Category Archives: Nebraska

Workers’ Compensation Benefits: Iowa vs. Nebraska Law

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The workers’ compensation benefits under Iowa law for permanent injuries are typically greater than those available under Nebraska law. As such, finding a way to bring a claim under Iowa law can be of primary importance if there is a potential jurisdictional issue between the two states.

Iowa Code 85.71 provides the framework for helping to resolve this issue. Put simply, an injury that occurs inside the borders of Iowa is most likely going to qualify to be brought under Iowa law. However, even injuries that occur outside the borders of Iowa can still be covered under Iowa law in certain common instances as detailed below:

1. The employer has a place of business in Iowa and:
       a. the employee regularly works at or from that location;
       b. the employee lives in the state of Iowa.

2. The employee is working under a contract of hire made in Iowa, and the employee regularly works in Iowa.

3. The employee is working under a contract of hire made in Iowa and sustains an injury for which no remedy is available under the workers’ compensation laws of another state.

4. The employer has a place of business in Iowa, and the employee is working under a contract of hire that provides that the employee’s workers’ compensation claims will be governed by Iowa law. 

An injured employee also needs to be careful about filing in a different state than Iowa. Under Iowa Code 85.72, the Iowa action will be stayed pending the resolution of that claim in another state. This means that the Court cannot take up any issues in Iowa while there is another pending legal action in another state concerning the same date of injury.

The difference in benefits between the two states can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Additionally, there are a number of differences in the laws of the two states that can play a role in how the claim is handled, including the appropriate statute of limitations, which dictates how soon a claim must be filed in Court. As such, it’s important to contact an attorney licensed in Iowa and Nebraska to discuss these differences so we can help you decide which state’s law is better for you and to help you navigate the relative pitfalls in each state.

OSHA Cites Nebraska Food Supplement Plant for 10 Violations

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vitamin-food-supplementsWorker safety is essential, and one way to help ensure worker safety is through inspections by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Records of these inspections are often very important documents in workers’ compensation cases after a worker has been injured on the job.

In its first OSHA inspection ever, a Geneva, Nebraska, food supplement plant was cited for 10 safety and health violations and also earned a spot in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, according to a recent news release. The proposed fine was $101,200.

“Bioiberica Nebraska is a subsidiary of Bioiberica S.A. based in Barcelona, Spain. The company, which produces products for the pharmaceutical, food supplement and functional foods industries, employs 322 workers worldwide and 11 at the Geneva site.”

I appreciate OSHA holding this manufacturer accountable, especially with some of the problems that came to light with the inspection. The willful violations alone netted the company $84,000 in fines, according to the citations list.

“The three willful violations were cited for exposing workers to injuries, such as electrocution, burns, crushing, lacerating, amputating or fracturing body parts,” according to the OSHA news release. “These violations included failure to develop written procedures, provide training, and implement a program with locks, tags or other hardware to prevent machines from starting up while employees performed service and maintenance of machinery. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirement, or with plain indifference to employee safety and health.”

I am particularly troubled by one of the serious violations that was mentioned in the citations list. “Employees had not been provided training to recognize, evaluate and control exposure to hazardous chemicals. Hazardous chemicals used in the facility include, but are not limited to, diatomaceous earth containing up to 44% crystalline silica,” according to the listed citation.

I have written about the silica standard and referenced it in regard to its use in Nebraska and Iowa as a raw material, but its use in manufacturing processes and other industrial uses can also definitely be dangerous, especially with workers having no information or training about such hazardous chemicals. The OSHA news release regarding Bioiberica Nebraska’s inspection bears out this concern.

“Silica exposure can cause silicosis, an irreversible lung disease, and other health hazards,” according to the news release.

Although OSHA fines are often decreased once a company is in compliance and shows proper documentation, I hope that this company will be more diligent in providing a safe workplace immediately. Being put in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program means this employer and its workers can look forward to more OSHA inspections in the future.

Nebraska, however, is one of the states that definitely needs more labor inspectors, according to the recent AFL-CIO’s annual report on job fatalities, which was written about in a previous blog post. With one labor inspector for 102,255 employees (for a total of nine statewide), 92 more inspectors in the state would meet the International Labor Office benchmark for labor inspectors, which “is one inspector per 10,000 workers in industrial market economies.” Nebraska also has the dubious distinction of being one of seven states where “the ratio of inspectors to employees is greater than 1 per 100,000 workers,” according to the AFL-CIO report. The other states are Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas and West Virginia.

So although Bioiberica Nebraska should be inspected again soon, the idea of “soon” is relative and limited by the number of inspectors available in our state. Let’s hope that efforts for safety are successful at this plant before workers’ lives are affected through death or injury.

What’s the Connection Between Worker Safety, Employer Profit, and Voting?

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A recent newspaper article about a Nebraska lawyer fighting against imposing OSHA regulations on small businesses and farms that handle grain illustrates an age-old conflict between Worker (human) safety and Business (corporate) profit. The lawyer argued OSHA compliance is too expensive for small businesses and farms.

I couldn’t disagree more. From my point of view, worker safety is immeasurably more valuable to society than business profit. Human beings are the most important component of any activity, including business. Viewing safety as a cost ignores the cost to the human beings who are burned and maimed by grain explosions, whether they happen at a small business/farm or a huge corporate grain facility.

Farms in Nebraska and Iowa are not required to provide workers’ compensation for their employees. This is justified on the grounds that farms can’t survive such government intervention. I find this an interesting argument from businesses that have long received subsidies from the government. It seems that farm profits are more important than the human beings who do the work to earn those profits.

Our society needs more laws to protect human beings from injury and to compensate them if injured for the profit of others. Candidates for public office need to be asked what matters more to them: Is it human beings or profits that matter more?

Justice Louis Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote long ago: “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”  

If we keep electing representatives who favor the concentrated wealth, then human beings will likely be protected less. These are scary times as the divide between the “haves” and “have nots” continues to grow. Ballots are the only way to tell our representatives that the health and welfare of human beings is paramount. Voting is essential, or we will see more and more concern for profit and less and less concern for human beings.

Elections Matter to Injured Workers

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Nebraska held a primary election last week. Our television, radio and social media networks were flooded with messages from big-business organizations with little or no connection to our state. Millions of dollars poured in from nameless, faceless donors from other states.

Injured workers, their families and people who care about injured workers should be concerned about this.

Big-business groups generally do not support candidates and laws that are good for injured workers. These groups push for limitations in benefits, limitations on health care, and judges with business-favorable histories.

The general election this fall will be important because many state senators who have been great friends and protectors of injured workers are going to be replaced by new senators. Workers need to pay attention to the candidates and learn whether the candidates stand for the working people or the big businesses. 

Vote for the candidates who care more about injured people than business profits.

Remember Workers’ Memorial Day on April 28

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The writers of this blog spend a lot of time encouraging readers to reflect by thinking about the lives of others who are less fortunate, where each individual reader has been, and where they are headed. We often encourage advocates for workers’ rights and safety. This encouragement does sometimes come at the expense of business profits. But keeping workers safe is always the right thing to do.

Observing Workers’ Memorial Day on Monday, April 28, is one way to take the time to reflect, act as an advocate, and help workers and their loved ones. This AFL-CIO fact sheet included the thought-provoking quotation below, along with some specific points that encourage action.

“This year we will come together to call for good jobs in this country for all workers. We will seek stronger safeguards to prevent injuries and save lives. We will stand for the right of all workers to raise job safety concerns without fear of retaliation, and for the freedom to form unions and speak out and bargain for respect and a better future.”

By reflecting on the risks that all workers take and acting to promote safety, we think Workers’ Memorial Day will be even more successful. And most importantly, all of our loved ones will have safer workplaces.

There are many resources to access to find out more about Workers’ Memorial Day events near you. Today’s blog post was written a couple of weeks in advance of the events so people can plan ahead to attend.

Here are some links, along with the specific information for Nebraska and Iowa:

Iowa

Nebraska has three separate events available to the public this year. 

  • USMWF’s 5K Family Fun Run/Walk Fundraiser
    Sunday, April 27, 1:30 p.m., Registration Starts
    Holmes Lake Park, Lincoln
    via http://www.usmwf.org/NE5KRUN.htm to sign up, learn about fees, and get more details about the event
  • Nebraska’s 3rd Annual Safety Expo
    Monday, April 28, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
    IBEW Local 265 Union Hall, 6200 S. 14th St., Lincoln
    Via http://www.usmwf.org/NE5KRUN.htm
    The event is free, but space is limited, and registration is required by printing out or emailing this form http://www.usmwf.org/safety_expo_form.pdf As of April 9, there were still spaces available to attend.
  • 5th Annual Workers’ Memorial Day Candlelight Vigil
    Monday, Apr. 28, 7 p.m.
    Nebraska State Capitol, Lincoln
    via http://www.usmwf.org/NE5KRUN.htm This event is also free, and no registration is needed.
    According to the Lancaster County Democratic Party, via email in 2013, “representatives from State, Federal, United Support Memorial for Workplace Fatalities (USMWF), Unions, Co-workers, Employers and the community come together and honor the men and women that have been injured or killed in a preventable work related incident.”

Please see the websites below for more general details about Workers’ Memorial Day: http://www.workermemorialday.org/WMD2014.htm  

Workers’ Compensation May Cover Weight Loss Treatment, Surgery

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Gastric bypass is one type of weight loss surgery

Obesity is a disease that affects Americans in many ways.

Workers’ compensation is affected by obesity as well. A work injury or disease, coupled with chronic obesity, frequently becomes much more difficult to deal with. The usual methods of treatment may not be possible for an injured worker living with chronic obesity. 

Thomas A. Robinson, a noted expert on workers’ compensation, recently posted a great discussion on obesity treatment. The well-written article discusses how various state workers’ compensation systems deal with these problems. The short answer is some states award benefits for treating obesity as part of the work injury, and some don’t. Nebraska and Iowa have cases denying gastric bypass surgery based on factual findings that it was not necessary to treat the work injury, but leaving to door open with more proof of medical necessity. 

Our firm has had at least one case where gastric bypass surgery was paid voluntarily when it was apparent the surgery was necessary to enable proper treatment of a serious work injury. A workers’ compensation trial award was entered in early January awarding gastric bypass surgery as necessary to reduce weight so a back surgery could be performed safely. This award reinforces that with proof of medical necessity to treat a work injury, weight loss treatment and surgery may be covered by workers’ compensation in Nebraska.

What is Workers’ Compensation Law in Nebraska?

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Before workers’ compensation was an option in Nebraska, injured workers could only sue their employers under tort law for damages. While providing complete compensation – i.e., damages such as those for pain and suffering were available – it also required proof of negligence, and claims were often barred by affirmative defenses such as assumption of the risk and contributory negligence. For more than 100 years now, injured workers have had the protection of workers’ compensation laws that provide for no-fault benefits that are received quickly, and employers can avoid more expensive court challenges.

The Nebraska workers’ compensation system includes a dedicated court, and Nebraska is one of the only states to have this avenue for injured workers.

There are several different types of benefits that an injured worker is entitled to:

1.      Benefits to manage or cure the injury: includes hospital, doctor, chiropractic and physical therapy costs. This also includes the costs of diagnostic testing, doctor-prescribed medicine (even if it’s over-the-counter) and items like braces.

2.      Compensation while temporarily disabled: These payments of two-thirds of an injured worker’s average weekly wage may start after an injured worker has been off work for seven days, and usually an injured worker continues to collect payments – either for total or partial disability – while he or she is convalescing until a doctor signs off on a full return to work and/or places an injured worker at maximum medical improvement.

3.      Compensation for permanent injuries: These benefits are two-thirds of an injured workers’ average weekly wage (or wages earned in a 40-hour work week for part-time workers) and are available after an injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement. These benefits may be for permanent impairment to a specific body part or may be to compensate for an injured worker’s loss of earning ability. This distinction depends on the type of injury. Benefits may also be partial or total, depending on the type and degree of injury.

4.      Vocational rehabilitation: These are services provided under Nebraska workers’ compensation law to injured workers when, as a result of a compensable injury, the injured worker is unable to perform suitable work for which he or she has previous training or experience. This may include job placement and retraining. 

5.      Death benefits: If a worker dies as a result of his or her injury, that worker is entitled to medical expenses as well as burial expenses up to $10,000.  The deceased worker’s dependents are also entitled to benefits, which vary depending on the circumstances.

If the system worked the way it was supposed to, employers (or their insurance companies) would pay injured workers, pay the medical bills, and focus on getting the worker either back to work or moving on with the best quality of life possible. The reality is that employers (and their insurance companies) don’t always see eye-to-eye with doctors’ opinions or treatment recommendations, or follow work restrictions. Speaking with an experienced attorney when navigating the workers’ compensation system can reassureinjured workers and their loved ones and make a very stressful time a little less difficult.

Different states have workers’ compensation systems that vary, but all, to some extent, are intended to protect injured workers. If there are questions, please contact the firm and provide the details to an attorney who can advise on the best steps to take for each specific situation.

Harvest Time Reminds of Need for Grain Handling Safety

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The grain harvest is still going strong in many portions of the Great Plains, but farmers and agricultural workers may be at that point where they just want to get it done and take shortcuts. However, taking shortcuts can often lead to bigger safety problems for these ag workers.

Although folks who are in the field and transporting grain to elevators are much more visible right now, safety issues with grain elevators go on throughout the year. So for people who live or work around grain elevators, which would be pretty much everyone in many small Nebraska and Iowa towns, please be aware of the dangers that grain handling can present, including explosions from grain dust, falls, or suffocation, among many of the other hazards out there.

One of the area television stations, 10-11 Central Nebraska, recently featured a special report on “Nebraska Grain Industry Safety” titled “OSHA, Grain Industry, and Families Work to End Injuries and Deaths.” 

That effort got us thinking about compiling a list of links and previous blog posts that we have run in regards to both agriculture and also grain handling as resources.

Here are a couple of general links, and then below that are links to past blog posts from the firm that talk about either workers’ compensation for ag workers or grain-handling issues.

OSHA Safety and Health Topics: Grain Handling

Facebook Community: Grain Mill Accidents

OSHA Looks at Challenge of Nebraska Grain Elevators’ Safety

Learn & Live: Grain industry hazards lead to deaths, injuries each year; US Labor Department’s OSHA working with Nebraska grain associations to promote awareness of grain industry hazards

Employer Pleads Guilty for Grain Elevator Death

Temporary Employees Cannot Be Excluded From Workers’ Compensation

The 11 Most Life-Threatening Jobs on the Planet

What Nebraskans In Farming Industries Should Know About Workers’ Comp

Please continue to be safe this harvest and avoid dangerous shortcuts! Because all loved ones deserve to have their workers come home to them.