All posts by Kit Case

Private Investigators in Workers’ Compensation

Corporations sometimes hire private investigators to verify that your claim is not fraud
Corporations sometimes hire private investigators to verify that your claim is not fraud

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan from The Jernigan Law Firm.

As a workers’ compensation attorney I find it interesting that many people in the public question the disability status of injured workers. Let’s assume for the moment that you have sustained an injury on the job and you’ve been out of work for 5 months after back surgery. When you are unable to return to work quickly, the insurance industry has a lot of tools at its disposal to verify your disability status. They can pour over your medical records, pre- and post-injury, looking for any piece of evidence to deny your claim. They can send your file to lawyers who review medical records and recorded statements to potentially attack your credibility and honesty. They can hire a nurse to attend your appointments and speak with the physician and the staff, as well as obtain information directly from you. They can do background searches on you to see if you have a criminal or civil record. Obviously they will check to see if you ever filed a workers’ compensation claim before. They will also do social media and Internet searches on you and your family members (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.). They also can hire private investigators to follow you and your family around and take video recordings of your activities. With all these resources at the disposal of the insurance company, it’s hard to believe that many cases of employee fraud slip through the system.

A private investigator pretended to be a potential buyer and spent an hour or more going through the house.

We have one client recently who was followed by several private detectives for more than a year. They not only followed him around, but also followed his wife and son, who have no workers’ compensation claim. Another client had to sell his house because of his disability. A private investigator pretended to be a potential buyer and spent an hour or more going through the house. Does the concept of “Big Brother” come to mind? Are you concerned about invasion of privacy, particularly for family members, friends, and others who may be seen in such videos? We always tell our clients such activity may occur so don’t be alarmed by it, but that isn’t too comforting to people who are struggling through health issues, who have depression and anxiety problems, and who are sensitive to privacy concerns.

It would be interesting if the roles were reversed and employers who underpay premiums by misclassifying the status of their employees, who fail to purchase insurance required to protect their workers, and who don’t follow proper safety regulations that cause injury, were followed this closely by employees or regulators who administer the workers’ compensation program. I have no doubt that these employers and insurance representatives would be outraged.

 

 

Careful What You Wish For: Denying Worker’s Compensation for Undocumented Workers

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

In Washington State, undocumented workers are allowed to receive workers’ compensation benefits if injured in the course of employment. Many issues unique to this circumstance arise in such claims, including difficulties in documenting date-of-injury wages and job offers made during the course of a claim that require proof of eligibility for legal employment used as a tool by employers to truncate receipt of benefits by workers injured while in their employ.

Immigration reform is a continual and vexing issue in Washington. While politicians, lobbyists, and service organizations grapple with potential resolutions, there is no disputing the existence of illegal immigrants working for employers in our country. And when there are employees working, work injuries happen.  This may be especially true with the undocumented population who may be more susceptible to significant injuries because many perform more dangerous or hazardous jobs that other may not accept. For further information, see Do Immigrants Work in Riskier Jobs? and the CDC’s report on work-related injury deaths among Hispanics.

…excluding illegal immigrants from worker’s compensation coverage could create a financial incentive for employers to keep hiring illegal immigrants.

When injured, are these undocumented workers eligible for worker’s compensation? Some harshly argue that these workers should receive no benefits, as they are not working legally in the country. However, one of the underlying pillars of worker’s compensation is that the expense of workplace injuries (covered by insurance) should be placed on the employers who profit from the workers’ labors. Additionally, excluding illegal immigrants from worker’s compensation coverage could create a financial incentive for employers to keep hiring illegal immigrants—a practice that is against federal law.

The worker’s compensation laws in our country do not have a definitive answer to this question—though the trend is toward coverage of undocumented workers. Many states do Continue reading Careful What You Wish For: Denying Worker’s Compensation for Undocumented Workers

Good News for American Workers

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

I read an encouraging article  in The Washington Post: “A return to ‘Made in America’? Is U.S. manufacturing making a comeback — or is it just hype?”

Everyone concerned with the plight of American workers should read the article. Manufacturing does seem to be growing once again in the USA. The article points out several reasons for this trend, including the increasing cost of Chinese manufacturing and increased American productivity. The news is not great, because many, if not most, of the new manufacturing jobs pay less than the jobs we lost. However, the jobs seem to be coming back.

I grew up in a tiny little factory town that proudly made Vise-Grip wrenches. The family-owned company supported generations of families, provided summer jobs for college kids, and taught us what work meant. (My introduction to workers’ compensation came at age 18 with an industrial injury.) However, the plant was sold and resold and resold until it was finally uprooted and sent to China. My hometown, like so many others was devastated.

A Bruce Springsteen song, “My Hometown,” brings tears to my eyes when I recall what happened to my hometown. These lyrics are particulary haunting:

“Now main streets whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there aint nobody wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they aint coming back to
Your hometown, your hometown, your hometown, your hometown”

Hopefully the mythical foreman had it wrong and the jobs are starting to come back to our hometowns! Keep on buying American, folks.

All Forms of Asbestos Cause Cancer

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

In a joint statement the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) again declared all forms of asbestos cause cancer.

Joint WHO/IARC Statement
19 February 2013

In response to allegations in the recent Lancet article, IARC in the dock over ties with asbestos industry (The Lancet, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60152-X), WHO and IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) state the following:

  • All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans (IARC Monographs Volume 100C) and stopping the use of all forms of asbestos is the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases (WHO Fact Sheet No 343).
  • The study on cancer in chrysotile workers in Asbest, Russian Federation, for which IARC is providing its epidemiological expertise, will supply important scientific information to better quantify the risk of cancers already known to be related to chrysotile as well as additional cancers suspected to be related to chrysotile, the asbestos fibre is the most commonly produced.
  • WHO and IARC take conflict of interest seriously and use a rigorous process to protect our research and development of norms, standards and guidelines from undue influence.
  • IARC confirms the completeness and accuracy of all data and statements of scientific results published in the British Journal of Cancer (Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality, doi:10.1038/bjc.2011.563) and presented at a conference in Kiev.

IARC, as WHO’s cancer research agency, remains committed to providing the most reliable, independent scientific evidence on which public health decisions can be based.

Click here to read more about “asbestos” and workplace exposures

Feb 04, 2013
The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat today reports about the corrupt connection between the Russian asbestos industrry and the IARC (the International Agency for Research on Cancer). To advance the mining and …
Jan 31, 2013
Recently release statistics from the US Geological Survey brings some hope to reducing asbestos disease in the US. Historically, as the production of asbestos fiber lowers, so does the incidence of asbestos related disease, …
Jan 30, 2013
It is unconscionable in this day and age for a worker who is exposed to asbestos fiber in the workplace. Ironically, in the 1950’s, in Paterson, NJ, the city where the world renown asbestos researcher, Irving J. Selikoff MD, had …
Nov 29, 2012
In a new report, Fitch examines a range of loss scenarios and future payments for asbestos losses up to an ultimate industry loss of $85 billion. Based on recent development experience and its latest analysis of loss payment …

Texas Stories: Symptom of Bigger Workers’ Comp Debates

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm and Emily Wray Stander from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

We have been listening with interest to a recent National Public Radio (NPR) series about construction workers and businesses in Texas. The series about this industry confronts many of the issues that are being debated by society these days, whether in the judicial, executive or legislative branches.

To add some context, these topics include employing immigrant workers; paying a living wage; calling an employee an independent contractor; and ensuring workplace safety, workers’ compensation, and payroll taxes are all done, practices that specifically are not happening in Texas, according to the stories. A notable quote from the first piece is “Texas is the only state in the nation without mandatory workers’ compensation, meaning hospitals and taxpayers usually end up shouldering the cost when uncovered construction workers are hurt.” And we think the information from the second piece is quite telling that the business owner “asked that NPR not use his last name because the IRS might take an interest in his business, designs and builds landscapes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.” Because he treats his crew as “self-employed contractors,” meaning that the IRS would likely see his interpretations of tax law as illegal. From the story: “This is a key distinction. If Trent were to classify his workers as employees, he’d have to pay taxes, Social Security, unemployment and overtime. But by saying his workers are actually independent contractors – in essence, business owners – he’s off the hook.”

We think listening to these two pieces, at less than 15 minutes total, is a good opportunity to experience an applied illustration of what happens to the vulnerable when such protections as workers’ compensation are effectively dismantled for profit-taking and political reasons. Respected colleague Jon Gelman in New Jersey recently wrote a blog post that focuses on the first NPR report and “how bad it is for workers who get injured in Texas.”

Although things are allegedly always more extreme in Texas, attacks on the vulnerable aren’t limited to that state, unfortunately. Ms. Cathy Stanton, president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group (WILG), and a respected colleague from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano in New York, recently wrote an extremely useful article about “Emerging Trends in Legislative Attacks on Injured & Ill Workers.”

In Nebraska, the anti-worker, pro-business Nebraskans for Workers’ Compensation Equity and Fairness group is backing LB 584 that would dramatically limit protections that workers have when it comes to being injured through a concept called evidence-based medicine/utilization review. In addition to our firm writing numerous blog posts about this legislation, EBM/UR is #8 in Ms. Stanton’s list of “trends throughout the country which would negatively impact existing Workers’ Compensation benefits.” And according to this article, politicians in Tennessee are looking to gain some brownie points with business and insurance by overhauling the workers’ compensation courts to the detriment of injured workers. Iowa workers and attorneys have to contend with #6 on the list, restricting doctor choice, while a bill in Nebraska’s legislature is in the works to do the same if passed.

We agree with what Ms. Stanton writes: “All workers need to be aware of these trends because the likelihood of legislation being introduced in their state against their interests is strong. Employee immunity has remained untouched, but workers’ benefits are consistently under attack as a result of the collective lobbying efforts of the insurance industry and large corporations.   Unfortunately the great compromise is turning out to be one sided as workers are forced to endure multiple obstacles and hurdles to be entitled to fewer and more restricted benefits.”

So we would encourage you to join us in educating yourselves about how workers’ compensation “reform” can lead to stories like NPR’s cautionary tales about the construction industry in Texas and to explore what’s going on in your state legislature. Finally, get involved in your state’s political process to advocate for workers!

Nursing Facilities Have Higher Incidence Of Workplace Injury Than Construction

Today’s post comes from guest author Nathan Reckman from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics “Workplace Injuries and Illnesses – 2010” report, the United States is becoming a safer place to work. In 2010, there were 3.1 million non-fatal work injuries reported. This translates to 3.5 injuries per 100 full-time equivalents, a slight decrease from the 2009 rate of 3.6 injuries per 100 full-time workers. The rate of injuries per 100 workers has been decreasing every year since 2002. In 2010, Iowa reported an above average number of work injuries, averaging 4.4 injuries per 100 full-time equivalent workers.

Of these 3.1 million injuries, nearly 76% (2.2 million) of injuries occurred in the service industry. Service jobs make up 82.4% of the labor market. Nearly 24% (0.7 million injuries) occurred in manufacturing industries, which make up 17.6% of the labor market.

Surprisingly, the state owned nursing and residential care facilities workers reported the most injuries at 14.7 injuries per 100 full-time equivalents. The industry with the most reported injuries in 2009, Local Government supported Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction, improved from 12.5 injuries per 100 full-time equivalents to 8.6 injuries per 100 full-time equivalents in 2010.

The statistics are encouraging, but I look forward to the day where there are no fatal workplace injuries, and where workplace safety is a primary concern for all employers and workers.

Causey Law Firm is MOVING!!!

Fourth & Vine Building – in the shadow of the Space Needle!

After TWENTY YEARS in our Pioneer Square office,  Causey Law Firm is MOVING!

The office will be closed on Friday, May 31st and will reopen in our new location as of 1:00 pm on Monday, June 3rdTime loss compensation will be processed on both dates.

Our mailing address, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and fax number will all remain the same.  Located on the corner of 4th & Vine in the Belltown neighborhood, our physical address will be:

2601 4th Avenue, Suite 340, Seattle, WA.

Our new location offers convenient access with a load zone for quick stops and plentiful metered parking.  Two conference rooms and individual offices will make for comfortable meetings. 

Like us on Facebook to see pictures!

Bangladesh Building Collapse Highlights Need for Safety Inspections

Bangladeshi Workers Protest Deaths

    The total number of workers killed or injured in the collapse of a building in Savar, Bangladesh on April 24, 2013 is not yet known, as rescuers continue to search for survivors.  As of Sunday, April 28th, the count was at least 377 dead.  Many of those killed were workers at clothing factories housed in the building, known as Rana Plaza, where fire broke out in the wreckage of the building, temporarily suspending rescue efforts as of April 24.  Efforts will restart with the aide of heavy equipment, which had previously been avoided in an effort to not injure those still buried in the rubble.  There no longer are assumed to be any victims remaining alive, although hundreds remain unaccounted for. The death toll surpassed a fire five months ago that killed 112 people and brought widespread pledges to improve worker-safety standards. But since then, very little has changed in Bangladesh.

Human Rights Watch reported on the building collapse, noting that it knows of no cases in which the Bangladeshi government has ever prosecuted a factory owner over the deaths of workers.

    USA Today reported on the tragedy with the news that Mohammed Sohel Rana, the fugitive owner of the illegally-constructed building, was apprehended by a commando force while trying to flee to India.  Rana was returned to Dhaka to face charges of negligence. Rana had been on the run since the building collapsed Wednesday. He last appeared in public Tuesday in front of the Rana Plaza after huge cracks appeared in the building. Witnesses said he assured tenants, including five garment factories, that the building was safe. Hours later, the Rana Plaza was reduced to rubble, crushing most victims under massive blocks of concrete.

    Human Rights Watch reported on the building collapse, noting that it knows of no cases in which the Bangladeshi government has ever prosecuted a factory owner over the deaths of workers. Many factory owners in Bangladesh are parliamentarians or members of the main political parties. In an interview with a government minister in 2011, the minister told Human Rights Watch that it would be “impossible” to improve workers rights so long as factory owners were senior members of political parties. 

    According to the Human Rights Watch report, Bangladesh has notoriously poor workplace safety inspection mechanisms. The Ministry of Labour’s Inspection Department, responsible for monitoring employers’ adherence to Bangladesh’s Labour Act, is chronically under-resourced. In June 2012, the Inspection Department had just 18 inspectors and assistant inspectors to monitor an estimated 100,000 factories in Dhaka district, where the Rana building is located. The garment sector alone employs an estimated 3 million workers. 

    According to the US Department of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs, workers in the Bangladeshi garment factories are primarily women – 75 to 90 percent – and children ranging in age from eight to fourteen years.  Most of the children are girls with an average age of just over 13 years.  Working conditions are described in the USDOLreport as follows:

        Garment factories are located in multi-storied buildings throughout Dhaka including Mirpur, Malibagh and Rampura districts (allegedly one of the worst areas), and the Free School District area. Working conditions in general in Bangladesh are far below western standards. On a par with other factory settings, garment factories are often dimly lit, with poor ventilation, and open for very long hours. However, some factories operate with good lighting and are not overly hot or crowded. The workers, mostly female, work without a break during their shift. Too often the factory doors are locked. Sometimes guards with keys stand by the locked gate; other times no one able to unlock the iron grating is near. Many times the locked gate is the only entrance or exit to a factory. The workers, including children, are frequently locked into their work place at the beginning of the morning shift and not let out until the end of the workday, and in some cases not until the next day. Overtime hours occur during peak periods in the production cycle when manufacturers are rushing to fulfill their export quotas. AAFLI’s 1994 survey of garment factories found that, like adult workers, children typically work 10 to 14 hours a day, with a half-day off on Friday.

    The similarities  are chilling to the working conditions of American garment workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory prior to the tragic fire on March 26, 1911 that forever bears the same name. The horrific deaths from the Triangle fire, witnessed through photographs printed in the news media around the world, spurred a swift and aggressive response by workers and labor activists. Their response led to the establishment of many of the protective organizations American workers now rely on, including the workers’ compensation system, the American Society of Safety Engineers, and the U.S. Department of Labor.

    As with the Triangle fire, this should be a call to action as well as a time for reflection.  We, as consumers, are tied to the businesses in Bangladesh that supply garments to American companies.  That connection gives us the power to effect change in the working conditions of the Bangladeshi factories by insisting that American corporations purchase garments for sale in the US from safety-inspected factories that meet minimal international standards for basic worker protection.

 

 

 

Photo credit: dblackadder / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

 

The Vanishing Concept of a Job

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

While reviewing some historical cases today, I realized that what is missing from the workplace is the concept of “a job.” America’s economy has dramatically changed, and so have jobs that were once available its workforce.

Even clearer is the fact that the concept of a job has disappeared. The idea of getting up in the morning and going regularly to a job has even vanished. The evolution changed slowly with the young generation claiming that a job cycle transformed from a lifetime position to one lasting two years. Then the next stage in the evolution occurred, where the employee became a transient worker and daily the job changed and no stable employer really exists.

This evolution has eroded the underlining framework of a functional workers’ compensation program and the delivery of benefits. The injured worker becomes lost to the system, and a safe and secure workplace becomes an illusion. Lost in the complexity is the adequate reporting of accidents and occupational disease, and the ability to accurately folllow the evolution of latent diseases and medical conditions.

“A new trend in the U.S. labor market is reshaping how management and workers think about employment, while at the same time reshaping the field of occupational safety and health. More and more workers are being employed through “contingent work” relationships. Day laborers hired on a street corner for construction or farming work, warehouse laborers hired through staffing agencies, and hotel housekeepers supplied by temp firms are common examples, because their employment is contingent upon shortterm fluctuations in demand for workers. Their shared experience is one of little job security, low wages, minimal opportunities for advancement, and, all too often, hazardous working conditions. When hazards lead to work-related injuries, the contingent nature of the employment relationship can exacerbate the negative consequences for the injured worker and society. The worker might quickly find herself out of a job and, depending on the severity of the injury, the prospects of new employment might be slim. Employerbased health insurance is a rarity for contingent workers, so the costs of treating injuries are typically shifted to the worker or the public at large. Because employers who hire workers on a contingent basis do not directly pay for workers’ compensation and health insurance, they are likely to be insulated from premium adjustments based on the cost of workers’ injuries. As a result, employers of contingent labor may escape the financial incentives that are a main driver of business decisions to eliminate hazards for other workers.”

Click here to read “At the Company’s Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions”

Consider These Car Accident Tips to Avoid Missteps

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

No one ever intentionally plans to get in a car accident or get hurt at work. But unfortunately bad things sometimes happen in life. And a person’s response to those situations can sometimes affect what happens from a legal perspective. Also remember that if you travel as part of your job, or if traveling is your job, like in the case of truck drivers, vehicle accidents are often covered under workers’ compensation. Here are some recommended tips to avoid potential legal pitfalls later.

What to do when you’ve been in a car accident:

  1. Call the police (or 911 if necessary).
  2. Exchange information with the other driver (name, contact info, driver’s license number, license plate, auto insurance).
  3. Obtain witnesses: Get names and contact info for any witnesses even if the police have already spoken to that person. If possible, obtain written statements from willing witnesses.
  4. Gather evidence: Take pictures or videos of the accident scene, the damage to all vehicles, and any noticeable injuries.
  5. Write notes of the date, time, location, weather, how the accident happened, and any other details that you can remember (speed, traffic signals, turn signals, headlights, brake lights, cell phone usage, etc.).
  6. Go to your doctor: make sure to tell your doctor how you were injured, and be sure to discuss all injuries, even ones that seem insignificant at that time.
  7. Contact your insurance company, and report the accident. Your auto insurance will likely pay for at least some of your medical bills.
  8. Do not give a recorded statement without contacting a lawyer.

You should talk to a lawyer when you’ve been in a car accident IF:

  1. You don’t know what kind of compensation/money you are entitled to
  2. The insurance company is asking you for a recorded statement
  3. The insurance company denies your claim
  4. There is a question of which driver is at fault
  5. The police report is incomplete or inaccurate
  6. The other driver does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance coverage
  7. You have unpaid medical bills
  8. You have permanent disability or constant pain
  9. There are complicated legal or medical issues
  10. You have missed more than a few days of work

Do your best to drive defensively, and safe travels.