COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients.

Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

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Huntsville Work Comp AttorneysIt’s an interesting question. Covid-19 vaccination is a big issue. I suspect many employers will require workers to receive the vaccination. In a recent blog post, one Birmingham law firm writes about an opinion of the Alabama Attorney General from 2003 discussing employer-provided vaccinations.

I’m not writing to discuss whether or not an employer can require vaccinations. Rather, my law practice focuses on helping those injured. So, that is also the focus of this post. My issue — Are injuries from employer-provided vaccinations compensable under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act?

Before I begin, let me say I think vaccinations are essential to public health. Like any medical treatment or procedure, a tiny risk always exists. Have you ever pulled a back muscle? If so, physical therapy may be very helpful in your recovery. Yet, you face a risk of being injured in a car accident on the way to therapy as well as a risk of injury from the therapist’s equipment. But, the benefits of therapy far, far outweigh these very remote and unlikely risks. The same is true for almost any medication or medical treatment. Any medical treatment comes with small risks. With vaccines, the benefits to you, your family and society, far outweigh any minuscule risk. Hopefully, widespread vaccination will save many lives from this terrible virus.

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Protect Alabama Workers From Occupational InjuryA flash of light. A clap of thunder. Lightning strikes a construction worker in Athens. While the worker lived, he is now disabled. He can no longer work or support his family. Can he recover Alabama workers’ compensation benefits for his disabling injury?

This is the issue faced by a recent client of mine. The worker survived only because two co-workers performed CPR until paramedics arrived. His physical injuries and rehabilitation were only part of the nightmare. When hospital personnel contacted the work comp insurance company, the adjuster immediately denied the claim on the basis it was an “act of God.” Think about the worker’s family. They stayed at his bedside for weeks not knowing whether he would live or how they would pay for his care. But, this injury SHOULD have been covered by work comp in this case.

Is lightning a work-related hazard? The short answer is that in the case of this outdoor construction worker struck while helping build the new Athens High School, it was. We were able to get work comp benefits for him. But, it took a fight to get him the workers’ compensation benefits he deserved. In most cases, the answer depends on the job.

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Huntsville Injury LawyersWith poultry giant Tyson, the safety hits just keep coming! Last week, I wrote about Tyson managers actually gambling on worker safety. That is, managers abandoned their workers in the midst of a pandemic and then gambled on how many would get sick. That’s horrible. You can read my article titled When Management Bets Against Worker Safety on this blog.

The day after I published my latest article, I read about more poultry industry mis-conduct that puts worker lives at risk. According to a new article, Tyson managers actually directed language interpreters to misrepresent safety conditions to the company’s hispanic workers. You can read that article titled Tyson Accused of Misleading Interpreters at Virus-Hit Plant at the Claims Journal website.

Really? When Covid strikes its workforce, management abandons the plant floor. Management stops safety meetings. Management leaves the workers to fend for themselves. Then, management gambles on how many will get sick? Coronavirus has run rampant through poultry plants in Alabama and across the United States.

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Protect Worker Safety! Prevent Injury!The news is difficult to believe. When COVID-19 infections ravaged a Tyson poultry plant in Iowa, the company could have taken steps to protect workers. Yet, it did not. Instead, supervisors cancelled safety meetings, stopped going to the plant floor and decided to deny the exploding problem. Management protected itself and left workers to suffer. But, the story gets even worse. Supervisors started betting on how many workers would get sick with coronavirus. That’s right – Supervisors actually gambled on worker lives.

You can read more in CNN’s article, Managers at Tyson Meat Plant Had Betting Pool On How Many Workers Would Get Covid. How could supervisors gamble on human suffering? How could management so completely turn its back on worker safety?

While difficult to understand the depth of such depravity, the problem is larger than a few bad managers. Our system ignores systemic workplace safety violations. In the last year, I’ve written several articles about poultry plants in Alabama that have long histories of worker injuries and deaths. Despite their long histories of injuries and deaths, these plants have suffered almost no consequences. Here are a couple of my prior 2020 articles:

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Alabama Accident & Injury LawyersInjured on the job in Alabama? Our work comp law requires you to notify your employer in order to receive benefits. You only have a short period of time to do so. You should notify your employer immediately in writing. To help, The Alabama Department of Labor even provides a standard form. The process should be simple? You have an accident. You tell your boss. You or your boss complete the written form. You receive work comp benefits.

In theory, it’s simple. The system was intended to be simple. In reality, it’s not always simple. Why? Some companies lie about accidents. Some companies really do NOT want to report any accidents or injuries. During the over two decades I’ve helped injured Alabama workers, I’ve tried multiple claims against a single manufacturing plant in Athens to verdict where the defense is always the same. In every single one of those cases, this employer did not report the accident when it happened. Later, the same employer lied about it. Don’t think I’m singling out one employer. I know several employers across northern Alabama who regularly refuse or fail to report accidents when they occur.

I receive several calls every month with a similar story. What is that story? The caller suffered a workplace accident. When it happened, he told the boss. But, nobody completed a written report. Sometimes, the worker initially thought he would be fine. So, he did not worry about it. Sometimes, the worker simply trusted the boss to take care of it. Several weeks later, the injured worker realized he needed medical care and asked the boss to provide a doctor. Suddenly, the boss “could not remember” any accident. Suddenly, the supervisor had no recall of any event. When that happens, your work comp claim will be denied.

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Huntsville Personal Injury AttorneysWhen I settle an Alabama workers compensation case with continued medical benefits, I explain to my clients what they may expect in the future. Of course, that future depends on many facts. Are the injuries easily provable or highly disputed? Does the client suffer other health problems that complicate issues? Does the client have access to health coverage through other sources? Does the client have a good authorized physician?

Every situation is different. Each case should be approached with thoughtful advice and planning. Lawyers should help their clients prepare to navigate the work comp system. We do. We help our clients during the case and afterwards when issues arise.

The potential issues following a work comp settlement are too numerous for this short post. So, I will just mention three quick takeaways when you settle your work-related injury case with open medical benefits under Alabama law. If you are in this situation, you probably settled expecting and hoping you would receive continued medical care for your injuries. What immediate things should you know? Here are three:

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In January, I wrote a post titled A Shameful History Of Workplace Injuries. In that article, I discussed the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken plant in Guntersville, Alabama. Over the last two decades, I’ve helped many workers injured in local chicken plants. That includes the one in Guntersville.

In too many poultry plants, management only thinks of speed. Faster. Faster. The line moves too fast for anyone to work safely. Accidents and physical stress take a toll on workers. When workers are injured, the plant simply ignores their complaints or sends them to its biased company doctor. Too often, they are left hurting and without medical care. Personally, I think the rate of injury in these plants is FAR under-reported.

I decided to write my prior article after a worker fell to his death in the company’s Guntersville plant. What happened? A worker was using a lift to move materials when he fell.

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Huntsville Accident And Injury LawyersAs I write, firm attorney Jennifer McKown is attending a court hearing by Zoom. Rather than appear at the courthouse, she is sitting in front of her laptop in the conference room. During the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom hearings have become a necessity. Teleconferencing has become necessary for many businesses. Think also of our schools. In our home (like so many other families), we’ve grappled with the reality of remote learning during the pandemic. Like other businesses and schools, the legal profession must also grapple with questions of what activities can be handled remotely versus in-person.

Since March, I’ve attended numerous hearings by teleconference (through Zoom). I’ve also attended some in-person hearings in full mask. Just a couple weeks ago, I argued a lengthy post-trial motion in-person in a Marshall County workers’ compensation case. Maybe that hearing could have been handled remotely but it would have been much more difficult. We won a work comp trial right before the coronavirus shutdown and the defense lawyer filed post-trial motions. The arguments involved discussions of numerous cases and pieces of evidence. Everyone present in the same room made it much easier. Maybe I’ll write more about in-person pandemic hearings later. But, right now, I’ll talk about tele-hearings.

We all hope for a quick return to life without the coronavirus. We all face the current uncertainties together. What happens after the pandemic? What parts of life return to pre-corona normal? What parts of life permanently change? Can we learn from this shared experience? Can we benefit by lessons learned during this time?

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Alabama Accident & Injury LawyersIf you suffer a work-related illness or injury in Alabama, you should be covered by our work comp laws. Should be! Yet, the numerous limitations, hurdles and injustices in our current system leave many employees without proper benefits. One issue where workers’ compensation neglects many injured workers — Mental or Psychological Care. Several practical and legal barriers exist to psychological care.

Are Mental Injuries Covered Under Current Alabama Workers’ Compensation Law?

Let’s start with the issue of coverage. Are psychological injuries covered? The answer is, yes, with a big caveat. Yes, but! To recover for mental or psychological injuries under current law, the worker must have suffered an actual physical injury that proximately caused the psychological injury. I know, that’s a long answer.

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Huntsville Personal Injury AttorneysWhat Personal Injury Cases Are At Issue?

If you are hurt on the job in Alabama, you are likely entitled to work comp benefits. What if you were hurt because someone else was also negligent? You still have a work comp case. If the negligent person was a co-worker, that’s probably all you have. With a few limited exceptions for things like intentional conduct, your employer (and co-workers) are immune from claims outside workers compensation.

Sometimes, the negligent person is a third-party. That is, the negligent person did not work for your employer. If you are hurt due to the negligence of another person (outside your employer), you may also have a separate personal injury claim to recover your damages. In these cases, you likely have BOTH a work comp claim and a negligence claim against the third-party.

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