Category Archives: Uncategorized

Uber drivers win Seattle vote on collective-bargaining rights

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

While the Seattle vote is aimed at giving drivers more of a say in their job conditions, it’s not clear how this will work in practice with Uber, Lyft and any other car-booking company. (Photo: Thinkstock)
While the Seattle vote is aimed at giving drivers more of a say in their job conditions, it’s not clear how this will work in practice with Uber, Lyft and any other car-booking company. (Photo: Thinkstock)

(Bloomberg) — Seattle’s City Council voted unanimously to give collective bargaining rights to drivers-for-hire, such as those who work for ride-share companies Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc.

The bill, proposed by city council member Mike O’Brien, requires taxicab and for-hire car companies to negotiate with a "driver representative" over the terms and conditions of work, if a sufficient number of drivers choose to be represented.

For-hire drivers are generally considered independent contractors by the companies who employ them, and aren’t covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which allows collective bargaining. Independent contractors also aren’t entitled to labor standards such as minimum wage, health and safety guidelines or reimbursements for work-related costs. While the Seattle vote is aimed at giving drivers more of a say in their job conditions, it’s not clear how this will work in practice with Uber, Lyft and any other car-booking company.

"Lyft drivers are entirely in control of where or when they work, and this flexibility is exactly why the service is so popular with with people looking to make extra income," said Sheila Bryson, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Lyft. "Unfortunately,…

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Congress extends the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from workers-compensation.blogspot.com

The United States Congress has voted to extend the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act as part of a major spending bill that now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law. The bill will extend the World Trade Center Health Program to 2090, and provide full compensation to survivors and first responders through the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

The two programs were in the process of shutting down after Congress missed a September 30 reauthorization deadline. In the end, 68 Senators, and 272 House Members backed the bill.

“Our courageous first responders stepped up when our country needed them the most . During the September 11thattacks, thousands of brave first responders sacrificed their safety for the good of our country and as a result have been forced to battle serious health issues,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). “In New Jersey, over 5,000 survivors and first responders still require medical treatment because of their exposure in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The permanent extension of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act will enable us to give these courageous Americans the respect and care they rightly deserve.”

“As someone who first introduced the Zadroga Act and had to fight to pass it that first time, I am thrilled that we are fulfilling our moral obligation as a grateful nation to support our first responders and send a powerful message to all future first responders that we…

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U.S. Veterans: ‘Burn Pits’ Created Toxic Clouds That Led To Ailments

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from kuow.org

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  • A U.S. airman tosses uniforms into a burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq, in 2008. The military destroyed uniforms, equipment and other materials in huge burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some veterans now say those pits are responsible for respiratory problems they are now experiencing.
    A U.S. airman tosses uniforms into a burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq, in 2008. The military destroyed uniforms, equipment and other materials in huge burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some veterans now say those pits are responsible for respiratory problems they are now experiencing.

In 2008, Army Reserve Capt. LeRoy Torres returned home to Robstown, Texas, after a tour in Iraq. He went back to work as a state trooper with the Texas Highway Patrol.

Torres was a long-time runner. So when a suspect took-off on foot one morning, Torres sprinted after him. But something was wrong. A burning sensation in his chest hurt so bad, it almost knocked him down.

"I was able to catch-up, but afterwards, my goodness, I remember just — I laid on the ground, I was so exhausted," Torres says. "One of my buddies said, ‘Man what’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Man I don’t know. I just feel really, really tired — my chest feels really tight. I don’t know.’ I couldn’t catch my breath."

A few years later, Torres was diagnosed with a rare disease called constrictive bronchiolitis. Scars in his lungs block the flow of air.

He’s among a growing number of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who believe their respiratory ailments are linked to burn pits. These were acres-wide mounds of waste near bases that contained everything from batteries to vehicle scraps to amputated body parts. The refuse was usually ignited with jet fuel.

"What people don’t…

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Employer Permitted to Use Facebook Photos to Challenge Injured Workers Claims Without Prior Notice

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from workers-compensation.blogspot.com

Editor’s note: Make a New Years resolution to verify your Facebook privacy settings are secure. kc

An employer was permitted to utilize photographs taken from Claimant’s public Facebook as impeachment evidence without prior notice to Claimant. Public Facebook photographs of Claimant holding her grandson with her injured arm and hand as impeachment evidence against Claimant.

The Employer did not have to provide prior notice to the Claimant of "video" evidence.

Court held that it was not prejudicial to admit the Claimant’s Facebook images into evidence.

MacFadyen v Total Care Physicians, C.A. No. N15A–05–001 ALR, 2015 WL 9303624 (2015 Del.Super.), Decided December 15, 2015.

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Photo credit: wired.com

Social Security: Burn Pit Lung Illness is a Disability

Today’s post was shared by Jon L Gelman and comes from burnpitclaims.blogspot.com

The Social Security Disability program has listed Obliterative Bronchiolitis as a disability under its Compassionate Allowances Conditions (CAL). Obliterative Bronchiolitis is a pulmonary/lung disability causally connected to exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition to Social Security benefits, the pending Burn Pit Lawsuit seeks compensation, medical care and future medical monitoring for those veterans, private military contractors and civilian employees who have been exposed. The case is now pending in US District Court and the Court has permitted people to be added to the case (see below).

Social Security Compassionate Allowances (CAL) are a way of quickly identifying diseases and other medical conditions that invariably qualify under the Listing of Impairments based on minimal objective medical information. Compassionate Allowances allow Social Security to target the most obviously disabled individuals for allowances based on objective medical information that can be obtain quickly. Compassionate Allowances is not a separate program from the Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income programs.

“Obliterative Bronchiolitis (OB) is a rare, irreversible, life-threatening form of interstitial lung disease that occurs when the small airway branches of the lungs (bronchioles) are compressed and narrowed by scar tissue (fibrosis) and inflammation. Extensive scarring results in decreased lung function. Causes of OB include collagen…

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Photo credit: frankieleon / Foter.com / CC BY

Opioid epidemic continues in Washington

Today’s post was shared by WC CompNewsNetwork and comes from www.workerscompensation.com

Olympia, WA (WorkersCompensation.com) – New Washington health data shows a significant drop in deaths from prescription narcotics in recent years. Tragically, the decline is offset by a doubling of the number of heroin deaths in our state during the same time. Both heroin and prescription narcotics are types of drugs known as opioids.

Data from 2014 state vital statistics records show the number of deaths from prescription narcotics has steadily dropped from a peak of 512 deaths in 2008 to 319 in 2014. At the same time, heroin killed 293 people in Washington last year, about twice as many as in 2008. Overall, the number of deaths from opioid overdose in Washington remains at about 600 a year.

“Across our state, we are seeing the terrible effects of heroin and prescription narcotics on our families, friends and communities,” said Governor Jay Inslee. “Although more must be done, we’ve made significant progress in reducing overprescribing of opioids, and with health care reform, a record number of families who just a few years ago had no medical coverage and limited means to regain their health, can now seek treatment for substance use disorders.”

Washington was one of the first states to recognize and respond to the national epidemic of deaths due to prescription narcotic overdoses. The decline in these deaths in Washington is likely in part due to groundbreaking prescribing guidelines originally developed in 2007 and updated this year.

State…

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Photo credit: Portland Press Herald

Workers’ Compensation Emerging Issues: Will 2016 Be the Year Opt Out Legislation Catches Fire?

Today’s post was shared by WC CompNewsNetwork and comes from www.lexisnexis.com

By Thomas A. Robinson, Co-Editor-in-Chief, Workers’ Compensation Emerging Issues Analysis

We are pleased to present the 2015 Workers’ Compensation Emerging Issues Analysis (“WCEIA”). With this third, annual edition, we offer a diverse collection of expert analysis, incisive commentary, interesting case summaries and legislative updates from all across our nation. Geared not just for practicing attorneys, this volume offers risk managers, insurance brokers and executives, claims adjusters, HR experts and academic researchers relevant insights, practice points, and other pertinent takeaways that will enhance your work.

2016: Is This The Year Opt Out Legislation Catches Fire?

As depicted on this edition’s cover and as Lex Larson and I point out in the volume’s opening article, 2016 seems poised as the year of the opt out debate. The successful Oklahoma legislation is now two years old. Proponents and opponents alike are pointing to alleged successes and failures. Constitutional challenges to the law will likely move to the Oklahoma Supreme Court by mid-year. The debate has spilled over to other states.

For example, when both Tennessee and South Carolina closed their 2015 legislative sessions, each had pending one or more opt out bills that state legislators indicate will be resubmitted early in 2016 for debate and consideration. While most of the current opt out action is limited to the Southeast, workers’ compensation experts from all…

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Cost Shifting, the ACA, and Workers’ Comp

Today’s post was shared by WC CompNewsNetwork and comes from www.workerscompensation.com.

In September, the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) issued an intriguing report titled Will the Affordable Care Act Shift Claims to Workers’ Compensation Payors? As most WCRI reports, this one is dense, packed with data and conclusions; more tables and charts than one could hope. After reading it, I concluded that the report is misnamed, and should perhaps have been How Much Will the Affordable Care Act Shift Claims to Workers’ Compensation Payors?

I find the study compelling. As I read the Introduction and Summary of Findings, I began to think of Captain Renault in Casablanca. In a classic scene, he sits at a table gambling. A raid occurs and as the other officials enter, he exclaims “I am shocked, shocked to find gambling is going on in here.” Perhaps the WCRI report is not telling us something we did not know, but is merely making it more widely known?

The report supports that there will be cost shifting in the delivery of medical care. This will be an inevitable outcome of a few simple truths carefully laid out in the Introduction and Summary of Findings. First, health insurers exist to make money. Pause here and catch your breath while you wrap your head around that one. Before you get too distracted by that, let me just assure you that all car producers, software companies, dating apps, sports teams, and purveyors of fine or fast foods likewise exist to make money. It is capitalism, which in the near term may remain a driving…

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Giving for Thanksgiving

The Causey Law Firm team took some time out of a busy day Tuesday to give back.  We built and tricked out six bicycles with lights, reflectors and bike locks.  It’s harder than it looks!  The bikes will be delivered to Treehouse For Kids in time for the holidays.

Treehouse envisions – and strives to create – a world where every child that has experienced a crisis of parenting has the opportunities and support they need to pursue their dreams and become productive members of our community.

The Treehouse Wearhouse is a free store where youth and their caregivers can shop for high quality new and like-new clothing, shoes, school supplies, toys, books and other essentials. We carry clothes for infants, children and teens in all sizes. We work closely with our community to ensure that items in the store reflect current trends, brands and fashions along with the basics every kid needs.

Each youth can shop in the Wearhouse up to 6 times per year. In December, youth can use one of their 6 annual visits to shop our special selection of holiday gifts. Additionally, caregivers can get an extra visit for each new youth placed in their care within one month of placement. Questions? Please contact the Wearhouse at 206.267.5185.

We couldn’t be happier to support Treehouse in their work.  If you are interested in donating or volunteering some time, visit their website and get involved in your community.

Causey Law Firm wishes all of you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Retro Groups, The Department of Labor and Industries, and Us

Most people who become involved in the workers’ compensation system due to injury or illness are only aware of a few common players: themselves, as the claimant; the Department of Labor & Industries (DLI) or self-insurer; their attending doctor; and, if necessary, a vocational counselor. However, in Washington State there is another major player working the sidelines in a big way.   An entity that, over the past few years, has taken on a much larger role in the administration of workers’ compensation claims:  the retro program.

The Retrospective Rating program was initiated by DLI as a “safety incentive program” and was designed with the objective of reducing workplace injuries and helping control claim costs. Somewhere along the way, the concept of the retro program functioning as a safety incentive program seems to have fallen to the wayside with the primary focus now being squarely on controlling claims costs. 

Preventing injuries? Sounds great! Wait, what was that…? Controlling losses? How does that work exactly? What is considered a loss? You mean the cost of a workers’ compensation claim? YES!

So, how does this system work exactly? And what ever happened to the whole safety idea? Let’s take a look. DLI’s selling point of their program is that any time an employer has a worker that gets injured, it costs the business money (this includes many factors including but not limited to: loss of production at the jobsite, potential for loss of business, hiring and training a new employee, etc.). Oh, and let’s not forget an increase in workers comp premiums.  Through the retro program, employers are given the opportunity to be rewarded for their safety program by turning their positive rating into a refund from DLI by preventing injuries and controlling losses. Preventing injuries? Sounds great! Wait, what was that…? Controlling losses? How does that work exactly? What is considered a loss? You mean the cost of a workers’ compensation claim? YES!

Let’s reward employers for safety. I’m all for it. Like most things of this nature, the devil is in the details and in this case, the details lie in the concept of keeping the cost of a claim lower.

A Retro Group’s annual coverage period lasts 12 months and can begin any calendar quarter. On or around 10 months after a coverage period ends, DLI  will review an employer or groups actual experience and will  calculate a “retrospective premium”  for that 12-month coverage year. If claim costs for the coverage year are below what is expected, the employer or group could earn a partial refund of the difference between the Retro premiums and the standard premiums. If claim costs are higher than the amount of standard premium paid, it could result in an employer being assessed and having to pay an additional amount. So the incentive lies in keeping the cost of the claim lower.

I can appreciate the spirit behind this initiative. Taken at face value it sounds too good to be true. Let’s reward employers for safety. I’m all for it. Like most things of this nature, the devil is in the details and in this case, the details lie in the concept of keeping the cost of a claim lower.  How is that done? By limiting the amount of money paid on a claim – counting every penny – and by getting the claim closed as quickly as possible – preferably within the 12 month coverage period.

Although induvial businesses can be part of the retro program, most commonly we see and deal with Retro Groups, businesses independent of the employer of injury but contracted by them to represent their financial interests in the claim. As a plaintiff firm specializing in workplace injuries, we have certainly not seen a decrease in client intakes since the initiation of these groups. Workers are still getting injured at a steady rate.  What we have seen is a substantial and alarming uptick in Retro Group involvement in the claims administration process to the point where we are actually getting business as a result of the Retro Groups interference in claims management.  It is not uncommon for me or my colleagues to review a claim file online and see that a Retro Group claims manager has protested nearly every favorable decision that an injured worker has received from DLI. From claim allowance to general medical allowance orders, time loss payments or treatment authorizations – there is typically a response from the Retro Group – even if the decision by DLI appears entirely appropriate.

A little known fact outside of the workers’ comp world is that many of the representatives of these groups are former employees of the Department of Labor and Industries, some previously in claims manager or claims unit supervisor roles. Their employment history at DLI provides them with a unique knowledge base of the DLI system  and its policies, the life cycle of a claim, as well as access to employees at the DLI level, many of whom they have a personal working relationship with already.  We have seen Retro Group claims managers bypass normal chain of command channels due to their relationships with individuals at DLI.

The Retro Group is NOT the employer. But they like to act like it. Just recently I had a Retro Group create a light duty, modified return to work position for my client without checking with the actual employer if such a position could even be offered. Their goal: to get time loss payments terminated, and keep claim costs down.  They created a light duty job specifically aligned with the restrictions outlined by the attending physician, which was medically approved. Time-loss was terminated and the claimant appeared for the first day of the job with the work restrictions in hand and was told that no such job existed within those restrictions. Our firm had previously tried to get the Retro Group to address our inquiries about the questionable modified job, but we were ignored. We requested that DLI intervene, and a vocational counselor was assigned. We insisted that a standalone, onsite job analysis be done of the modified job.  As we suspected, no such job existed and the claimant is now eligible for vocational retraining.

A website for a popular Retro Group advertises their results in order to attract business, boasting of more than 28 percent in premium refunds for one employer, 37 perfect for another and over $452 million in premium refunds for their clients over a 20 year span. The list of clients that they represent is alarming to me only in that I wonder if the employers who hire them  to represent their interests fully understand the scope and lengths that the Retro Groups go to in order to post such returns.  Do the employers have any idea what is happening to their employees who have filed claims?

The unwarranted roadblocks caused by aggressive Retro Group interference can cause severe instability for injured workers who are simply trying to access the benefits that they paid into through their employment in the hopes of returning to their former lives.

This brings me back to the injured worker and the issue of safety: the founding idea of this program and the concept that DLI actually has to create incentives for employers in order to keep work environments safe. Couldn’t the Department offer similar rewards to employers for simply limiting the amount of actual claims that are filed?   Instead, our current system rewards employers after the fact, after the injury has already happened, which places the emphasis on saving costs, nor preventing the injury in the first place. In the Retro Group’s effort to save their clients’ money, the result to the injured worker is that they are often cheated out of medical treatment and benefits, both monetary and vocational, that they are most likely entitled too, or in delays of these rightful benefits that are so extreme that the end result is catastrophic and detrimental to their health and livelihood.

The unwarranted roadblocks caused by aggressive Retro Group interference can cause severe instability for injured workers who are simply trying to access the benefits that they paid into through their employment in the hopes of returning to their former lives.  The result is that many face an inability to pay mortgages or rent on time, pay their bills, put food on the table, pay child support, or even put gas in a car to get to doctors’ appointments for treatment, causing a delay in recovery and potentially even more injury or worsening of their condition. The list goes on.   

Unfortunately, we do not simply see this type of thing happening in one or two cases where a Retro Group is involved. We see it in EVERY case where a Retro Group is involved. And we are only one law firm. And our client list is growing.

 

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