case? Here, in north Alabama we have an attorney advertising on television who has probably never tried a significant injury case. A few years ago, a Florida reporter exposed an advertising law firm’s promises as “all for show.” When you or a family member is hurt, picking a good attorney is a very important decision. So, how do you make that choice? Here are a few tips:

  1. Consider Your Needs – What type of case do you have? A small car accident with a minor injury is very different from a case involving serious injuries. In either case, you need a lawyer who specializes in personal injury matters. But, in a minor injury case, you have a wider range of lawyers who can handle the matter. When your case involves serious injuries you really need an experienced lawyer with a proven track record. You need a lawyer who can go to trial. You need a lawyer who understands the medical issues. Keep in mind insurance companies know your attorney’s reputation. And, insurance companies often consider that reputation in serious cases before deciding what to offer.
  2. Don’t Buy Lawyer Promises – Some lawyers make promises in their advertising. And, some lawyers even make promises during initial client meetings. Beware of advertising claims. Beware of lawyers who promise results to new clients. Nobody can guarantee results.
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A young husband received the call nobody wants. His wife was a dedicated paramedic. She was stopped along the Interstate helping the victim of an earlier automobile accident. A speeding driver suddenly approached, never slowed for the emergency scene, and lost control of his vehicle. He slid from the roadway and struck the young paramedic as she was performing her job duties. She lost her life while performing her job helping others.

This tragedy should never have occurred. The ambulance was stopped on the shoulder with lights flashing. A police car was also at the scene with lights flashing. That’s two emergency vehicles with lights flashing and visible far down the highway. Why did the approaching driver NOT slow down? Why did the approaching driver NOT move over to the lane away from the parked emergency vehicles? After the driver’s arrest, the truth was revealed — he cared more about getting home quickly than he did the emergency responders in his path.

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Over half the teenagers in a recent poll admitted seeing their parents check mobile devices while driving. In another survey of adults, 95% of the adults who admitted driving while distracted also admitted they do so in front of their children. These are disturbing statistics. As parents, we set a powerful example for our children. Our children watch and learn from our actions.

A recent CNN story titled Distracted While Driving:  Parents do it, too discusses some of the statistics about adults driving while distracted in front of their children. The CNN article tells the story of a mother who caused a fatal collision when she picked up her phone to see a text. The story is difficult to read. It’s difficult to read about the death of another person. But, the article is difficult to read not just because of the death involved. It’s difficult to read because the mother who caused that death cares deeply about her children and community. It’s a tragic story of the deep and lasting effect upon the person at fault. The mother in the story did something she knew to be unsafe – reading a text while driving. Now, she suffers daily knowing the results of her lapse in judgment.

I’ve included a section on my firm website discussing distracted driving. I’ve also written a number of blog posts on the topic. In recent blog posts I’ve discussed the first criminal case in Alabama against a distracted driver. Distracted driving is a deadly problem throughout the United States. Education and technology are both important in reducing the rate of distracted driving. Our public safety officials have worked hard to educate young drivers on this issue. However, education of our young drivers is much less effective if we don’t lead by example. It is difficult in a busy world to not be distracted while driving. Yet, we must work hard to practice safe habits that our children will see and absorb.

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We are currently investigating claims of permanent hair loss following the use of Taxotere, a chemotherapy drug. Taxotere is one of the most widely used drugs for breast cancer in the United States. For more information on the drug, you can read a detailed report on the Blackwell Law Firm website.

While cancer patients may expect temporary hair loss during chemotherapy treatment, they also expect their hair to regrow once treatment ends. For many patients, hair regrowth is a visible sign of victory over the disease. And, if hair regrowth does not occur, the physical and emotional impacts can be devastating.

Although expected to be temporary, many patients treated by Taxotere suffer permanent hair loss. These women had alternatives to Taxotere treatment. Other drugs provide similar success results. Yet, those other drugs do not leave many patients with permanent alopecia or baldness. For years, Taxotere’s manufacturer failed to warn doctors or patients in the United States of this harm. Patients had no knowledge of the risk and could not make an informed choice between available drugs. Although the manufacturer failed to warn patients, it knew the significant risk of injury. And, it continued to profit from sales to unsuspecting patients.

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A recent Al.com article started with the title – Why Driving in Alabama is a Frightening Proposition. Naturally, I took the bait and clicked on the article. Maybe the article would tell us “why” Alabama has a high rate of accidents compared to other states? I hoped it would. But, the article did not live up to its title. While the article did use data to claim Alabama is the 5th most dangerous state for drivers, it did not tell the reader “why” our roads are especially dangerous. The article provided no insight as to why we have a high rate of traffic-related injuries and deaths. Yet, the reasons for these injuries and deaths are exactly what we should be discussing and correcting.

Let’s look at some of the major causes of driver injury. Distracted driving is a major safety issue on our roadways. We see distracted driving injuries every day at our law firm. Is distracted driving an issue that makes Alabama more dangerous than other states? Probably not. While distracted driving causes many traffic injuries and deaths, it is an issue both in Alabama and elsewhere. Impaired driving is a major safety issue on our roadways. Is impaired driving an issue that makes Alabama more dangerous than other states? Probably not. Communities throughout the United States struggle with similar substance abuse and addiction issues. So, what makes our roads more dangerous for drivers? Why is Alabama more dangerous than other states? I wish the Al.com reporter had explored the issue.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post titled Alabama’s Highway of Death. The post discusses the inclusion of Highway 431 through Alabama on a list of the most dangerous roads in the world. That’s right, our stretch of Highway 431 is included in a list of dangerous roads that scale mountains, run along canyons and are regularly covered in a sheet of ice. Clearly, the other roads have much more dramatic dangers. Why was Highway 431 considered such a dangerous road? In my prior post, I provided five reasons why Highway 431 is dangerous for drivers. These five reasons also play a large role in the high rate of automobile accidents throughout Alabama. They are: