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2543453615_9e9b04de1b_z-300x225We share our roads and highways with large commercial trucks on a daily basis. These large commercial trucks have rear guards to protect passenger cars. If you rear-end an eighteen-wheeler, you are protected from going under the back of the truck. Why do large trucks not also have side guards? That’s a question safety advocates have long asked.

Commercial trucks can have a very high ground clearance. I’m sure you’ve been in the lane next to a large eighteen-wheeler. If you are in a small passenger car, you may even look over and think that your entire vehicle could go under the truck. That is the danger. In a side impact, a passenger car can slide under the body of the truck. That causes the truck body to crash through the car windows and into the passengers. A simple collision can become deadly. These under-ride crashes can cause horrible head and upper body injuries, including decapitation. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated almost 300 car passengers were killed in side-impact collisions with a semi-truck in 2016.

We need to remember — Deadly side impacts are not limited to passenger cars. In urban areas, commercial trucks frequently share our roads with pedestrians and bicyclists. A Department of Transportation study also revealed a substantial number of death in side crashes involving both pedestrians and bicyclists.

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courtroom-898931_1920-300x226I know — Lawyer advertisements are everywhere. Billboards. Television. Youtube. Those advertising lawyers all try to project confidence while asking for your case. “We got this” says a local Huntsville lawyer with new billboards and a Youtube video. In fact, this Huntsville lawyer who tells you he has your situation handled really intends to refer the serious injury cases to outside trial lawyers. Ask him about his deal with an outside law firm. What does he really have handled? A quick settlement or a referral fee.

Why am I discussing this topic? Well, I was recently sitting in a Morgan County courtroom. My client’s injury case was set for trial. We were present and ready. As I looked around the courtroom, one thing was obvious. That was — Not a single one of the lawyers I see smiling from billboards was present. In fact, not a single one of those billboard (or Youtube or television) lawyers had any cases on the docket. I did see some really good lawyers in the room. But, those good lawyers were NOT on billboards.

We’ve all seen the commercials. In fact, some of these advertising lawyers even record their ads with a courtroom backdrop. If that’s not laughable, I don’t know what is. You don’t see those lawyers anywhere near a courthouse or deposition because they work on volume. They want your case. They intend to settle as soon as possible. Insurance companies love settlement mill lawyers because they can settle cases with them for a fraction of their value. It’s a shameful practice that diminishes my profession.

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Blackwell Law FirmIf you have suffered a serious work-related injury, you may know the frustration. You report the accident. You ask for medical care. Then, your employer sends you to its “occupational” doctor. In Huntsville and many other communities, we have an “occupational” health clinic that typically serves this purpose.

You arrive at the occupational health clinic thinking you will get care. Does the occupational doctor ignore your pain or problems? Does the occupational doctor seem more concerned with the drug test than your injury? Does the occupational doctor misconstrue your history to claim the injury was a pre-existing problem? Or, does the occupational doctor simply neglect your care as long as possible? I’ve heard all the common frustrations. Trust me, they call that physician the “company doctor” for a very good reason.

If you continue to hurt, the occupational doctor may eventually refer you to a specialist. Now, you have a whole new set of frustrations. It takes forever to get an appointment. Afterwards, the insurance company (falsely) claims it never received the specialist’s reports or recommendations for treatment. You sit. You wait. You cannot get the treatment needed to heal. The insurance company uses “paperwork” and “approval” tactics to delay your treatment.

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AccidentYou suffered an injury at work and have an Alabama workers’ compensation claim. Is that your only claim? Did someone (other than your employer) negligently cause the injury? If so, you might have both a workers’ compensation claim against your employer and a personal injury claim against the negligent third-party. It’s an important issue. Why? Although workers’ compensation provides important benefits, those benefits are limited. Workers’ compensation benefits do not cover all your potential damages. Although third-party cases allow you to claim all your damages, they may be completely disputed. These are important issues to many of my injured clients. They are issues I’ve discussed on my law firm website. And, they are issues we often handle to help our injured clients.

A recent legal article in Illinois discusses a case in that state. What happened? In that case, an electrician was installing lighting on an apartment balcony. Suddenly, the balcony railing failed. The electrician fell to his death. Afterwards, an investigation revealed a different company (NOT the electrician’s employer) had negligently installed the railing. The electrician’s family had a claim for death benefits under workers’ compensation laws in Illinois. The family also had a third-party negligence claim for wrongful death against the separate company that installed the railing.

Over the years, I’ve prepared numerous workers’ compensation and third-party negligence claims. Transportation injuries. Car accidents. Construction-related accidents. Industrial site incidents. These are frequently areas where a third-party (someone other than your employer) may have caused your on-the-job injury. Because these claims involve two areas of the law, they can be complex. They can require special skill to maximize your total recovery between the claims. After handling these claims for years, I would offer three key pieces of advice:

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First Notice Of InjuryThe rate of workplace accidents is much higher than reported. That’s long been my opinion. I’ve spent over two decades listening to workers talk about their injuries. I frequently hear stories of accidents reported late or not reported at all. And, I hear many stories of workers who reported their accident to the supervisor. Yet, the supervisor failed to forward the report properly.

Why are so many accidents and injuries unreported? Several reasons exist. One of the most common reasons some companies fail to report employee injuries — An effort to avoid injury claims costs. Because of weak reporting rules and the lack of worker protection laws, the companies that choose to ignore proper reporting often calculate it is easier simply to terminate the employee when needed.

My opinion that accidents are underreported is based on experience handling workers’ compensation cases. A recent study in Michigan now provides data to support my position. Michigan State University researchers collected data over a period of several years. While their study is limited to Michigan, the issues are similar in Alabama. What does the data collected in Michigan reveal?

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scaffold-14253_640-300x201A widow recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit over the fatal fall of her husband in the workplace. The news article tells a story all too familiar to me. What happened? The worker was standing on a mobile scaffold and installing tile. The mobile scaffold toppled backwards, causing the worker to fall.

Falls from heights are a leading cause of workplace fatalities. And, this new wrongful death case highlights another example of a fall that could have easily been prevented. In the last decade, I’ve represented numerous workers and their families involving work site falls. Falls from scissors lifts. Falls from scaffolds. Falls from other mobile platforms. Falls from unmarked openings. Falls from unstable support structures. I’ve had cases involving each of them. All these terrible fall accidents have a common issue — They all could have been prevented with a little advance safety planning by management. In every one of them, an accident altered the life of a worker and his/her family in an instant.

In the new wrongful death case, the widow alleges the scaffold equipment was not working properly. She also alleges the scaffold equipment did not come with written materials explaining proper operations. I’m not surprised. That’s a common issue. I’ve seen it in several of my fall injury cases. In my past cases, I’ve seen workers asked to operate complex mobile lifts at heights with zero training and zero instruction. I’ve seen workers asked to operate mobile lifts with no ground-level supervision or spotter. I’ve seen workers asked to operate mobile lifts with no consideration of co-workers moving around them on the site. Management simply ignored the risks.

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Blackwell Law Firm - HuntsvilleA Fortune magazine article asks the question, “What happens to your employer if you die at work?” The article details the work-related death of a Walmart employee. The author then makes his point:

The ugly truth is that when it comes to ensuring your safety on the job, your employer has very little to lose.

Since that Fortune article, some Federal worker safety standards have actually decreased. And, in Alabama, we’ve annually seen an effort to reduce already unjustly low workers’ compensation benefits (including basic medical care) needed by injured workers. I’ve written in prior years about this annual effort to lessen basic benefits. I’ll continue to oppose those unjust proposals.

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truck-1565478_1920-300x201What are the most common causes of fatal occupational injuries? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016 data, the six top causes of work-related deaths include:

  1. Transportation incidents
  2. Injuries due to workplace violence from people or animals
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Blackwell Law Firm - Alabama Personal Injury LawFall protection. A recent OSHA penalty following a fatal fall serves as a strong reminder of two things:

  • Falls from heights are a leading cause of workplace injuries and deaths.
  • Simple safety steps can prevent most serious falls.
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What do we need in trial judges? Honesty. Integrity. Fairness. Respect for both the law and the citizens standing before them. Legal Scholarship. Those are all necessary to make a good trial judge. What else is important? Courtroom experience. At least, a basic level of courtroom experience is necessary. At least, tell us you have been in a courtroom!

I handle personal injury and damage cases across northern Alabama. We are fortunate in our local state courts. We currently have a good bench of state judges who came to their positions with an understanding of the process. Most of them came to the bench after serving as lawyers before their local courts.

I can say the same for the men and women I’ve appeared before in Federal Court. They have been well-qualified. And, they take their roles as judges very seriously. As citizens, we count on them to be fair and skilled in their work. They understand their position and work hard to fulfill it. That is true whether these judges were appointed by a past Republican President or past Democrat President. Like our state court judges, most of them came to the bench after working as lawyers in their respective Federal Districts.