Tag Archives: first responders

How First Responders Would Be Treated if 9/11 Happened in Nebraska

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Sept. 11 was tragic for the victims who died at ground zero after the attacks on the World Trade Center. But, the lasting effects of the dust and particulates that filled the air after the collapse of the towers have caused ongoing health issues for numerous other victims: first responders who were not killed in the initial collapse of the buildings.

Fortunately, the federal government came to the aid of these first responders by enacting the James Zadroga Act, which provides free testing and treatment for first responders of the 9/11 attacks. However, had this act not been enacted, how would these workers, who have developed health problems from working at ground zero, have been treated under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act?

First, the ailments developed by the first responders would be treated as occupational diseases under Nebraska law. If the disease or ailment of the first responder is shown to be a result of the exposure while working at ground zero, the treatment and indemnity would be covered like any other Nebraska Workers’ Compensation claim.

If the first responder died as a result of the occupational disease, under Nebraska law, the surviving spouse would be entitled to death benefits under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act.

The biggest gap in workers’ compensation coverage under Nebraska law for occupational diseases occurs when the injured worker (or in this case, the first responder) does not develop symptoms or the disease until later in life. In a situation like that, if the occupational disease first manifests (or becomes an injury) after the injured worker has retired for unrelated reasons, the injured worker would be left without indemnity benefits. In other words, the injured worker could get no workers’ compensation money if he or she was retired when the disease showed up. Further, if the injured worker dies as a result of the occupational disease, but is retired at the time the disease becomes an injury, his or her surviving spouse would not be entitled to any money either.  See Olivotto v. DeMarco Bros. Co., 273 Neb. 672 (2007): the widow whose husband died from asbestos exposure was not entitled to indemnity because her husband had been retired for 23 years when mesothelioma manifested.

Thus, if 9/11 happened in Nebraska, first responders who develop an occupational disease later in life might not be fully covered under workers’ compensation laws without some sort further government intervention like the James Zadroga Act.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in employment law, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , .

First Responders, Retaliation and Labor Law

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First responders and correctional employees aren’t immune from retaliation from their employers when they turn in work injuries for the unique hazards that they face. However, most first responders, law enforcement and corrections employees have some additional job protections against retaliation. This post is meant to give first responders, law enforcement and corrections employees a basic overview of the job protections they have as union and public sector employees. Those rights can be summed up in three words: Weingarten, Garrity and Loudermill.

Weingarten Rights

Weingarten rights are named after the Supreme Court decision that holds that union members have a right to have a union official present in a disciplinary meeting with supervisors or a meeting that could lead to discipline. Though Weingarten doesn’t apply to public sector unions, most public sector unions, including NAPE/AFSCME in Nebraska, make Weingarten rights part of their collective bargaining agreement.

Weingarten rights can be trampled on when aggressive employers claim they just want to talk to employees rather than subject employees to the third degree. This can be especially prevalent in corrections and law enforcement where supervisors are trained in interrogation techniques.

If you have been subject to an interrogation like this, you need to let your union representative know right away.

Garrity Rights

Garrity rights give public sector employees, regardless of whether they are in a union or not, the right to not incriminate themselves in an investigation that could lead to discipline. Employers will give a Garrity warning similar to a Miranda-type warning. In my experience, Garrity rights can be a bit dubious. Employee misconduct that would justify termination doesn’t always rise to the level of anything remotely illegal. This is especially true if an employer is trying to manufacture evidence to retaliate against a worker. But under Garrity, an employee can be terminated for refusing to answer questions. So employees may feel compelled to answer hours of questions from trained law enforcement officials for alleged misconduct that, even if true, would not rise to anything illegal. This can be a dangerous proposition because such questioning may create the appearance of dishonesty on the part of the employee. Especially in the context of law enforcement or corrections, dishonesty can be a factor that allows an employer to skip the normal progressive disciplinary procedures.

Again, employees should reach out to their union representative if they are faced with this situation.

Loudermill Rights

Loudermill rights compel public employers to give some explanation of why they are terminating an employee and give the employee some opportunity to explain why she or he should not be terminated. (7) Loudermill applies to all government employees, not just union employees. Though Loudermill gives additional protections to what typical at-will employees have, in substance, Loudermill doesn’t afford a lot of protections. In many cases, the decision to terminate has already been made, and feedback from an employee may harm the employee’s chances of winning at a personnel board, arbitration or a wrongful-termination case.

Again, employees should be reaching out to their union representative if they are subject to what is called a Loudermill hearing.

Personnel Board and Arbitration Hearings

Government employees can usually appeal terminations to a personnel board, such as the Nebraska State Personnel Board, or have a termination heard by an arbitrator if the worker is represented by a private union. These hearings are easier for employees to win than wrongful termination cases because generally the employer has the burden to show there was just cause to terminate the employee. In civil court, the employee has the burden of proof that the termination was unlawful. Those hearings can also generate evidence that can be helpful in wrongful termination cases. In many cases, the union will pick up the cost of a personnel board hearing or arbitration.

This post has repeatedly mentioned the importance of involving a union representative and the benefits to employees of a union contract. Nebraska is what is called a “right-to-work state,” which means that employees covered under a union contract cannot be forced to pay union dues. However, if workers do not pay dues, unions may not have the resources needed to fight for their members. The opinion of this firm is that unions in Nebraska, like NAPE/AFSCME, do a good job of fighting for their members, so we would encourage public employees in Nebraska to pay their union dues.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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9-11: 15 Years Remembered

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What have we learned, and what is the progress we have made toward helping those who help others?

As we remember and celebrate that fateful day, we should continue to celebrate and protect those who risk their lives to help others but who continue to live with the mental and emotional effects when faced with such tragic events encountered in responding to the call to serve.

In Nebraska, we have recognized that with tragic events come the effects to some who just can’t mentally and emotionally get past those events. We have garnered some protections for those first responders whose job it is to serve when emergency matters require it.

First responders have a specific definition as set forth in Nebraska Revised Statute 48-101.01, but essentially if a person serves as an officer, fireman or medical emergency personnel who is called to an emergency response situation, then that person has some workers’ compensation protections.

Personal injury now “includes mental injuries and mental illness unaccompanied by physical injury for an employee who is a first responder” if that person suffers from PTSD, depression, anxiety, mood disorder, panic attacks, reactionary diversion, neurotic disorder, etc.

One must establish “that the employee’s employment conditions causing the mental injury or mental illness were extraordinary and unusual in comparison to the normal conditions of the particular employment” in which they serve.  What is usual is constantly being debated and disputed, but an event causing significant bodily injury or death is not usual in the eyes of the courts.

What is not covered or considered compensable are “mental injuries and mental illness arising out of and in the course of employment unaccompanied by physical injury … if they result from any event or series of events which are incidental to normal employer and employee relations, including, but not limited to, personnel actions by the employer such as disciplinary actions, work evaluations, transfers, promotions, demotions, salary reviews, terminations” or going through the legal process in unrelated matters.

Sometimes employers will retaliate against employees who claim work injuries. Though demotions, write-ups and post-injury terminations aren’t compensable through workers’ compensation, there could be a retaliation or disability discrimination claim. First responders who believe they might be being retaliated against should also reach out to the NAPE/AFSCME, IAFF or FOP representative immediately to help preserve their employment.

We have come a long way in the 15 years since 9-11 in providing protections and workers’ compensation coverage to first responders who make it their job to serve and protect. But what about those who were working and saw and experienced this tragedy who are not first responders? They continue to not be covered for their mental and emotional effects. On this anniversary date, as we remember those who served, we need to continue to fight for everyone who encounters tragic events in the course and scope of their employment and suffers mental illness or conditions, but do not suffer a physical injury. They need the protections workers’ compensation coverage can provide, just like first responders.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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Workplace Death Benefit in Bill Should Be Expanded

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Omaha Sen. Health Mellow

Omaha Sen. Health Mellow

I was recently quoted in the Omaha World-Herald newspaper as a neutral testifier in the Nebraska Legislature regarding a bill being considered, LB 836.

As commentator Paul Harvey used to say, now here’s “the rest of the story.”

LB 836 is a bill sponsored by Omaha Sen. Health Mellow that “would provide a one-time $50,000 death benefit to the family of a law enforcement officer, firefighter or correctional officer killed during a violent or accidental incident while working,” according to the World-Herald article.

This bill should be passed to help first responders and I am glad that it would also cover volunteers in Nebraska, according to the World-Herald.

I have to ask: Why stop there? For many families, the on-the-job death of a loved one means so much tragedy, and LB 836 or another bill should be is introduced, passed, and be made into law to give a similar benefit to anyone who is killed on the job in the state of Nebraska. It’s an issue of inclusion. No one should be excluded from their loved ones having a bit more financial stability if the unthinkable happens on the job.

Sen. Mellow was quoted in the World-Herald saying that eight first responders in 16 years have been killed in the line of duty in Nebraska.

It is tragic and frustrating to hear about anyone killed at work, and one person dying is one too many. In this spirit, of the 4,679 fatal work injuries in 2014, 54 of them were in Nebraska, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Fatal Work Injuries in Nebraska – 2014 website.

The range of workplace fatalities varied from a high of 83 in 1994 to a low of 36 in 2005. In 2013, there were 39 deaths, and 48 people died at work in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics websites.

It appears that over the last 10 years, according to a table in the 2014 BLS document, approximately 492 workers’ loved ones would have appreciated worrying less about finances when their loved one died as a result of the workplace.

I feel strongly that grieving survivors should receive a significant death benefit for every Nebraska worker who is killed on the job. Right now, the beneficiaries of employees who are killed at work get $10,000, which these days is not even enough for a funeral and burial. Usually this is the tip of the iceberg regarding unexpected costs that loved ones endure, in addition to a brutal and unanticipated grieving process, too.

The average number of deaths a year that I gave at the hearing was on the low end: 36, based on the number that occurred in 2005.

But know that each of those people who died in a workplace incident had someone who loved her or him and who relied on that person and misses them immensely. Kudos to Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins, who recognized that the grieving process is universal, according to the article in the Lincoln Journal Star. I stand by the quote that was in the Journal Star, and want to emphasize that first responders are important contributors to society, as are other workers who are killed each year on the job, including those who make such occupational choices as steel workers, road workers, and packing plant workers.

“I’ve had those guys fall off roofs and die and get crushed. They’re doing a hell of a community service. So are road workers. So are the packing plant workers who get chewed up and spit out like the hamburger they’re making.”

All of them are contributing to society. So I hope we can honor them and their survivors through increased death benefits legislation to show those contributions.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Government, Legislation, Worker safety, Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury, Workplace Safety and tagged , , , .

Firm takes pride in progressive worker-oriented law, Senator who fights to preserve it

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Sen. Steve Lathrop

Sen. Steve Lathrop

Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn., is Exhibit 1 for why all states need to compensate first responders for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

 

A few years ago, the Nebraska legislature passed legislation allowing first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits for mental disorders arising from their work even if they received no physical injury. The bill arose out of the horrible shooting at the Westroads Shopping Mall in Omaha. Recently the insurance industry has been asking to repeal the bill and the original sponsor, Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, has resisted successfully.

 

Now we learn that the first responders who worked in the horror scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., can’t receive workers’ compensation benefits for mental issues that might arise. http://www.newstimes.com/local/article/Officials-hope-to-change-workers-compensation-law-4180221.php I assume the Connecticut legislature will respond, protect first responders in the future and hope there is no repetition of the horrific shootings.

 

Rehm, Bennett & Moore is proud that Nebraska law protects such workers. We are proud to have state senators like Steve Lathrop. Does the insurance industry care about anything other than dollars?

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in First Responders, Government, PTSD, workers' compensation law and tagged , , , , , , .

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

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in 9/11, Disability, First Responders, Reforms, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , .