Category Archives: Reforms

2013: Centennial Year for Workers’ Compensation in Nebraska

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100 Years of Nebraska Workers’ Compensation

The year 2013 will mark 100 years of workers’ compensation law in Nebraska. This state was a leader in adopting the new protections and benefits for workers. The first workers’ compensation laws in the United States were enacted two years earlier, and few states had followed by 1913. Workers’ compensation laws were hailed as social progress, if not outright human-rights triumphs. Nebraska was a leader in protecting workers’ rights. Much has changed since then.

 

The current workplace is not the workplace that existed 100 years ago. The jobs then were much more physically demanding and dangerous. The injuries and diseases are not the same. Repetitive-motion injury was not contemplated or compensated. Cancer from industrial solvents was not contemplated or compensated. Mental disease was stigmatized by society and essentially not compensated. Medical practice was less specialized, and treatment options were much more limited.

 

Interested parties have long been working to keep the law in sync with the times. The law has changed from time to time, but some of the bedrock concepts, such as requiring “accident” have resulted in some rules that lawyers call legal fictions, for instance. Medical benefits that experts consider the most basic protection are the most costly part of the system, and cost increases are an area of constant concerns.

 

Competing legislation is presented each year with incremental changes resulting. The last major revisions happened 20 years ago. The annual arguments sometimes get heated, but the law seems to advance. The big picture is something we can be proud of.

 

Nebraska law has the highest rating of any state under presidential-commission guidelines established in 1972. Premiums and costs are in the mid-range of the states, as are worker benefits. Nebraska is rated as the 2nd-best state legal climate by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Nebraska is one of few states that has robust vocational rehabilitation benefits for injured workers. Hopefully we can continue working together to maintain and improve Nebraska’s workers’ compensation law in ways that benefit all of the competing interests.

 

Bottom-line conclusion: Nebraska law is doing well for a centenarian. Let’s keep cooperating to ensure progress.

Highlights From Nebraska’s 102nd Legislative Session

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Nebraska State CapitolClients of Rehm, Bennett & Moore helped make a positive difference this legislative session. They are parents who lose their children as a result of work injuries.

Albert and Diane DeLeon of Grand Island persuaded their state Sen. Mike Gloor to introduce a bill that was signed into law that increased the funeral benefit from $6,000 to $10,000. This was after they lost their son Emilio in a construction accident. In addition, Gene Cary testified in favor of a similar bill that would have raised the funeral benefit for the families of dead workers as well as giving a $25,000 death benefit to parents who have had a child killed in a work accident. Gene’s son Neil was killed in a work accident in 2010. The bill awarding an automatic death benefit to parents who have their child killed in a work accident failed to advance out of committee. Bills held in committee are killed for this session of the legislature and must be re-introduced next session. However, the combined stories of Cary and the DeLeons helped to advance the cause of parents who lose a child in a work accident.

Besides the bill increasing funeral benefits for parents who lose their children in work accidents, the only other bill to pass that affected injured workers was a bill that gave employers protections for information given in employment references.

Besides the bill increasing funeral benefits for parents who lose their children in work accidents, the only other bill to pass that affected injured workers was a bill that gave employers protections for information given in employment references. As the bill was originally introduced by Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, the bill would have given employers almost free reign to Continue reading

New Social Security Rules Make It Harder To Present Your Case

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This guest post is written by colleague Ryan Benharris of Massachusetts. The situation described is one example where it is wise to ask an attorney to be your advocate. Roger Moore is our resident expert on Social Security appeals in Nebraska and Iowa as a member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimant Representatives.

Knowing your Administrative Law Judge is important for your case.

In December, 2010, the Social Security Administration (SSA) implemented a set of rules put in place to enable more effective case review. One of the major changes was that Applicants will no longer know who their Administrative Law Judge is prior to their scheduled hearing.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted that these judges seem more concerned with the speed of case processing than on whether the applicants actually deserve benefits. WSJ also indicated that some judges were approving more than 85% of the cases they heard in what was allegedly an effort to have the cases resolved more quickly.

Unfortunately, for applicants, this change in practice has made their cases much harder to litigate. Many Administrative Law Judges have different styles of practice in how their cases are heard. An attorney may present information in a different style depending on the judge.

The importance of an applicant being represented by an attorney before the Social Security Administration has never been clearer. Since there is no way to know who the Administrative Law Judge is prior to the hearing, it is absolutely imperative that every case prepared in accordance to all rules governing how cases are tried before the court. If even the slightest detail is overlooked, it may prevent an applicant from being allowed to present evidence that could win his or her case.

Employees’ Health vs. Companies’ Profits

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Does your employer care about you? If corporations are going to get the perks of being “people” then they need to give a darn about their employees for the sake of humanity, argues the international president of the United Steelworkers in the story below. And we think that means holding those “people” accountable when they stumble, easier to do when there’s a dramatic accident, but also important to do for issues like long-term contact to toxic materials.

Dying for Work
Every day, 12 workers die on the job in America — often because a corporation has defied regulations or ignored standard safety procedures. Many more die prematurely from work exposure to toxic materials.

Sense of Injustice, Occupy Wall Street & A Tornado Survivor From Joplin

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Today’s post comes to us from our friend Jon Gelman of New Jersey.

In a dramatic turn of events based upon pubic outrage, an insurance company has reversed its decision and now decided to provide workers’ compensation benefits to a first responder who was injured while providing assistance to tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri.

Mark Lindquist saved 3 developmentally disabled adults in Joplin following the tornado that devastated that community. Caught in the 200 mile an hour tornado, Lindquist lost all of his teeth, was in a coma for several months and ran up medical bills amounting to $2.5 Million. The insurance company initially had denied the claim and recent news reports and public outrage resulted in a reversal by the insurance company on the issue of compensability.

The same outrage against Corporate America and an imbalance in the socio-economic system is now being reflected in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Recently Amy Goodman, the host of Democracy Now!, commented about the growing recognition of injustice on the Charlie Rose show.

Continue reading

Nebraska Law Would Deny Disability and Death Payments to First Responders in a 9/11-Type Event

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Nebraska State Capitol

Nebraska State Capitol

As we shared in an earlier post, the first responders in the 9/11 attack are being diagnosed with cancer and other diseases at a rate higher than the general public, most likely because of their exposure to the World Trade Center’s deadly dust. But it can take 30 years or more for many of the diseases, disabilities and deaths to actually strike. Many, if not most, of the victims will be retired and earning no wages by the time they get sick.

Bottom line: Nebraska law needs to be changed to treat our workers and their families better

If an event like 9/11 tragically took place in Nebraska, what would happen to the first responders? If, many years later, they got sick and disabled or died because of things they were exposed to in the line of duty, would they receive workers’ compensation payments? Continue reading

Nebraska passes positive procedural workers compensation reforms

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Nebraska has enacted key procedural reforms to its workers compensation statute that will benefit injured workers. Nebraska bucked a nationwide assault on the rights of injured workers. Among the positive reforms passed by Nebraska are:

The new law will also allow trials by video conference if both parties agree.

A. Elimination of the three-judge review panel: Appeals from the trial court level in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation court are heard by a panel of three other workers’ comp court judges before they are heard in the Court of Appeals. Continue reading

Tentative deal reached with business interests on CIR reform

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Nebraska State Senator Steve Lathrop announced yesterday business interests had agreed to a tentative compromise on CIR reform. While details of the legislation are uncertain, Lathrop is confident that Governor Dave Henieman will support the bill that changes how public sector unions assert their collective bargaining rights.

While the exact terms of the deal are uncertain, it is my view that this legislation will likely represent the least worse option for public sector employees. If this deal is passed into law, Senator Lathrop should be commended for his efforts in trying to fairly balance the interests of business, governments and public employees.