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

Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

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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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Huntsville / Decatur Accident & Injury LawyersCan I get work comp benefits if injured while working from home? In recent days, I’ve been asked this question several times. Across Alabama, many workers are adjusting to remote work requirements from the COVID-19 crisis. Hopefully, these adjustments are temporary. With this new reality, let’s discuss how home-based work impacts workers’ compensation benefits.

Does The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act Specifically Address Home-Based Workers?

Unfortunately, the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act does not specifically address home-based workers. And, the Alabama Supreme Court has not yet provided a detailed opinion exactly on this issue. So, we do not have a bright-line answer to the specific home-based situations where work comp benefits are available (or are not available). Although the statute does not expressly address home-based workers, we do have some general rules that help. So, let’s look at the general rules as well as some past injuries outside an employer’s factory or office which court’s have previously found compensable.

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https://www.alabamainjurylawyer-blog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/122/2020/04/Need-Advice-Have-Legal-Questions-We-Are-Available.-300x300.pngDuring this difficult time, people are worried. Health. Work. Finances. Family. All are worries. Many people are asking, when will life return to normal.

I spoke with someone earlier this week who had waited five weeks for the doctor to review his MRI. The caller suffered a work-related injury. He was seeing a doctor authorized by work comp. He underwent an MRI. Now, he is sitting and waiting to hear the results. It’s a slow process in normal times. Even in normal times, our injured neighbors wait too long for treatment. These are NOT normal times.

Our attorneys answer workers compensation questions for callers on a daily basis. We’ve compiled some of the most frequent questions to create a Workers Compensation FAQ page on our website. If you cannot find your question on that page, let us know. We are happy to discuss the issue with you. Our consultations are always free.

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How will Covid-19 affect my case? Many of our clients and callers are asking this question. Our personal injury clients will be impacted by the novel coronavirus. This especially includes injury clients with work comp claims. Injured workers are especially vulnerable to delays in medical care or claims.

As I wrote in a prior post, the Blackwell Law Firm is open and operational. Our firm has long operated with a system that allows its lawyers to work and prepare for cases remotely across Alabama. We have long-established processes that allow us to work remotely as needed. In normal times, we are frequently working from counties and courts across Alabama. Our established processes will be especially valuable during current events. Within our office, we have taken steps to protect our staff and clients. We continue to help our clients and to prepare their cases. We believe it essential that injured clients have access to needed legal advice. You can read my prior post on our general firm procedures here.

For our work comp clients, I have listed a few of the most frequently asked questions by callers. I hope this information helps. If you have additional questions or concerns, let us know. We are happy to provide information.

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