Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

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Huntsville Personal Injury AttorneysI’m not writing to debate the pros or cons of medical marijuana. I’ll leave that to others. It’s a debate playing out in many states. Last week, two Alabama Senators (both of whom are doctors) debated the topic in the Senate chamber. One Senator, an anesthesiologist, debated in support of medical marijuana. The other, an obstetrician, debated against it. The Alabama Legislature has been debating bills that would allow medical uses.

Again, I’m not writing to debate the proposed legislation. My blog deals with Alabama personal injury issues. How would legal marijuana impact Alabama workers’ compensation claims? I believe the issue intersects personal injury law in a number of ways. From car wrecks to work comp, it’s an issue that will impact claims. For today, let’s talk about possible impacts on work comp.

Impairment or intoxication from drugs and alcohol can be a defense to work-related injury claims in Alabama. While substances like alcohol may be legal (for adults), a delivery driver who injures himself in an accident caused by his own drunk driving is not going to receive full work comp benefits.

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Blackwell Law Firm - Alabama Work Comp AttorneysFringe benefits. They are often ignored in workers’ comp claims. Yet, they should not be.

Employee benefits may be an important part of your compensation. Consider health insurance. It’s not the only fringe benefit offered by some employers but it is probably the most important (and costly) one. Health insurance premiums are high. Very high. Some people stay at jobs just for the health insurance. Many people would be uninsured if not for employer-based plans.

How can fringe benefits impact a work-related injury or workers’ compensation claim? Fringe benefits can impact an Alabama work-related injury in two significant ways.

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Workplace Accident & InjuryRecently, someone asked us the following question:

If you get attacked while working, does workers comp pay?

That’s a good question. It is within our law firm’s area of personal injury. And, we have actually handled past work comp cases involving this issue. What’s the answer? The answer is a qualified yes. C’mon, you know tough legal issues rarely have absolute answers. The answer is, yes, an attack CAN be a work comp case. But, the details are very important.

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Huntsville Accident & Injury Lawyers at Blackwell Law FirmA recent news article tells the story of a severely injured worker in Florida. It’s an all too familiar story. It’s a common story we frequently see in cases across Alabama.

What happened? A sudden workplace explosion! An employee badly injured and badly burned. Days and nights in the hospital followed.

Life after the hospital is often difficult for injured workers seeking treatment. The worker and his or her family are often left trying to navigate a maze of doctors, case nurses and insurance adjusters. For many injured workers the process is beyond frustrating.

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Huntsville Work Comp Attorneys - Blackwell Law FirmA new study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) asks whether employees injured at work are more likely to file under workers’ compensation instead of group health insurance when their group health plan has a higher deductible. That’s interesting but it misses the real issue. The real question is why an injured worker would ever consider seeking medical care outside the workers’ compensation system at all. Really? Workers’ compensation systems were enacted in Alabama (and other states) to provide basic benefits like medical treatment. If those systems worked as intended, this would be a non-issue. Yet, workers consider using private health insurance because the work comp system has largely failed its primary purpose.

I speak with injured workers on a daily basis. Almost all of them have one goal. They want to get better and resume their normal life with work and family.

The WCRI research article wrongly frames the issue as a decision based simply upon medical deductibles. Let’s really examine why an injured worker would consider private health insurance (instead of work comp) in the first place. Injured workers should face NO barriers obtaining necessary medical care under workers compensation. But, they do. Those barriers are substantial and unjust. Here are three big ones:

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Alabama Personal Injury Specialists - Blackwell Law FirmThrough the years, I’ve represented a number of personal injury victims who suffered Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). This condition is also known as reflex sympathy dystrophy (RSD). You may have never even heard of it. Yet, CRPS is a devastating condition for patients. So, when I recently read the account of a person suffering from CRPS it sounded familiar. It sounded like the stories of pain my past clients have tearfully related. How does the patient’s story begin? How does the patient describe her pain?

It’s 4 a.m., and once again I’m unable to sleep.

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Blackwell Law Firm - Representing Injured Workers Across AlabamaProductivity versus safety. The two should work together. Yet, some companies value only immediate productivity. On many construction sites, immediate productivity trumps safety every single day. Who pays the price when safety is neglected? Workers and their families pay the ultimate price of serious injuries and deaths.

A survey of construction workers showed the majority believed safety took a back seat to immediate productivity. Yet, it should not. The majority of workers also believed their companies did the bare MINIMUM required amount for safety. That is, their companies met the minimum needed to avoid a citation but not the level needed to create a culture of safety. These working men and women understand first-hand the safety issues on construction sites.

Do some companies neglect real safety? Most serious injury and death cases I’ve investigated on construction sites happened because management failed to institute basic safety processes. This is why safety standards established by agencies like OSHA are so important. Without minimum standards, some companies would do nothing at all.

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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.