Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

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sky-78113_1280-300x200Many employers fail to report workplace injuries. The reason is often very simple — These employers do not want to provide workers’ compensation benefits to their injured employees. Sometimes these non-reporting employers simply choose not to complete an accident report. If the injury later turns serious, the lack of a written report can make the injured worker’s claim difficult to prove. I’ve faced these reporting disputes countless times over the years. Although you may have told your supervisor, he or she may conveniently “forget” the conversation in the absence of a written report.

Sometimes these non-reporting employers use their plant first aid department to avoid accident reporting. How? For one Alabama poultry plant, the plant nurse typically labels complaints as some sort of arthritic / degenerative problem rather than a work-related injury. At a local manufacturing plant near Huntsville, the company first aid department often claims the problem is due to a lack of conditioning and does not report the condition as an accident. Since the facility primarily employs workers through a local temp agency, the company can easily let the worker go. I frequently deal with reporting / notice issues in my Alabama workers’ compensation cases.

When it comes to Alabama workers’ compensation claims, I believe accidents are far under-reported. Let’s look outside of the reporting requirement of workers’ compensation. What about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)? OSHA does not record and document all workplace accidents and injuries. Employers are only required to report fatalities and certain very serious injuries to OSHA. Under OSHA, employers must report all work-related fatalities within 8 hours of an incident, and in-patient hospitalizations, amputations and losses of any eye, within 24 hours. Do employers properly report serious events to OSHA? No, they do not. I’ve handled a number of workplace fatality cases where the employer did not report the event to OSHA. I recently represented the family of a worker who collapsed and died after several days of heat stroke symptoms at a plant in northeast Alabama. The facility had no air conditioning and summer temperatures inside the plant often soared over 100 degrees. Despite several days of reports to the plant nurse prior to the death, the facility did not report the event to OSHA.

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Blackwell Law Firm fights for injured workersDo insurance companies underpay workers’ compensation benefits? Can you trust the work comp carrier to provide required benefits? I know the answers to these questions. But, don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at the insurance industry’s own research!

A recent article in the Claims Journal (an insurance industry publication) discussed settlement data gathered by insurance companies across the United States. Of course, the insurance companies complain that lawyers make claims much more costly for them. The real truth behind the data — Attorneys add substantial overall value to workers’ compensation claims. Here is a fact from their research:

Median values rose 739 percent when attorneys became involved in a claim.

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Fight Unfair Claims Delays And DenialsThe journal ProPublica previously published an investigative article on the companies who profit by handling workers’ compensation claims. These companies, the middlemen in claims, are largely unknown by the public. After all, they manufacture nothing. They produce nothing. They sell nothing of value to consumers.

The ProPublica article starts with a bizarre scene. Somehow the reporter gained entry into the private Las Vegas conference for these claims managers. This is what he saw:

A scantily clad acrobat dangles from the ceiling, performing flips and splits as machines puff smoke and neon lights bathe the dance floor in turquoise and magenta. Dancers in lingerie gyrate on poles to the booming techno. Actors dressed as aliens pose for selfies with partygoers. There’s an open bar and waiters weave through the crowd passing out chocolate truffles.

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Alabama Work Comp Claims: Blackwell Law FirmHurt on the job in Alabama? Our workers’ compensation laws provide valuable medical and disability benefits. You may need those benefits. You may not realize the importance of those benefits at the time of the accident. Many of our clients in both workers’ compensation claims and car accidents do NOT realize the extent of their injuries at the beginning.

Our workers’ compensation laws require injured workers to provide prompt notice of an accident. If you do not, then you cannot later recover workers’ compensation benefits. Notice seems simple. Yet, it is a frequent issue in many cases.

Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act talks in terms of “written” notice. Yet, our courts allow claims where notice is only oral and not provided in writing. I could give you a long legal lecture on how and why these notice requirements developed. That’s a different discussion for another day. I will say this — Alabama provides a standard accident notice for employers. You can find a copy HERE. If you suffer an accident and injury, make sure it is completed.

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Blackwell Law Firm - Alabama Personal Injury LawyersYou are injured from an accident. You are pursuing a claim for damages or compensation. Suddenly, the insurance carrier wants you to see its doctor for an examination. If your case involves a car accident or work comp claim, you may face this request. Sometimes, the insurance carrier even calls its request an “independent medical exam.” Yet, these exams are neither independent nor fair.

Before I talk about the biased insurance company doctor, let me say that these biased doctors are small in number. Lawyers who frequently prepare and try cases will tell you they see the same few bad ones repeatedly. Doctors are like any other profession. Almost all of them are dedicated to serving their patients. The same rule applies to lawyers, accountants, and any other professional. But, a few bad apples exist.

With lawyers, the bad apples are those settlement mill lawyers making promises while refusing to do the work really needed to help clients. When it comes to automobile accident, workers’ compensation or disability claims, we see a few doctors who seemingly make their living issuing misleading reports so claims can be denied. In both the legal and medical professions, the bad ones want to make money pushing paper instead of getting to the heart of their clients’ stories and losses. One sure sign of biased doctors is that many of them have little or no medical practice outside insurance company evaluations. Good doctors actually treat patients. Good doctors don’t make their living generating claims reports.

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safety-44441_1280-300x150Last year, a flash fire at an Alabama car dealership in Jasper killed one employee and severely injured several others. What caused that fire? Flammable chemicals being stored improperly. After the flash fire, OSHA inspected the dealership and issued several serious citations for improperly storing a flammable chemical in a dangerous location. Plus, OSHA cited the dealership for not even developing a hazard communication program for its dangerous chemicals.

For the families of these dealership employees, no penalty or punishment will ever restore their loved ones. Hopefully, OSHA’s action will spur other local companies to take needed safety steps.

Does your workplace handle chemicals safely? For me, the question is front and center. Why? I’ve spent several days this month in deposition over a Huntsville injury case involving the issue.

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Blackwell Law Firm - Huntsville Personal Injury AttorneysIs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failing American workers? Are workplace safety standards actually decreasing? Are more workers suffering personal injury or death due to fewer inspections? These are important questions.

Recently, A Congressman wrote the Secretary of Labor to address his concerns with declining workplace safety. Here are a couple facts about the rising rates of serious injury that concerned the Congressman:

  • Over 5,000 people died from workplace injuries in 2016, a 7% increase from the prior year.
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Blackwell Law Firm - North Alabama Workers Compensation AttorneysIt’s a common pattern. A worker at a large factory suffers an on-the-job injury. He tells his supervisor who then sends him to the plant nurse. Many big factories have an on-site nurse or first-aid department. So, the hurting worker goes to first aid. Often, the hurting worker will return to the plant nurse several times over the course of days, weeks and months. Yet, the company does little or nothing to help its employee. Does the company send its hurt worker to a doctor? No. Does the company report the injury to its workers’ compensation carrier? No.

The injured employee continues to try and work. He or she continues to hurt. Eventually, one of two things usually occurs. Some injured workers simply give up. These employees seek outside medical care through private payment or private insurance. Other injured workers keep trying to work until the injury worsens severely. At that point, the injured worker cannot work. Because the plant nurse did not properly report the accident or injury, it may also be too late for workers’ compensation benefits. It’s a bad scenario for the injured worker.

Over the course of two decades, I’ve represented countless workers facing hurdles wrongly and needlessly created by the plant nurse. How does the plant nurse or first-aid department prevent needed medical care and workers’ compensation benefits? Here are a few ways a plant nurse can harm injured workers:

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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.