Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

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Blackwell Law Firm - HuntsvilleWhat are the most common risks of personal injury for workers? Each year, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) reveals its data on the top 10 workplace safety violations. OSHA lists the most commonly cited violations for the year.

Because I frequently represent workers hurt on large industrial or construction worksites, I study the annual reports. Two issues are clear to me:

  1. The same safety hazards typically dominate the list every single year.
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Last Friday, I spoke at a workers’ compensation seminar in Birmingham. If you have read this blog in the past, then you know my strong feelings that lawyers should be life-long students of their legal specialty. That’s why our firm members routinely teach at seminars on topics involving personal injury, workers’ compensation, defective products, experts and trials. I’ve also been candid in my past blog posts that lawyers who populate billboard and television advertisements diminish the legal profession and too often harm clients. We even have a law firm in Huntsville now advertising on billboards for injury clients it secretly intends to refer for profit to another firm. In my opinion, that is dishonest and unethical. But, let me get back to the topic of this post — last week’s workers’ compensation seminar.

I believe this recent workers’ compensation seminar was one of the best yet. The credit for planning the seminar goes to attorney David Nomberg of the Nomberg Law Firm in Birmingham. I’ve known David and his brother Bernard for years. They are among the best workers’ compensation attorneys in Alabama. Bernard and I began our careers (over two decades ago) at the same Birmingham trial law firm handling cases throughout Alabama. I’m thankful David invited me to speak at this seminar.

David asked me to speak on workers’ compensation trial strategies. I have tried these cases in counties throughout Alabama. I have a specific philosophy about workers’ compensation cases. My philosophy about workers’ compensation and general personal injury cases is simple — Clients deserve a lawyer who will prepare their case for trial. Many lawyers will not do that. Better preparation leads to better trials and better settlements.

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Workers Compensation - Blackwell Law Firm
Who enjoys doctor’s visits? Almost nobody. Most people view doctor’s appointments as times of stress, anxiety and confusion. Yet, these appointments are essential to your health and healing following a personal injury.

You need to make the most of your doctor visits. Appointments can be hard to schedule. And, you may only get a few minutes with the doctor before his/her next appointment. So, here are six tips to help with your doctor visits.

1. Be Friendly. I know — this is obvious. It “goes without saying.” But, sometimes being friendly is not easy. If you are hurt on the job in Alabama and getting workers’ compensation, then your employer (or its insurance carrier) picks the doctor. Often, these insurance carriers schedule and cancel your appointments with very little concern for you. That process can be extremely frustrating. In other personal injury cases, like car accidents, you get to pick your doctor. Yet, scheduling and waiting for appointments can still be frustrating. How many people can still easily smile after sitting a couple hours in a patient waiting room? How many people can still smile after repeating their story to, yet, another person in another medical office. Any number of issues and inconveniences can sour your mood before you ever see the actual doctor. Don’t let outside issues cause you to be unfriendly or confrontational with the doctor. Trust me — It will not help your treatment or your case.

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Personal Injury
The process was intended to be simple. The steps meant to be clear. You suffer a work-related accident and injury. You notify your boss of that injury. Your employer then communicates the accident or injury information to its insurance carrier. And, the insurance carrier arranges for you to see a doctor. Simple? While it should be simple, it often is not. Many injured workers face hurdles getting necessary medical care. In some cases, it is the employer creating hurdles. In others, it is the insurance carrier.

I recently prepared for the deposition of a plant nurse in a case where the employer created several hurdles to medical care. Why would an employer delay or refuse to start the medical treatment process for its injured employee? An employer may have several reasons to delay care or ignore injury problems. Some employers have insurance policies with high deductibles. A few large employers in Alabama qualify as self-insured. In both situations, an employer may be looking at its out-of-pocket costs. Other employers simply don’t want to file a claim and risk a premium increase. Regardless of the reason, employer delays in medical care harm you the most.

An article in the Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) journal detailed the story of one company cited by OSHA for “medical mismanagement” because of these issues. The article is titled OSHA Cites Pilgrim’s Pride for Medical Mismanagement and Other Safety Hazards. An OSHA area director was quoted in the article:

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Blackwell Law Firm
You were hurt on the job. You received workers’ compensation benefits. But, a third-party (someone outside your work) caused the accident. You want to pursue a personal injury claim against that third-party.

The workers’ compensation carrier has a lien against your personal injury case. Under Alabama law, your employer (and its insurance carrier) have certain rights to get their money back if you win your personal injury case. At our firm, we routinely represent clients in both workers’ compensation and other personal injury cases. We understand how these areas of the law interact.

What happens when your employer or its insurance carrier file a lien against the third-party negligence case? The issues can be complicated. How you (or your lawyer) handle these issues can tremendously impact your bottom line. I could discuss these issues in significant detail. But, here are four quick tips to consider when handling this type of case:

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Photo by Bill JacobusIn many personal injury cases, wage losses are an important part of the damages. In many workers’ compensation claims, vocational disability (either partial or total) is the essential issue. How do we prepare our clients’ wage or vocational claims? We often use vocational experts. What is a vocational rehabilitation expert? Vocational experts possess special training related to the labor market and the jobs which may be available given a person’s limitations or restrictions.

Over the last two decades, I’ve questioned many vocational experts at trial. Too many lawyers attempt to cross-examine vocational experts using an argumentative style that gets nowhere. Big mistake. A lawyer who handles personal injury and workers’ compensation claims needs to understand the basics of vocational evaluations. This knowledge makes a huge difference in how much an injured client recovers by settlement or trial. If you are looking for a personal injury lawyer, make sure you ask if he or she has real trial experience using and questioning these experts.

A skilled lawyer can often expose deceptive defense experts. This requires an understanding of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). And, it requires a knowledge of how restrictions can impact a person’s ability to work. What are five common tricks used by defense  vocational experts to harm your personal injury claim?

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Photo by E Max
The Claims Journal (an insurance industry periodical) recently published an interesting study. The California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) studied workers’ compensation claims involving spinal fusion surgery. According to the researchers most of these claims were initially reported as back strains.

The study is interesting. Yet, the results are not surprising. I have represented people in serious Alabama workers’ compensation and personal injury claims for over twenty years. In workers’ compensation claims, employers and their insurance carriers frequently under-report serious injuries. It’s not unusual for a workplace back injury to be under-reported as a mere strain even where the worker is experiencing symptoms classically associated with more serious spinal problems.

Employers and insurance companies initially under-report injuries in order to save their costs. Yet, the long-term impact on an injured worker can be tremendous. Here are three ways employers and their insurance companies under-report workplace injuries.

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Blackwell Law Firm
A new year means a new push to harm disabled workers in Alabama. The current effort — a proposal by Decatur State Senator Arthur Orr. This is not a new effort. Senator Orr has renewed his yearly effort to cut-off medical and disability benefits for severely injured Alabama workers. Senator Orr’s proposal will harm our communities by pushing disabled workers off insurance benefits and on to taxpayer-funded government benefits. It’s a bad idea.

What are the changes Senator Orr continues to seek:

  • Legislation that severely and arbitrarily limits medical benefits for ALL injured workers in Alabama.
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A recent article I read tells the story of a bad Illinois workers’ compensation attorney. This bad attorney tried to make a bad settlement for his client. And, the bad attorney then tried to bully his client into accepting it. Although the article discusses an attorney in another state, it is not a unique story. It happens in Alabama as well. Too many attorneys fail to prepare their cases or go to trial when needed.

The story reminds me of a work comp case several years ago. I received a call from a man in nearby Athens who had suffered a very bad back injury. He had required spinal surgery for his injury and was now a chronic pain patient. He had not been able to work since the surgery. However, he already had a lawyer. His problem with that lawyer? His lawyer was trying to force him into accepting a settlement for an amount less than the defendant’s own expert concluded. This was not just a low offer. It was below what he would have received at trial if the court believed everything the employer argued. It was an unrealistically low offer. And, it should have been declined immediately.

When I heard the full story, I was shocked. Why was a lawyer trying to convince this clearly injured person to accept such a small amount? The injured worker had a good case. Why was a lawyer, any lawyer, trying to convince this clearly injured person to accept an offer below any reasonable expectation at trial? As I investigated the case, I learned the truth — that work comp lawyer was unwilling to fight for his clients in court. That lawyer had a track record of not preparing his cases. And, the insurance company offered a lower amount because it knew that lawyer’s track record. Make no mistake — insurance companies know which lawyers fight for their clients and which lawyers do not. It’s not just workers’ compensation cases. It also applies to car accidents. Insurance companies know the attorneys who accept far less than the full case value.

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Pre-Existing Condition. It’s one of the most common excuses used by insurance companies to deny workers’ compensation claims. And, the excuse is often wrong.

Our office regularly receives calls from people who have been (wrongly) denied benefits based on the excuse of a “pre-existing condition.” The injured worker usually had some pre-injury health problem the insurance company seized-upon to deny his or her claim. Remember, most people don’t have perfect health. And, our workers’ compensation system was not designed to help only those few people with perfect health.

So, what does Alabama’s workers’ compensation law say about prior health problems? How does our law define pre-existing disabilities? Can pre-accident health conditions affect a claim? These are good questions.