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.

Workers’ Comp Covers Heat Injuries

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The Great Plains is nearing the calendar start of summer. Please be aware of the heat and what its effects can be on workers, on children and the elderly, and on pets. No one is safe in a closed-up car, for example.

Prolonged exposure to excessive heat and humidity can result in injuries and diseases covered by the workers’ compensation laws. Workers with heat exhaustion, strokes, heart attacks and skin conditions may be entitled to lost-time benefits, medical expenses and permanent disability benefits if the condition is serious.

It also appears that extreme weather is going to continue into this summer season, with some damage already to homes, crops and property. When storms do come, be sure it’s someone’s job to keep the crew safe from sudden weather, regardless of the industry. Enjoy the summer, and contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if there are questions about a specific incident that occurred at work.

It has been a roller coaster of a May here on the Great Plains. Nebraska and Iowa have both been hit with weather extremes. For example, “Two days after Lincoln recorded a record low temperature and less than two weeks after the city saw significant snow, thermometers soared Tuesday.” And I saw on Facebook via Radio Iowa News, that “Sioux City reports 106 on Tuesday afternoon, beating the old record of 97, set in 2001.” Because the Journal Star says this is the earliest Lincoln’s ever hit 100 degrees (a new record), I will go out on a limb to say that we’re done with freezes for a while, which makes me think about the next season: summer and heat.

Did you know that heat issues can be covered by workers’ compensation? But prevention is preferred, so here are some links with lots of resources for those who work outside, no matter the weather, and also for those who play, garden, golf, exercise, and enjoy the outdoors. In addition, just like one’s body adjust somewhat to cold, the body also adjusts to heat, so a person who spends the summer in the air conditioning will have less tolerance for the heat than someone who spends all day outdoors. In addition, pay attention to prescription medicines, as some can cause sunburn or heat problems quicker than a person not taking that medication would experience them. The heat can also affect folks who may not be considered the traditional “outside” worker, as, for example, if one is unloading cargo from a truck to a warehouse in 100 degree heat, it can be much hotter than that in both the truck and warehouse.

One term that is mentioned on a regular basis in the media once the humidity kicks in is the “heat index,” which is defined as followed, according to http://www.weather.com/outlook/health/fitness/tools/heat: “The Heat Index is the temperature the body feels when heat and humidity are combined.” Of course this means that what it feels like isn’t the actual temperature, as it only felt like 95 when it was 100 recently because of a “dry heat.”

  • Welcome to OSHA’s Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers
    There is a lot of information on here, and looking through some of it is a reminder that employers should expect and encourage workers to be safe when it comes to working in the heat. Employers should make an effort to encourage this safety focus by both talking about and acting on recommendations to help employees be safer and more productive.
  • Using the Heat Index: A Guide for Employers
    “Water. Rest. Shade. The work can’t get done without them.” This quote from the website is a very useful safety reminder. It looks like there are lots of opportunities through these links for conversations to occur between workers and employers about taking heat index into account when planning work.
  • NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topics: Heat Stress
    This site includes an overview; types of heat stress; recommendations for employers; recommendations for workers; and many other links that share resources and research about being in the heat.
  • Heat Safety Tool
    Although I’m generally easily amused, I am sincerely happy to say that there’s an app for that! Because so many people are connected with mobile technology, I am looking forward to downloading this app on my phone for the summer for personal use.
  • OSHA Quick Card
    Here’s a Quick Card resource from OSHA that folks can print out for reference points. And as neat as mobile apps are, from a practical perspective, paper does make a better fan.

So regardless of why you’re outside, enjoy, take care, and be safe!

Truck Driver or Traveling for Work, Fun? Watch for Trains at Crossings

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Crashes between trains and semi trucks, pickups, buses or cars rarely end well for the vehicle that’s not the train. It seems to me that there have been a disturbing number of these crashes that have made news nationwide within the past couple of months or so. Nebraska is not immune from this trend, sadly, as here are three examples of varying details that just happened over the course of a recent month.

Just recently, “James Hubbard of Dakota City was driving east across the tracks when his rig was hit by a northbound train,” according to a news article on Journalstar.com, Lincoln, Neb.’s, local newspaper. This television coverage gives more details. Sympathy and thoughts go out to Mr. Hubbard’s loved ones.

Another story in the past month came from within the state around west-central Nebraska, near North Platte. A semitrailer loaded with 68 cattle was hit by a Union Pacific passenger train, and no humans were hurt, although a number of cattle died, were hurt, or escaped the semi’s trailer.

Although it’s reassuring that no one was hurt in the next recent story, it’s also important to let someone know if your vehicle gets high-centered on railroad tracks. This situation, also near North Platte, elaborates on that scenario.

In addition, though not in Nebraska, here are links to three other recent accidents between trains and trucks: one in California, one in Indiana, and one in Florida. According to the news reports, no one was hurt, though all situations were definitely dangerous.

Because attorneys and staff members of Rehm, Bennett & Moore work with injured truckers through the website truckerlawyers.com and various related social-media outlets, I am convinced through my interactions with truck drivers that the vast majority are extremely safety-conscious and careful. But I urge all, regardless of what kind of vehicle you drive, to have a renewed diligence at train crossings.

In fact, my family lives within a mile of a set of very busy train tracks, and on any given day, I usually cross tracks around Lincoln, Neb., around 10 times. So although it is sobering that it takes another person’s death as a reminder, I, too, will encourage my friends and family to follow through on these tips that can be found on the Operation Lifesaver website, which is an excellent resource for truckers and all drivers.

  • “Trains and cars don’t mix. Never race a train to the crossing — even if you tie, you lose.
  • The train you see is closer and faster-moving than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks.
  • Be aware that trains cannot stop quickly. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. That’s 18 football fields!
  • Never drive around lowered gates — it’s illegal and deadly. If you suspect a signal is malfunctioning, call the 1-800 number posted on or near the crossing signal or your local law enforcement agency.
  • Do not get trapped on the tracks; proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Remember, the train is three feet wider than the tracks on both sides.
  • If your vehicle ever stalls on a track with a train coming, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction from which the train is coming. If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris. Call your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
  • At a multiple track crossing waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching from either direction.
  • When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. Remember it isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.
  • ALWAYS EXPECT A TRAIN! Freight trains do not follow set schedules.”

Being armed with information is important, so here are links to three more Operation Lifesaver sites:

Crossing Collisions & Casualties

Grade Crossing Fatalities by State (Top 15)

Collisions by State (Top 15)

In addition, Operation Lifesaver does outreach specific to truck drivers and company safety programs, so contact them to learn more about taking advantage of those training options.

The reality is that just as all drivers need to avoid distractions and drive defensively, it is imperative that truckers, those traveling for work, and really, all drivers, pay attention to what’s around them, especially when it comes to crossing train tracks.

Why We’re Still Killing Workers in the USA

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Today’s post comes from guest author Jay Causey, from Causey Law Firm in Seattle. Mr. Causey writes about some important issues in workers’ compensation with a focus on the oilfields of North Dakota. This is especially striking because both Nebraska and Iowa have sandpits that supply the sand used in fracking, so some workers here face the same challenges with silica that workers in North Dakota do. Please go to this previous blog post, Proposed Silica Standard Needs to Be Strengthened, for more information about issues with silica.

I find the AFL-CIO’s report extremely interesting but also frustrating because so many workers are still dying on the job. Members of Rehm, Bennett & Moore will be writing occasional blog posts from the annual report on job fatalities in the coming months. Posts will include a focus on Iowa and/or Nebraska or a big-picture commentary on the state of workers in the nation these days.

I appreciate Mr. Causey’s work in bringing this report to promote both thought and action for increased worker safety. One point that comes to mind is that Mr. Causey writes, “the vast majority of the states with the highest fatality rates contain the 8 million workers in states with no federally approved OSHA safety and health plan.” A contrast between Nebraska and Iowa’s workers’ compensation systems is that Iowa does have a federally-approved state plan and Nebraska does not. Visit https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/stateprogs/iowa.html to get more information about Iowa’s state plan. Please contact a workers’ compensation attorney who is familiar with the laws in your state if you have specific questions.

The AFL–CIO’s annual report on job fatalities is out, and provides some interesting fodder for thought.

It’s no surprise that North Dakota – – with its “wild West” environment for oil and gas extraction on the Bakken Shale was the most dangerous place – – with 17.7 deaths per 100,000 workers versus the national average of 3.4.

Nationally, 4600 workers died on the job in 2012. While that number has fallen since safety laws were implemented in the 1970s, the decline has flat-lined over the most recent decade. It was 4.2 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2006, now still at 3.4 in 2012.

The AFL–CIO report contains maps that reflect part of the reason for the stall-out: the vast majority of the states with the highest fatality rates contain the 8 million workers in states with no federally approved OSHA safety and health plan. The report graphically portrays another salient fact: the number of federal OSHA inspectors per 1 million workers has fallen from a high of 15 in 1980 to 6.9 in 2013.  OSHA has been so underfunded over recent years that it would take an average of 139 years for available OSHA inspectors to visit each workplace in their jurisdiction just once. (In some states that number is even more staggering – – 521 years for South Dakota.)

The AFL-CIO report reflects some other interesting facts concerning the demographics of workplace fatalities – – not surprisingly, being foreign-born or Latino puts a worker at a higher risk of fatality, and homicide was the number one cause of death for women in the workplace in 2012.

But, getting back to the “oil patch” in North Dakota, we see other disturbing trends in the culture of workplace injury that accompany the decreasing application of safety regulation. With job growth tripling in North Dakota’s oil patch since 2007, while workers’ compensation filings are up, many injured workers are encouraged by employers in the extractive industries not to file, with many companies working out sidebar deals with injured workers. Injury rates are being kept artificially low by rewards for not reporting. As the AFL–CIO’s safety chief, Peg Semenario, has said, underreporting warps national safety figures in an industry that is already notoriously opaque.

And the culture of creating false indicators of workplace safety will likely have tremendous implications down the line when the 2000 tons of silica-rich sand used in the cement casing of each fracking well begins to work its way into workers’ lungs. NIOSH reported in 2012 that 92 of 116 air samples at franking sites exceeded the recommended safe levels of silica, which can lead to incurable, irreversible lung disease.

 

 Photo credit: Craig Newsom / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Discrimination: Municipal Human-Rights Commissions Another Option for Charges

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When a prospective client calls in with a potential employment discrimination question, one of the questions I always ask is, “What city or town do you work in?” The reason I ask this question is because many larger cities in the states where we practice, such as Omaha, Lincoln and Des Moines, have separate municipal fair-employment acts that cover more employees than are covered under state or federal law.

State and federal fair-employment statutes generally need at least 15 or 20 employees for an employer to be covered by those laws. However, in Des Moines and Lincoln, an employer only needs to have four employees to be covered under those cities’ human-rights ordinances. In Omaha, an employer only needs six employees to be covered by their fair-employment ordinance.

Also, the City of Omaha explicitly covers sexual orientation under the fair-employment ordinance. Sexual-orientation discrimination is not explicitly prohibited by Nebraska or federal law. It is my belief that sexual-orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination that is already covered under Title VII and the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act. However, my opinions as to what I think the law is and what the law is are two different matters. If you are an Omaha resident who feels you were discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, you would be much more certain to have your claim of discrimination heard on the merits by pursuing a claim under the Omaha Human Rights Ordinance. While I would be willing to filing a sexual-orientation discrimination case under Nebraska law, any potential clients need to know that such a case would be a test case, and as such, this case would be under tremendous scrutiny from judges.

The drawback to filing discrimination cases under the Lincoln and Omaha municipal ordinances is that there is less opportunity for monetary award if you are successful in winning your case than you would have under state or federal law. However, some remedy for your discrimination is better than no remedy for your discrimination.

Transitional ‘Light’ Duty Jobs: What Are They and Do I Have to Take One?

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When injured at work, your doctor may give you work restrictions that prevent you from returning to your regular job. In these situations, there are three things your employer can do:

  1. Tell you that they have no jobs within your restrictions
  2. Give you a transitional duty (or “light duty”) job within your restrictions
  3. Force you to work your regular job in violation of your restrictions

If it’s #3, call a lawyer immediately and inform your doctor that your employer is not following the doctor’s orders.

If it’s #1, you would be taken off work and you would be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for temporary disability until you are released back to work or until your employer accommodates your work restrictions.

If it’s #2, it not always clear what the result will be. This “transitional duty” option is when your employer returns you to work but not at your normal job. Instead you are given a different, temporary job while you are on restrictions.

Problems arise with these transitional jobs when your hours are cut, your pay is cut, or you are asked to do a job that is unreasonable. Often, if you refuse to work a transitional duty job that is in your restrictions, you could forfeit your right to obtain work comp payments for temporary disability while you are on those restrictions and off work.

If the transitional duty job that is offered to you cuts your hours, you will probably be entitled to temporary disability payments in an amount to make up (somewhat) for the difference in what you were making before the incident that caused the injury and what you are now making in your transitional job.

Similarly, if your hourly rate or your wages for your transitional job are less than what you would have been earning before you were injured, you would again be entitled to temporary disability payments in an attempt to make up for the shortfall.

Where transitional duty jobs have a gray area is whether they are truly reasonable jobs that are being offered. For example, there are horror stories of employees working in the near dark for 8 hours per day or working in appalling conditions sorting paperclips for transitional duty. Whether or not you have to take a job like these horror stories without forfeiting your right to temporary disability payments depends on the facts of each specific case.

Click the link – it’s about a Walmart guy who had to do “light duty” in the bathroom for 7 hours a day: http://www.aol.com/article/2014/05/27/wal-mart-employee-claims-he-was-forced-to-spend-7-hour-shift-in/20893585/?icid=maing-grid7%7Chtmlws-main-bb%7Cdl28%7Csec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D481058

Generally speaking, however, if you are offered a transitional job within your restrictions, you should probably take that job unless you have a very good reason that you cannot. For example, in at least one Nebraska case, the court held that even having an employee relocate 300 miles for a temporary transitional job was considered a reasonable job offer. Even transitional jobs that are during different shifts than your normal shift may be considered reasonable. If a job is reasonable and you do not have a good reason for not accepting such a transitional job, you could be denied temporary benefits and be left without any pay at all while attempting to recover from your work injury.

If you have a job that sounds unreasonable, and you are contemplating whether or not you are required to accept such a job, contact a lawyer. An experienced lawyer will be able to give you a good idea of whether turning down such a job would allow your employer to deny you temporary disability payments or not.

Medical Care Politics in Worker’s Compensation

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Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm in Milwaukee. He writes about some perceptions that people have about injured workers and filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Although various blog authors who have been posted this year have put a focus on employer fraud, society through the media has put a big focus on employee fraud. No one lives in a vacuum, and for as many loved ones who support an injured worker’s right to compensation, there are also those folks who don’t understand how the system works or think that injured workers should just keep their heads down, suffering in silence and not going up against their employers.

But the reality is that, as I have said before, it’s better to have a good life than a good case. And if employers always did what they were supposed to in support of workers who were injured at their places of business, then the workers’ compensation process would be a lot less complicated, and injured workers would be helped a lot quicker, possibly with better long-term results.

If you or a loved one is hurt, keep in mind that loyalty to an employer in not making waves may be misplaced – be sure to focus on what’s important in the long term: the health of the injured worker and the well-being of their loved ones.

The mythology surrounding employee fraud in worker’s compensation is pervasive. Many of my clients begin their conversations with me indicating the following: “I’m not one of those folks faking their worker’s compensation claim.”  The exaggerated media publicity concerning employee fraud has also resulted in outright worker intimidation regarding filing a claim. I had this conversation today with a prospective client.

Attorney: Why didn’t you report the incident?
Client: I didn’t want to have that on my record.  Nobody will hire me if I have a worker’s comp injury.
Attorney: Why didn’t you seek medical treatment?
Client: I do not have insurance.
Attorney: Can you obtain insurance under the Affordable Care Act?
Client: You mean Obamacare?  No way!

Fear of being stigmatized as a complainer, whiner, or simply a recipient of worker’s compensation benefits has prompted many legitimately injured workers from filing a worker’s compensation claim.

The adverse publicity concerning the Affordable Care Act (and its pejorative popular name “Obamacare”) results in many otherwise qualified workers from obtaining the health care they need, especially when denied by a worker’s compensation insurance carrier. 

The politics of medical care intrudes in the worker’s compensation arena daily.