Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

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Workplace horseplay is not simply harmless fun. Horseplay can lead to serious accidents and injuries. What if I suffer an injury in a horseplay incident at work? Can I get workers’ compensation benefits if injured in horseplay? In Alabama, horseplay can bar a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. It’s a serious issue that prevents you from recovering needed workers’ compensation benefits. If you were hurt in the workplace and an issue of horseplay exists, you should consult a skilled workers’ compensation attorney who has been through trial in these claims. Your benefits can depend upon it.

Are there situations where you can still recover workers’ compensation benefits if injured by horseplay? Yes. Situations do exist where horseplay injuries may still be compensable. A primary situation involves workers who are the innocent victims of horseplay.

Several years ago, I tried just such a case. What happened in that case? My client drove a truck for a large parcel delivery service. He drove an overnight route across Alabama. His company had a hub in central Alabama where he often stopped for fuel. The company supplied both gas and mechanics at that location. One night he stopped at the hub for fuel. As he sat and waited for his truck to be fueled, a mechanic suddenly jumped on him from behind. My client suffered a torn rotator cuff in the incident. The mechanic who caused the accident did not intend to hurt my client. Rather, this mechanic had a long history of dangerous horseplay in the workplace. Other employees had previously complained. Yet, for some reason, the employer did nothing. After the injury, the employer denied my client’s workers’ compensation claim on the grounds of horseplay. That’s where we became involved. In that case, the client was an innocent victim. We were able to win his benefits in court. If you are truly the innocent victim of horseplay, your claim should be honored.

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Blackwell Law Firm - Huntsville Personal Injury LawyersIn May 2017, an Alabama Circuit Court Judge in Birmingham declared Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act unconstitutional. What were the reasons why? Our law placed caps on benefits for workers suffering a permanent partial disability and on the attorneys who help those injured workers. The Birmingham case was later resolved and the Act remains in force. So, workers’ compensation benefits continue to be provided in Alabama. Yet, the decision started discussions about the unjust nature of our Act.

The cap on benefits for partially disabled workers is especially unfair and unjust. The cap was enacted decades ago. While everything else has been adjusted for inflation, the cap has not. The result — partially disabled workers receive a benefit placing their families below the poverty level. That is a horrible way for us to treat the working men and women in our communities.

Following the Judge’s decision, a task force formed to propose changes in our workers’ compensation laws. I’ve been concerned since the beginning. Why? My concern is this — What important benefits will workers lose in exchange for a modest increase in partial disability benefits? My concern is real. Across the United States, we have seen a slow erosion of workers’ compensation benefits. In other states, task forces and legislative proposals gave workers something small in  exchange for taking other more valuable benefits. Repeatedly, other state legislatures de-valued their most important resource — the working men and women of their state. If I’m worried this Alabama task force will “dangle” a carrot of increasing one benefit while taking others, I’ve seen it elsewhere.

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Blackwell Law Firm - North Alabama AttorneysWorker safety is far too often a one-way street. Following a major injury or workplace death, families are left to pay the long-term price. On the other hand, the cost to companies is often small and short-term.

The latest Congressional proposal is a prime example of unfairness for workers. Our leaders are currently proposing massive spending for infrastructure. Who pays for the infrastructure improvements? We do. The money comes from taxes paid by workers. Don’t get me wrong — We need infrastructure improvements. I support improving our failing roadways and bridges. It takes both money and labor to accomplish that task. While using our tax money for the work, Congress also wants to use our labor with no regard for worker safety. How? Certain leaders in Congress are proposing to alter Federal law in an effort to provide greater protection for their construction industry friends. That’s wrong.

I’ve already seen the worst when it comes to safety on Federally-funded projects. I previously represented a steel worker who fell over 20 feet on a construction site at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. My client lived. But, the fall left him permanently disabled. After being hired in that case, we began a thorough investigation. What we found was beyond disturbing. We discovered a general contractor with no regard for site safety. We discovered a general contractor with no safety plan for the equipment or process at issue. Interestingly, the general contractor advertised its “safety awards” on its corporate website. These fake safety awards looked pretty on the internet – with pictures of nice trophies. Yet, at trial the contractor’s executive admitted its fake safety awards just considered the safety of site management (not the actual laborers). It was all a sham. We also learned that safety is really not a factor when hiring site contractors.

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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.