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Workers’ Comp Programs Further Injure Injured Workers

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Those of us who represent injured workers have known for a long time that workers’ compensation does not restore an injured worker to his pre-injury wage or status.  Two reports released in March show how workplace injuries have failed injured workers and leave them deeper in debt.  OSHA released a report indicating the changes in workers’ compensation programs have made it much more difficult for injured workers to receive benefits or medical expenses.  Although employers pay insurance premiums to workers’ compensation insurance companies who are supposed to pay benefits for medical expenses, employers provide just 20% of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries through workers’ compensation according to the OSHA report. 

This “cost shifting” is borne by the taxpayer.  As a result of this cost shifting, taxpayers are subsidizing the vast majority of the income and medical care costs of injured workers.  After a work injury, injured workers’ incomes average more than $30,000 lower over a decade than if they had not been injured.  Additionally, very low wage workers are injured at a disproportionate rate. 

Another report by ProPublica and National Public Radio found that 33 states have workers’ compensation laws that reduced benefits or made it more difficult for those with certain injuries and diseases to qualify for benefits.  Those hurdles, combined with employers and insurers increasing control of medical decisions (such as whether an injured worker needs surgery) reduced the worker’s likelihood of obtaining the medical care needed.

Overall, injured workers who should be paid under workers’ compensation are receiving less benefits and their medical care is being dodged by insurers and paid for by taxpayers through Medicaid and Medicare, or by increased insurance premiums for all of us through group health insurance rate increases.

Our general sense that injured workers are faring poorly is borne out by the research.

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Causey Law Firm is Proud to Support Lowell Elementary School!

Causey Law Firm was a proud supporter of Lowell’s BIG EVENT, a gala fundraiser held on April 2.  The first event of its kind for Lowell, the BIG EVENT brought together businesses, parents, faculty, staff, and supporters from all over the city to raise money for one of Seattle’s most unique public schools.

Lowell Elementary School is located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and serves children in grades K- 5, plus a medically fragile pre-school.  Its student population draws not only from Capitol Hill, but east all the way to the water, encompassing Belltown, downtown, and all points in between.  This swath of the city draws students from every imaginable demographic, encompassing the children of Seattle’s new technorati, longtime Seattleites, immigrant families, and families experiencing homelessness.  Nearly 40% of the student population at Lowell is comprised of children who are medically fragile, have special needs, or are enrolled in the District’s Vision Impaired program. In addition, Lowell is a Title 1 school where more than 50% of the children are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

And Lowell serves them all. 

This population provides a unique set of strengths as well as challenges, and the Lowell PTA has made a focus of reaching out to the wider community of both the neighborhood and the city in order to support and celebrate Lowell. 

Causey Law Firm not only had the honor of being a sponsor of the event, we also were lucky enough to bid on and win a set of Hot Sculpted Glass nesting bowls by local glass artist Martin Blank!  Our cell phone photography does not do them justice.  We thank Martin and all the other participants and sponsors of the event.

Congratulations to Lowell, Partners at Lowell School (PALS) PTA, and fundraising chair Grace Kim for an excellent event and some impressive fundraising for Seattle’s kids – and thank you for letting us take part!

A Novel Way to Mandate Sick Leave, From Microsoft

Today’s post was shared by The New York Times and comes from www.nytimes.com

Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said the company was in part responding to complaints from contract employees who did not have the same benefits as full-time employees. Credit Jordan Stead for The New York Times

It is difficult to imagine, at least in the current political climate, that the federal government would require paid sick leave for workers, let alone vacation time.

But the White House announced Wednesday that senior officials, including the labor secretary, would begin a monthlong roadshow around the country to promote paid leave. And in his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to pass a bill giving workers seven days of paid sick leave.

But any federal requirement would need the support of Congress, a tough obstacle.

Yet there is another, emerging model: companies forcing other companies to adopt these policies. On Thursday morning, Microsoft announced that it would require many of its 2,000 contractors and vendors to provide their employees who perform work for Microsoft with 15 paid days off for sick days and vacation time.

In some ways, it’s a uniquely American solution. In the absence of a federal policy, the biggest and wealthiest companies are performing the role of setting workplace policy for other businesses.

As the economy has become more dependent on contract workers, workers’ rights advocates have voiced concern about their working conditions, especially for low-skilled jobs.

The situation…

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Walmart, Lowe’s, Safeway, and Nordstrom Are Bankrolling a Nationwide Campaign to Gut Workers’ Comp

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from www.motherjones.com

In recent years, companies have used that freedom to severely curtail long-standing benefits.

Two states, Texas and Oklahoma, already allow employers to opt out of state-mandated workers’ comp. In Texas, the only state that has never required employers to provide workers’ comp, Walmart has written a plan that allows the company to select the physician an employee sees and the arbitration company that hears disputes. The plan provides no coverage for asbestos exposure. And a vague section of the contract excludes any employee who was injured due to his "participation" in an assault from collecting benefits unless the assault was committed in defense of Walmart’s "business or property." It is up to Walmart to interpret what "participation" means. But the Texas AFL-CIO has argued that an employee who defended himself from an attack would not qualify for benefits.

"It creates a race to the bottom."

A 2012 survey of Texas companies with private plans found that fewer than half offered benefits to seriously injured employees or the families of workers who died in workplace accidents. (The state plan, which Texas companies can follow on a voluntary basis, covers both.) Half of employer plans capped benefits, while the state plan pays benefits throughout a worker’s recovery.

Businesses can save millions of dollars by opting out and writing plans with narrow benefits, putting pressure on their competitors to do the same. "It creates a race…

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Appeals court weighs future of workers-compensation laws in Florida.

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.orlandoweekly.com

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A South Florida appeals court Monday heard arguments in a challenge to the constitutionality of the state’s workers-compensation insurance system —- as two other closely watched challenges also await rulings at the Florida Supreme Court.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal took up a case in which a Miami-Dade County circuit judge ruled last year that a key underpinning of workers-compensation laws was unconstitutional. That underpinning involves cases being handled through the workers-compensation insurance system instead of through civil lawsuits.

The workers-compensation system is designed as a sort of tradeoff: Workers are supposed to receive benefits for on-the-job injuries while not going through potentially costly and time-consuming lawsuits. But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge Cueto ruled in August that the workers-compensation law preventing cases from going to civil trial —- known legally as "exclusivity" —- was unconstitutional, at least in part because of legislative changes in 2003 that reduced benefits.

"I find that the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act, as amended effective October 1, 2003, does not provide a reasonable alternative to the tort (civil) remedy it supplanted,” Cueto wrote. "It therefore cannot be the exclusive remedy."

During Monday’s hearing, state Chief Deputy Solicitor General Adam Tanenbaum argued primarily that Cueto’s ruling should be overturned for procedural reasons. The case initially involved Julio…

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Workplace Suicides Are on the Rise

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.theatlantic.com

And rates are particularly high among people working in law enforcement, farming, and auto repair, a new study found.

www.GlynLowe.com/Flickr/The Atlantic

In the first three months of last year, 10 people at Orange, a French telecoms company, killed themselves. It was not the first time such tragedy had struck the mobile giant. The company—formerly known as France Telecom—also reported a rash of self-inflicted deaths between 2008 and 2009. A similar cluster of suicides once gripped Foxconn, where 18 people working at the factory in Shenzhen, China, attempted suicide in 2010, and where another 150 threatened an en masse death jump in 2012 in protest of low wages and poor working conditions.

Though there haven’t been such notable concentrations of workplace suicides at one company like that in the United States, in 2013, the last year for which data are available, 270 people in the U.S. committed suicide at work—a 12 percent increase over the prior year.

“The reasons for any suicide are complex, no matter where they take place. Usually many factors are at play,” says Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Among them are economic and work-related stressors.

One recent study found that the global recession that began in 2007 could be linked with more than 10,000 suicides across North America and Europe.

“Historically, suicide rates do rise during economic downturns. The entire…

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Examining Workers’ Compensation Costs to Employers

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey 1991 – 2014 (Credit: Sisi Wei/ProPublica)

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Business and insurance interests are bombarding state legislatures every day of the week to take workers’ rights away by complaining how most states’ workers’ compensation systems are too expensive.

Recently, ProPublica and NPR produced a very detailed explanation of the state of workers’ compensation, focusing, rightly so, on injured workers. This article, which was the first in the series, included an interactive graphic that showed that even though business are complaining about rising premius, workers’ compensation insurance coverage is generally at its lowest rate in 25 years, “even as the costs of health care have increased dramatically,” according to the article.

As examples, using the average premium cost to the employer per $100 of workers’ wages, Nebraska employers paid $1.93 in 1988, while they actually paid $.15 less for the premium in 2014, for a total of $1.78 per $100 of workers’ wages, according to the chart. Iowa was more dramatic, with the price of workers’ compensation insurance $2.79 per $100 of workers’ wages in 1988. It went down $.91 to $1.88 per $100 of workers’ wages in 2014.

By scrolling down in the article, a person finds another graphic that shows how employer costs have risen for other categories, but have fallen for workers’ compensation. Most notably, the cost of workers’ compensation insurance coverage (per $100 of workers’ wages) went from $2.71 in 1991 to $2.00 in 2014. During the same timeframe, the cost of health insurance went from $8.55 to $12.52 and the cost of retirement benefits went from $5.50 to $7.29, all per $100 of workers’ wages, according to the chart in the article.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore and Trucker Lawyers are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Six attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 90 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska and Iowa in state-specific workers’ compensation systems. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), and the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA).  We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

How much is your arm worth? Depends on where you work

Today’s post was shared by Workers Compensation and comes from www.propertycasualty360.com

Nearly every state has what’s known as a
Nearly every state has what’s known as a "schedule of benefits" that divides up the body like an Angus beef chart.

At the time of their accidents, Jeremy Lewis was 27, Josh Potter 25.

The men lived within 75 miles of each other. Both were married with two children about the same age. Both even had tattoos of their children’s names.

Their injuries, suffered on the job at Southern industrial plants, were remarkably similar, too. Each man lost a portion of his left arm in a machinery accident.

After that, though, their paths couldn’t have diverged more sharply: Lewis received just $45,000 in workers’ compensation for the loss of his arm. Potter was awarded benefits that could surpass $740,000 over his lifetime.

The reason: Lewis lived and worked in Alabama, which has the nation’s lowest workers’ comp benefits for amputations. Potter had the comparative good fortune of losing his arm across the border in Georgia, which is far more generous when it comes to such catastrophic injuries.

This disparity grimly illustrates the geographic lottery that governs compensation for workplace injuries in America. Congress allows each state to determine its own benefits, with no federal minimums, so workers who live across state lines from each other can experience entirely different outcomes for identical injuries.

Nearly every state has what’s known as a “schedule of benefits” that divides up the body like an Angus beef…

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Court: Juries to decide if state Uber, Lyft drivers are employees

Artist Peter Ashlock drives for Uber and Lyft in San Francisco, California on Wednesday, February 18, 2015. He talks about 1099’s received from both companies. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.sfgate.com

Juries must decide whether California drivers for the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft are employees entitled to minimum wages, expenses and other workplace benefits, two San Francisco federal judges ruled Wednesday, rejecting the companies’ argument that the drivers must be considered independent contractors.

U.S. District Judges Edward Chen, in the Uber case, and Vince Chhabria, in the Lyft case, said the drivers resemble contractors in some respects, such as their ability to choose their work hours and the riders they accept, and employees in other respects, such as the companies’ control over drivers’ interactions with customers and its power to fire them at any time. “A reasonable jury could go either way,” Chhabria said.

The rulings were nonetheless at least a partial victory for the drivers, who filed the suits as proposed class actions on behalf of all drivers in California.

It’s actually “a major victory for the drivers,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a lawyer representing thousands of drivers for both Uber and Lyft. She said the judges “agreed with many arguments we made about why the facts point to an employment relationship.”

The stakes are considerable. State law entitles employees to minimum and overtime wages, reimbursement for work expenses, workers’ compensation benefits for job-related injuries, and unemployment insurance. Independent contractors receive none of those. A driver’s status…

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Workers’ Compensation – A System Destroyed

            A recent national study confirms what most attorneys who have practiced in the workers’ comp arena have observed over the past ten to twenty years:  the business lobby and the insurance industry, enabled by the ever-increasing takeover of state legislatures by the Republican party, have largely dismembered our nation’s 100-year-old workers’ comp system.  ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom producing public interest investigative journalism, has shined a light on what has happened to the most important safety net for workers.  The full article is here. The whole series is an exhaustive look at the changes afoot; well worth a read.

            Under the banner of reforming a system described as suffering “out of control costs,” the allied forces have drastically reduced coverage for injured workers over the past ten years, and have shifted the cost of workplace accident and illness from the responsible businesses and industries and onto the American taxpayer through Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, systems now under extreme pressure themselves.

            The usual cited basis for these cutbacks and shrinking coverage – rising costs – has now been shown to be totally fraudulent.  Employers are paying the lowest workers’ comp rates since the 1970s, and insurers are enjoying their highest profits in a decade – 18% in 2013.

            Some other findings in the ProPublica report:

  1. Since 2003, 33 states have passed laws reducing benefits or making qualifying for them more difficult.

  2. Employers and insurers now largely medical decisions—in 37 states workers can’t choose their doctor, or must choose from a restricted list.

  3. Increasingly, benefits are terminated before workers have regained the ability to re-enter employment.

And what has the federal government done, mandated in 1972 to ensure that states maintained minimum federal standards?  Nothing since 2004, after budget cuts eliminated funding for the feds to track and monitor what was happening in the states.  With the disappearance of any federal oversight, workers’ comp in the states has become a “race to the bottom.”

      For context, ProPublica briefly refreshes the mostly-forgotten history of the origins of workers’ comp – the grand bargain arising out of the age of early industrialization that caused grisly, incapacitating injuries whereby workers surrendered their, often illusory, right to sue their employers in return for the limited but certain remedies of workers’ compensation.  Fifty years after most states had enacted workers’ comp laws, a federal commission convened by President Richard Nixon reviewed the state of the laws, found them “inadequate and inequitable,” and made an extensive list of recommendations. The commission advised Congress to mandate 19 of the recommendations as minimum standards, and for a period of time the national state of workers’ comp laws improved.  But about twenty years ago, the rising conservative tide in the states initiated a new era of cutbacks, to the point that, according to ProPublica, only seven states now follow at least fifteen of the commission’s recommendations.

      The ProPublica report details several shocking examples of how workers’ comp, shrunken as a remedy by the chambers of commerce whose representatives often write the “reform” legislation in the various states, is failing the American worker.  It cites a study by a University of California health economist who estimates that workers’ comp covered less than a third of injured workers’ medical costs and lost earnings in 2007.

In the summer of 2014 a Florida judge ruled that the state’s workers’ comp benefits had been decimated to such an extent, and that the comp law failed so miserably as to safety, health, welfare and morals, that it had become “unconstitutional.”  That would mean the end of the “grand bargain” in that state and the restoration of the right of workers to sue their employers.  One hundred years after the enactment of the first workers’ comp laws, we may be standing on the precipice of a new era of worker rights for the consequences of workplace injury and disease.

Graphic credit: Matt Rota for ProPublica

Published by Causey Law Firm