Category Archives: Nebraska

Maximum Workers’ Compensation Rate Increases to $817 a Week for 2017

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On Jan. 1, 2017, the maximum weekly income benefit under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act was increased to $817 from the 2016 maximum rate of $785 per week. The minimum rate remains unchanged at $49 per week.

Mileage reimbursement rates for Nebraska actually decreased this year to 53.5 cents per mile, down from 54 cents per mile in 2016. For details about mileage reimbursement for workers’ compensation claims, please see these previous blog posts here and here.

The maximum weekly benefit of $817 is 100 percent of the state’s average weekly wage, based on data provided by the Nebraska Department of Labor. Workers’ compensation disability benefits are based on two-thirds of your average weekly wage. So workers who would earn more than $63,726 ($817 times 1.5 times 52) in non-overtime wages would lose out under the cap on maximum benefits. An annual salary of $63,726 works out to roughly $30.64 per hour for a 40-hour workweek.

The fact that workers’ compensation benefits are not taxable somewhat cushions the blow for workers who would lose out under the maximum rate cap, but when a worker is receiving workers’ compensation, that person can sometimes lose the benefit of the employer paying for private health insurance. Injured workers may be forced to pay employers back for paying the workers’ health insurance during a work-injury-related absence.

In most instances, calculating an injured worker’s benefit rate is a fairly simple manner. But some workers who regularly have extended times when they are not working, such as school employees, construction workers, and professional athletes, can present more challenges. If an employee is injured early in employment, then calculating average weekly wage can also be complicated.

Unfortunately, the minimum weekly income benefit remains the same at $49 per week. This amount has not changed since 1973. Often, the minimum-income benefit is not an issue in most workers’ compensation claims, because most people make well-over $73.50 per week (which would be the amount necessary for $49 per week in workers’ compensation benefits). However, this minimum-income benefit can come into play in situations where an employee only works a on a very limited basis with an employer, or simply does an odd job for an employer here or there. In those situations, a devastating injury could be paid at only $49 per week, even if the injured worker had another full-time (and much higher-paying) job if the injury occurred while working on one of those small part-time jobs. The Nebraska Legislature needs to take a look at a rate increase for the minimum for this specific reason.

Though benefit rates are capped for purposes of payment of disability, they are not capped for purposes of vocational rehabilitation or “voc rehab.” Voc rehab is intended to help an injured worker return to a job of similar pay. For example, if a worker earning $90,000 per year is injured and can’t return back to work earning $90,000 per year, that person is entitled to training that would allow the worker to return back to work at $90,000 a year. However, during that retraining, this injured worker would be limited to receiving benefits at the maximum rate for the date of the injury.

Workers earning over the maximum rate could also collect temporary partial disability up to the maximum rate if they were working at reduced time and their wages were high enough.

While the $63,726 total for a year of maximum weekly benefits would be a good income for a single person, that income would qualify a household larger than two for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The high price of child care often leads families to decide to have one spouse stay home and take care of the children while the other spouse works. So for higher-paid workers, even an injury where the employer/insurer takes responsibility for the injury can lead to financial turmoil.

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 Benefits, Nebraska, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , .

Celebrate Kids’ Chance Awareness Week through Involvement

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kids-chance-of-nebraskaKids’ Chance Awareness Week is going on right now. Nebraska and 35 other states have organizations that provide postsecondary and trade-school scholarships to the children of workers who have been severely or fatally injured in a workplace accident.

As a founder of Kids’ Chance of Nebraska, along with Lincoln lawyer Dallas Jones, I am pleased to celebrate this week by announcing that five students have received scholarships this year through the nonprofit statewide organization. Two of the five students are repeat scholarship winners!

This excellent website tells the important stories of students nationwide who have benefited from scholarships, so I encourage you to take the time to click on the Faces of Kids’ Chance. Then, if so moved, feel free to support Kids’ Chance of Nebraska by attending the upcoming bowling event on Jan. 23, 2017, or donating funds to go toward scholarships through the KCNE website.

The employees at Rehm, Bennett & Moore and Trucker Lawyers will continue to support Kids’ Chance of Nebraska with our time and donations.

A major way that Kids’ Chance helps students is with the Planning for College Initiative. This program is designed to reach potential scholarship applicants, regardless of their age. We collect and maintain contact information for identified students and communicate with them when the time comes to start considering college. Awareness Week is pivotal in helping us identify these students. If you or someone you know is eligible for a Kids’ Chance scholarship, please visit Planning for College and submit a form.

We believe that investing in the educational future of children affected by a familial workplace injury will make a difference in their lives and subsequently help the lives of others. Although Kids’ Chance reaches hundreds of students each year across our 36 state organizations, we know that there are more students in need of assistance. Awareness Week will help us extend our reach and identify more students. We are all focused on this guiding principle: More money for more kids!

The mission of Kids’ Chance of Nebraska is to provide scholarships to children of workers who have been injured or killed on the job. Collectively, we have awarded 5,593 scholarships across the country, totaling over $16,592,000 in 36 states. For more information, please visit the Nebraska website at Kids Chance of Nebraska and the national website at Kids Chance of America

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 Firm News, Nebraska, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , .

Drinks, Dinners, Junkets and Jobs: How The Insurance Industry Courts State Commissioners

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shady-state-politicsToday’s blog post comes from Michael J. Mishak’s article in The Center for Public Integrity, which is located at publicintegrity.org.

The headline says a lot about the article. Though it’s a lengthy read, the article is worth the time it takes to digest it.

Nebraska and Iowa are the two states that we are most concerned with, as that’s where our lawyers are licensed to practice. In addition, these two states are important nationally because many insurance companies have their corporate headquarters in Nebraska and Iowa. I found it very illuminating that there are stories about both states regarding relationships and experiences that government officials who are insurance regulators have with insurance industry executives. Iowa also seems to be a mixed bag, with the same person asking for “more funding to buoy regulators” but at another time, splitting hairs on the state’s definition of lobbying.

I have written on how the “Workers’ Comp Industrial Complex” harms workers, which was based on an expose in ProPublica. It may be time for media coverage that looks into the overlap, favors and cozy ties that insurance companies have with the government regulators who are supposed to hold them accountable.

“The stakes are enormous,” Mishak writes in the CPI article.

“Because Congress has long left regulation of the insurance industry to the states, these little-known regulators, one per state, wield immense power over one of the largest segments of the U.S. economy. Charged chiefly with protecting consumers, commissioners review rate changes, investigate complaints and make sure insurers have enough money to pay claims.”

Consumers who rely on their insurance to protect them need to be able to trust that insurance commissioners with so much power and so little transparency will still have consumers’ best interests at heart, instead of prioritizing the interests of commissions’ friends in the insurance industry.


Who’s Calling the Shots in State Politics?

Drinks, dinners, junkets and jobs: how the insurance industry courts state commissioners

Center probe reveals cozy relationships, revolving doors and shady financial ties

By Michael J. Mishak

When the Arkansas insurance commissioner weighed the merits of a hospital’s billing complaint against United Healthcare, her interactions with one of the nation’s largest health insurers extended far beyond her department’s hearing room.

During months of deliberations, Commissioner Julie Benafield Bowman met repeatedly with United Healthcare lawyers and lobbyists over lunch and drinks at venues such as the Country Club of Little Rock.

“I had a blast with you Monday night,” Benafield emailed United Healthcare lawyer Bill Woodyard, himself a former state insurance commissioner. “Thank you so much for entertaining us.”

Commissioner Benafield ultimately decided the case in United Healthcare’s favor — a 2008 ruling that stood to save the company millions of dollars. Nearly two years later, by the time a judge vacated the commissioner’s orders because there was “an appearance of impropriety in the proceedings,” Benafield had moved on: She was working for United Healthcare, having joined at least three of her predecessors representing insurers in Arkansas.

Read more at The Center for Public Integrity.

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, Iowa, justice, Money, Nebraska and tagged , , , .

Honor Workers this Labor Day by Supporting Corrections’ Employees

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nebraska corrections officerLabor Day is to honor workers. We must never forget that. Labor unions have worked long and hard to improve the lives of workers. Safety and reduction of injury is one area that directly benefits all workers.

Most workplaces are safer than they were a decade ago. In Nebraska, correction workers are experiencing dramatic and frightening increases in violence and injury.

The stories of riots and inmates assaulting workers are all too frequent.  The root cause is simple. We don’t have enough corrections workers. This also seems to be the case in Iowa.

The Nebraska Association of Public Employees/American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is fighting hard to get the governor of Nebraska to get more hands on deck and hire more workers to protect all corrections officers.

Wouldn’t it be great as Labor Day approaches if the governor decided to add more corrections officers and make that workplace safer? I don’t think we should hold our breaths for that to happen, but one can hope.

We can all lend our voices to support NAPE/AFSCME in its efforts. Keep up the good work!

 

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 Iowa, Labor Day, Nebraska and tagged , , , , .

Are Graduate Students and Teaching Assistants Employees in Nebraska?

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On Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that teaching assistants and graduate students at private universities are employees. Though this doesn’t mean that teaching assistants and graduate students at public universities are employees, teaching assistants and graduate students at public universities may have recourse under Nebraska law to be paid wages.

Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-1203 allows student-learners enrolled in “a bona fide vocational training program” to be paid 75 percent of the state’s minimum wage. This wage rate would be $6.75 per hour. The problem with this language is that “bona fide vocational training program” and “student-learners” are not defined under the Nebraska Wage and Hour Act. The ambiguity could work to the advantage of teaching assistants and graduate students at public universities in Nebraska. Generally, wage and hour are interpreted to cover as many people as possible. Additionally, the fact that the federal government states that graduate students and teaching assistants are employees could be persuasive.

Wage and hour issues like pay for teaching assistants and the use of unpaid internships are not the only wage and hour issue facing young people. Nebraska’s minimum-wage hike has raised some other issues relevant to younger workers.

Neb. Rev. Stat 48-1203.01 allows for a 90-day training rate that is 75 percent of the federal minimum wage, or $5.44 per hour. That training period can be extended for 90 days upon approval of the Nebraska Department of Labor if the on-the-job training requires obtaining “technical, personal or other skills” necessary for employment. While the $5.44 rate appears to require approval for the second 90-day period, it is not clear that such approval is needed for the first 90-day period.

Additionally, Nebraska did not raise its tipped minimum wage of $2.13 per hour when it raised the minimum wage. An effort to raise the tipped minimum failed in 2015. Under Nebraska law, tipped employees, like servers, are supposed to be paid the state minimum-wage rate, though this does not always happen. The practice of tipping has been criticized as being based on practices under slavery and for encouraging sexual harassment of servers. However, payment through tips is still allowed. Fortunately, servers in Nebraska are entitled to be paid $9 per hour rather than the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

Nebraska also allows certain disabled workers to be paid less than the minimum wage. This is similar to the federal law that was criticized by former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin recently in a speech at the Democratic National Convention.

After thinking about Nebraska’s laws regarding youth and training subminimum wages, I have a few conclusions. First of all, the vocational training minimum wage may be another route for interns to be compensated. Second, though the Nebraska legislature appears to be against expanding Nebraska’s minimum-wage law, cities can implement their own minimum-wage laws. For example, Seattle passed a $15 per hour minimum-wage law. While Lincoln isn’t Seattle, Lincoln city councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird appeared in commercials supporting the ballot initiative that raised Nebraska’s statewide minimum wage to $9 per hour, so perhaps a Lincoln municipal ordinance addressing unpaid internships would be politically realistic.

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, Nebraska, worker rights and tagged , , , , , , , .

How Do Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Judges End Up on the Bench?

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There are seven judges who are active in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. These judges are solely workers’ compensation judges and do not hear any other cases outside of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. Four of the judges have offices in Lincoln, and three have offices in Omaha, but the seven judges cover the entire state. Trials are conducted by these judges in the county where the work-related injury occurred. If the injury occurred outside of the state, the hearing is held in Lincoln or in any other venue to which the parties agree.

How do these judges end up on the bench? The workers’ compensation judges in Nebraska are not elected, unlike in some states. Instead, like all state-court judges in Nebraska, a pool of judicial candidates is screened and narrowed by a judicial nominating commission. These commissions are made up of both lawyers and laypersons from both political parties and also independents. After the narrowing process, the governor appoints a judge from that limited group. After the appointment, every six years, the judge will be up for a vote of the general public as to whether the judge should be retained on the bench. If the vote is to retain the judge, then that judge remains for another six-year term.

A system like this does a good job of narrowing the candidates for the governor to a group of the most qualified. Further, this process usually limits politics in the judiciary and it is greatly preferable to the states where judges are simply elected. Here is a good video explaining why.

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 Courts, Government, Nebraska, Omaha, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , .

Packing Plants Are Modern-Day ‘Jungle’

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crete-nebraska-meat-packingBeef and chicken packing plants remain “brutal” workplaces, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the industry. More than 100 years ago, Sinclair Lewis, in “The Jungle,” wrote of brutal work conditions and treatment of Eastern European immigrants. Today the brutality continues, but the immigrants are from Latin America and, increasingly, Africa. The meat industry recruits them. The pay sucks, the conditions are uncomfortable, and the injuries pile on. Wages are frequently below $15 an hour.

Fifteen years ago, Eric Schlosser wrote “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal,” which was considered a modern “Jungle.” He wrote of fast line speed in the modern packing industry and pointed out how it devastated modern workers. The book was a best-seller and made it to the big screen. It was a noble effort to get changes that protected packing-plant workers. Sadly, the bulk of legal reforms since the book have benefited employers. They attack workers every year in every state legislature. Sadly, the workers who bring us the food we enjoy just keep getting ignored.

It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same for this group of hardworking people.

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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