Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

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Maximum Medical ImprovementEarlier this week, I saw a blog post titled “What Happens To Workers’ Compensation When You Reach MMI?” It’s a good question. It’s one we frequently answer for callers to our office. Unfortunately, that other blog post really failed to answer the question. Instead, it simply listed a number of different types of injury. It was short on answers but long on SEO keywords. So, I’ll try to discuss several actual events that are often triggered by Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI).

What is MMI? Maximum medical improvement is that point in time where the injured worker has reached their maximum healing. Does it mean you are totally healed? In some cases, yes. But, in many cases the worker is not totally healed. Instead, the worker is left with a permanent disability. Some people suffer permanent injuries and need continuing care to maintain their level of function. Under our work comp system, you are entitled to medical care for your injuries.

So, let’s discuss the two biggest events triggered by the MMI date in an Alabama workers’ compensation claim. And, I’ll add that the date of MMI is not always clear or agreed-upon.

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Blackwell Law Firm: Alabama Injury AttorneysSeveral months ago, a Department of Labor (DOL) official published an article on the agency’s website discussing three troubling trends with workers’ compensation benefits. You can read that article at Trends In Workers’ Comp. These trends are certainly true in AlabamaI’ll discuss each of these harmful trends below:

1. The Number Of Workers Covered By Workers Compensation Has Decreased

We need to remember the purposes of workers’ compensation. Our work comp systems were originally implemented to provide a couple basic benefits — Medical care and a basic disability benefit. These are essential benefits for injured workers.

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Alabama Workers Compensation AttorneysMany workers’ compensation callers express the same frustration — The treating doctor is only treating one of my injuries while ignoring the others. I hear some version of this frustration every week. It’s common. Today, we’ll discuss a couple reasons why it occurs.

Here’s an example of what often happens — You suffer a serious work-related accident. For one recent client, it was a fall from a ladder. You hurt several different body parts in the accident. However, one of those body parts may initially appear to be the most injured. In my ladder example, the worker fell. He injured both knees, his hips and his back. However, one knee was really swollen, badly swollen. He could not put any weight on it. So, that’s the injured body part work comp focused on treating to the exclusion of the others. It’s wrong. That worker is entitled to care for all his work-related injuries.

Often, the employer only lists the most pressing injury in its written report. If you work around Huntsville, the employer is likely to send you for medical care initially to Occupational Health Group (OHG). When you go to OHG, those doctors are only listing or looking at the one body part. When the OHG doctor finally refers you to an orthopedic, it’s just for the one body part. In my example involving the worker who fell from a ladder, the orthopedic only saw him for his swollen knee.

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Blackwell-Law-Firm-Alabama-Accident-Injury-Lawyers-256-261-1315-300x300In a post earlier this year I asked, Is Dollar General An Unsafe Work Environment? I wrote that post after OSHA issued over $300,000 in citations due to safety issues at one of the company’s Alabama stores.

Over the years, I’ve represented numerous Dollar General employees who were injured on-the-job. In my past cases, these employees were far, far overworked. They functioned in an unsafe and understaffed environment. They were subjected to daily tasks that put them at risk of serious personal injury. I’ve represented Dollar General employees with work comp claims caused by falling from unsafe heights, tripping over store hazards, climbing into store dumpsters as required, falling from dangerous ladders and unloading heavy truckloads of merchandise with little help. Some of these workers suffer permanent, disabling injuries that altered their lives.

In a press release just days ago, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) dropped the hammer on Dollar General. When OSHA issues a press release with this title, you know things are serious:

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Blackwell Law Firm - Alabama Accident & Injury AttorneysLast Friday, I spoke at a workers’ compensation seminar in Birmingham. Let me start by saying thank you to Birmingham attorney David Nomberg (Nomberg Law Firm) for organizing the event and asking if I would speak. I enjoyed teaching about return-to-work issues in Alabama law. I also enjoyed learning on different topics from the other speakers David scheduled. When I attend these seminars, I always leave with some great insights that help me better prepare and try my Alabama workers’ compensation cases.

What are return-to-work issues in Alabama’s comp law? Alabama workers’ compensation law has a special provision, often referred to as the Return-To-Work section. The Alabama Supreme Court and Court of Civil Appeals have only addressed this section directly in about 3 to 4 cases. And, two of those are mine. The first involved a workers’ compensation case I tried a number of years ago in Athens. My client suffered a really bad lower back injury while working at the local Steelcase plant that left him severely restricted. He tried unsuccessfully to keep working. The second involved a more recent case I tried in Guntersville. In the Guntersville case, my client suffered two accidents, underwent a spinal surgery, and returned to work unsuccessfully despite significant efforts to accommodate his restrictions. My client worked for the City of Guntersville, itself. Both of these guys were hard workers who did everything possible to keep working. Both suffered such severe injuries that they just could not continue. In both cases, we won full benefits for our clients at trial and through appeal. So, these are compensation issues I’ve debated for clients through the Alabama court system.

I have not written much on this blog about the Return-To-Work provision of our workers’ compensation laws. There is a reason for that. This section is a major provision that impacts many injured workers. But, it’s also a long section with some complicated issues. So, it’s an area that’s really difficult to discuss in a short blog post. Since I just returned from teaching on the topic, I thought I would try to touch on a few issues in this area of Alabama law.

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While reading a work comp journal this week, I noticed two cases involving the impact of intoxication on work comp claims. Neither case was from Alabama. The two cases reached opposite results. In one, the worker lost his claim and benefits were denied. In the other, the court awarded compensation benefits.

I’ve written previously about the impact of drug and alcohol impairment on Alabama workers’ compensation claims. I’ve also written about the impact of impairment on commercial truck accidents — But that’s another issue.

Most states have provisions in their work comp laws barring claims if the worker’s intoxication or impairment caused the accident. In lawyer terms, the question is usually whether or not the intoxication was the proximate cause of the accident. Every state has unique workers’ compensation laws. So, these provisions can vary from state-to-state.

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Untitled-design-3-300x300In April, I wrote about proposed Alabama legislation to exempt rideshare workers from workers compensation protections. Of course, the Alabama Legislature passed the legislation — It protected big companies at the expense of working men and women in our communities.

You can read my prior article at Alabama Legislature Helps Rideshare Services Avoid Providing Workers’ Compensation BenefitsIn recent years, large rideshare companies have lobbied at the state level to avoid providing essential workers’ compensation benefits to workers. The state-by-state battle has seen mixed results. Some states have protected workers while others (such as Alabama) have not. In Alabama, the rideshare companies found an ally in Senator Arthur Orr. Not a surprise. Senator Orr annually sponsors legislation to arbitrarily cut-off medical and disability benefits from our most disabled workers.

Rideshare Companies Can Afford To Care For Their Workers

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Alabama Personal Injury Attorneys For YouAn injured workers calls our office. They describe the accident. They tell us the insurance company provided some medical care. The insurance company may have even paid some compensation to them while off work. But, the insurance company suddenly told them it was now disputing the claim. That’s what prompted the call to our office. How can my employer provide some benefits and then turn around to dispute the claim?

It’s a good question. It really does not make sense. It seems wrong. But, Alabama law does allow your employer (or its insurance carrier) to pay some benefits and then later dispute the claim. The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act (Section 25-5-56) specifically says:

In order to encourage advance payments, it is expressly provided that the payments shall not be construed as an admission of liability but shall be without prejudice.

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PROTECT-ALABAMA-WORKERS-300x300Injured workers often ask, “Why do I have to go to court if my case settled?” It’s a good question. The quick answer is that court approval of Alabama work comp settlements is meant to protect injured workers.

Let me give a little background. Alabama workers compensation benefits are limited. I think they are unfair for injured workers. Too many injured workers suffer needless hurdles and delays obtaining basic medical treatment. On top of that, disability benefits are often limited in both time and amount. The Alabama Legislature capped permanent partial benefits decades ago. Since then, the Legislature has ignored increases in the cost-of-living, leaving Alabama families with an injured breadwinner existing at the poverty level.

Our entire work comp system is unfair to workers. I’ve written multiple articles on this. Because the system is unfair, it’s even more important for seriously injured workers to obtain skilled legal counsel and fight for ALL available benefits. And, it becomes even more important for injured workers (with or without a lawyer) to have a safety system where a court can insure the insurance company is not taking advantage of them.

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Blackwell Law Firm - Protecting Alabama WorkersA few months ago, I wrote an article asking if a boss who intentionally puts workers in danger should face criminal prosecution. You can read my article titled, When The Boss Tries To Kill His Workers! Remember, I’m not talking about negligent injuries. I’m only talking about intentional misconduct.

Now, our firm does not handle criminal cases. We only handle Alabama cases involving serious personal injury. Many of those cases are workers’ compensation claims. Over the years, I’ve seen a tremendous number of accidents and injuries that could have been prevented with a little safety planning from the company.

While most injury cases involve someone who caused an injury by acting negligently or recklessly, a small few involve terrible situations where someone purposely and intentionally chooses to put another person in danger. In the workplace, we should be able to trust our employers to, at least, try and keep us safe!

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