Category Archives: Workers Compensation

Kansas court holds adoption of AMA 6th violates due process

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The Kansas Supreme Court undid one small part of Sam Brownback’s legacy

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Friday that adoption of the American Medical Association Guides to Permanent Impairment, Sixth Edition (AMA Sixth) to pay permanent injuries under their workers’ compensation act violated constitutional rights to due process because it gave injured workers an inadequate remedy for work injuries.

The decision in Johnson v. US Food Service came on the heels of a recent Oklahoma decision that upheld the constitutionality of the AMA Sixth in that state’s workers’ compensation law. Injured workers in Kansas were likely helped by the Kansas applying heightened scrutiny in assessing a due process violation rather than applying what amounts to rational basis scrutiny like the Oklahoma court did in upholding their use of the AMA Sixth.

The Kansas court also seemed to be persuaded by findings of fact and legislative history about the problems with the AMA Sixth in how it compensates work injuries. The court was particularly persuaded by findings that the AMA Sixth lead to lower impairment ratings because it measured impairment based on inability to do general life activities rather than activities related to working. The Kansas decision throwing out the use of the AMA 6th will likely be persuasive to trial courts in other states when deciding whether impairment under the AMA 6th sufficiently compensates injured workers. 

The decision was also premised on the fact that injured workers give up the right to a trial by jury to pursue a tort claim against the employers to receive workers’ compensation benefits. According to the Kansas court, compensating employees under the AMA 6th when combined with other recent changes to Kansas workers’ compensation law meant that employees were giving up too much in exchange for not being able to sue their employers and have a trial by jury.

Last month, I posted “Appellate courts aren’t going to save workers’ compensation.” Maybe I was too pessimistic in that assessment considering Johnson case. But a closer reading of the Johnson case shows my thesis is still sound. The Kansas court went through an exhaustive list of anti-worker reforms made by the Kansas legislature in 2011 and 2013 to that state’s workers’ compensation laws.  With the exception of using the AMA 6th, those anti-worker reforms are still law in Kansas. I hope the decision in Johnson will help advocates for injured workers rollback other negative changes made to workers’ compensation law in Kansas. But the changes to Kansas’ workers’ compensation laws came through the political arena and victories in the political arena are the only sure way to insure fair compensation for injured workers in Kansas and in the rest of the country.

I agree with the outcome and most of the reasoning supporting the Johnson decision. But I disagree with the court’s literary flourish arguing that injured workers aren’t heard in adminisatsrive hearings or bench  trials. The majority of my court room experience comes in what amount to bench trials in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. In my experience the injured worker gets to tell their story and — just as important – management witnesses are forced to answer for their treatment of injured workers as it relates to issues being tried. At least in Nebraska, trials in worrkers’ compensation cases can address that emotional need for justice outside fiancial compensation. But for most people, the finanical outcome of a case is more important than the process used to obtain the outcome.

Thomas Robinson, editor of the leading treatise on workers’ compensation law, stated the Kansas court’s focus on assigning fault for an injury misses the point of workers’ compensation which means defined compensation for a work injury regardless of fault. I agree with this point. I’ve written about the role of fault in the suppodedly no fault world of workers’ compnesation. I will be interested to read Robinson’s take on fault and workers’ compensation.

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 Constitutional law, Kansas, Nebraska, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , , , .

The case against “Ghosting” for employees

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Employers are increasingly complaining of employees “ghosting” or leaving suddenly without notice. Temple Law Professor and author Brishen Rogers correctly pointed out on Twitter that employee ghosting is protected the by the 13th Amendment prohibition of slavery. Other commentators have pointed out that employers have been “ghosting” employees for many years and that some turnabout is to be expected as unemployment declines.

Employee “ghosting” is also the flip side of employment at-will. Employers are free to fire you at any time, but you are free to quit your job at any time without notice.

The concept of giving notice before quitting isn’t rooted in any legal requirement. But giving notice before leaving a job can give employees some legal benefits. Providing written notice can provide more protections to employees if done correctly.

Unemployment

In Nebraska, if you quit your job you have to prove you had good cause for the quit to get full unemployment benefits, whereas if you are fired your employer has to prove you committed misconduct in connection with your employment to deny you full benefits. Often when an employee gives two weeks’ notice, an employer will have them stop working before the two week notice period ends. In this situation an employee, for the purposes of unemployment benefits, has been fired. So unless the employer can prove the employee committed some misconduct, then they will receive full unemployment benefits.

Putting notice in writing can be helpful because it explains why you are leaving. Under Nebraska law, there are several reasons deemed by good cause for leaving. Having one of those reasons in a letter could help you receive unemployment benefits sooner.

I recently had an employee who was asked to submit a resignation letter due to alleged concerns about her job performance. My client was smart enough to write down that she would retract her resignation if performance improved. My client ended up winning her unemployment appeal due in part to that letter as it wasn’t clear that she really intended to resign.

Other employment laws

Written notice can also help in other cases. If an employee resigns due to workplace harassment, written notice of a quit would put an employer on notice of the harassment if it wasn’t done so already. Adding in that the resignation would be retracted if the harassment was addressed would also help.

A written notice that an employee is quitting because of a medical condition could prompt an attempt to accommodate that condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  I have seen written notice of quits because of medical conditions be helpful in winning benefits in workers’ compensation cases as well.

Giving notice is also helpful to an employee quits a new job for a new job that falls through. Courtesy can help an employee maintain a relationship with an employer and make it easier for an employee to go back to a job.

 

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 ADA, Harassment, Nebraska, Unemployment, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , , , .

Possible Medicaid expansion could impact workers’ compensation, labor markets

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State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln has helped lead the charge for Medicaid expansion in Nebraska.

Nebraska voters will likely vote on Medicaid expansion in November after Insure the Good Life turned in 135,000 signatures earlier this month. Insure the Good Life estimates 98,000 Nebraskans who aren’t eligible for Medicaid but can’t afford coverage on the ACA exchanges will would get insured if the measure passes in Novmeber.

If Medicaid expands in Nebraska, it could impact the  employee-employer relationship and workers compensation in the state.

Workers Compensation

Expanded health insurance means that more people will have access to medical care and have a relationship with a general practitioner. Oftentimes injures employees don’t have family doctors, so they let their employers pick their doctor by default. Letting an employer pick a doctor in a workers’ compensation claim can be harmful to an injured employee’s workers compensation case.

Access to primary care can also help an injured worker manage chronic conditions such high blood pressure and diabetes that can hinder recovery from a work injury.

An employee who has their workers compensation claim denied and isn’t working is usually unable to afford COBRA coverage — assuming their employer offers health insurance in the foirst place. An injured worker in that situation who is covered by Medicaid can continue to get the medical care they need to recover and develop their workers compensation case.

Employee-Employer relations

Employees often put up with abusive employers solely for the sake of health insurance. The option of enrolling in Medicaid would give more employees to take their job and shove it. This concern is part of the allure of portable benefits for employee that I have written about before. Less reliance on employers for health insurance could improve labor mobility and push up wages.

My opinions about the impact of Medicaid expansion in Nebraska come with some caveats. I have long believed the expansion of health insurance leads to more doctor choice for injured workers. But some studies of the ACA show it has lead to consolidation in the medical industry. This consolidation could gut any formal right employees have to chose their own doctors under workers compensation laws because there is less overall choice of doctors. This issue may have to be addressed by more vigorous anti-trust law enforcement

Also, just because a state expands Medicaid by referendum doesn’t mean the elected branches of government will implement the expansion. That is what is happening in Maine. The whole structure of the Affordable Care Act could be altered through another court challenge to the ACA. Finally the Nebraska Medicaid petition has been challenged by opponents of the expansion

But even with those caveats, I believe Medicaid expansion would be a good thing for injured workers and employees in Nebraska.

 

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 Medicaid, Nebraska, portable benefits, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , .

Changes to Nebraska workers’ compensation laws could speed up settlements

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Our firm was active in drafting recent changes to Nebraska workers’ compensation law

Two changes to Nebraska workers’ compensation law that became effective today could speed up receipt of settlement proceeds for injured workers.

LB 953 will allow settlements to be approved quicker if lawyers representing the injured worker certify the settlement is in the best interest of the worker. These changes should result in more settlements being paid within weeks rather than months. The current law requires court approval of many final settlements.

Another change this year to workers’ compensation laws came with the passage of LB 957, which allows for electronic payment for workers’ compensation indemnity benefits. As of July 19, 2018, if a worker is entitled to indemnity workers compensation benefits, he or she may be paid via direct deposit, prepaid card, or other electronic means. The employee must agree to be paid via electronic payment and the employer must notify the employee of each electronic payment. If handled properly, this could mean quicker payment of workers compensation benefits to the employees.

Workers compensation law was created by the Nebraska legislature. The legislature changes the law occasionally. Rehm, Bennett, Moore, Rehm & Ockander monitors those proposed changes and was involved in drafting these changes working on behalf of the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys.

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 legislature, Nebraska, Settlements, Unicameral, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , .

Nebraska women account for majority of work injuries reported in state

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Leaning in is harder after a work injury.

2017 marked a dubious milestone for women’s equality in Nebraska as women accounted for at least 52 percent of the 37,391 injuries reported by employers to the Nebraska Workers Compensation Court through the First Report of Injury form according to the annual report published by the court.

This figure should be taken with a few grains of salt. 2017 could just be an outlier.  The percentage of First Reports of Injury filed on behalf of women in proportion to total injuries has steadily increased since 2007, but 2017 represented an unprecedented increase in the number of women employees who had First Reports filed on their behalf. The decrease in the number of men who had employers file First Reports on their behalf was nearly as unprecedented.

Court officials also state the numbers could be skewed by the fact that gender is not a mandatory reporting item and that reported injury numbers for a particular year tend to vary from year to year because of late reporting and other factors.

There are other reasons that first report of injuries aren’t a completely reliable measure of the number of actual injuries. A report doesn’t mean that an employee was injured. Not all employers report injuries to the court either. Even if an employee was injured and an employer files a report with the court, that doesn’t mean the injury caused any substantial harm to the employee. In 2017, only 1053 petitions or lawsuits were filed in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court.  Roughly another 700 claims were formally settled without litigation.

Women accounted for 3 of 41 workplace deaths reported to the court in 2017, so men still comprise a large majority of the most serious workers compensation claims.

But the numbers quantify a truth about workers’ compensation and the workforce in general. Women’s participation in the workforce is increasing while men’s participation is decreasing.  Workers’ compensation is still often thought of as “workman’s compensation.” Images of workers’ compensation often include men in hardhats. Men in blue collar jobs like construction and truck driving do get hurt on the job. But women also work in traditionally male jobs like construction and truck driving. Injuries are also common in more gender-neutral sectors like retail, food service and manufacturing as well as in traditionally female jobs like nursing.

Future reports by the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court may show the injury numbers from 2017 to inaccurate or an outlier, but women will continue to suffer a substantial number of workplace injuries. 

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 gender equality, Nebraska, women, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , .

Ohio axes PBM for “hosing” state on prescription drugs

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Hey hoser, got any deals on prescription drugs?

The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation recently decided to drop the manager of their drug formulary, Optum Rx , who in the words of a court administrator were “hosing” the State of Ohio.

“Told you so,” said me and many other critics of drug formularies.

Drug formularies are touted as a way to reduce opioid abuse and limit drug costs. But formularies are run by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) who have been widely criticized for pushing up drug costs. In 2017 The City of Omaha opposed a drug formulary bill in the Nebraska Legislature over similar fears of being hosed by PBMs.

The news out of Ohio came at about the same time as a viral (for the world of workers’ compensation) blog post penned by Judge and Professor David Torrey. Judge Torrey politely bench-slapped an “industry representative” who stated that injured workers needed to “get off their asses” during a panel discussion at a workers’ compensation conference about alternatives to opioids for pain managment.

I understand and share concerns about prescription drug abuse by injured workers. I’ve also encountered clients with serious bowel issues from opioid-induced constipation.  Addiction seems to get more attention than digestive issues when it comes to opioids and workers compensation. I believe part of that stems from the fact that calling some an “addict” is away to dog whistle that an injured worker is a malingerer. Turning injured workers into “addicts” is a way of putting some medically-termed lipstick on a moral and ideological pig created by the insurance industry.

Perhaps true to the Trump age, the panelist in Pennsylvania dropped the conern trolling about addcition and voiced the id buried in the dark heart of the workers compensation medico-legal-industrial complex. Telling injured workers that they just need to get back to work is great for cutting expenses for workers compensation insurers. Drug formularies are good way to increase revenue for the insurance-side middleman in the workers’ compensation system. Drug formularies pre-date the opioid crisis, but they were adapted to “solve” the opioid crisis.

In response to the opioid crisis, the insurance industry has medicalized its age old criticisms of injured workers and the drug companies and PBMs have jacked up drug prices. Meanwhile injured employees aren’t getting any real help in how to deal with chronic pain. Doctors have long known that opioid dependence is a serious issue and that there are no easy solutions to chronic pain.  Opioid prescriptions have been declining since 2012. If insurers and self-insureds were serious about chronic pain, they would approve alternative pain control methods and give doctors discretion to prescribe medication as needed.

The problem with that solution for insurers and self-insureds is that solution would cost them money. It’s easier to lecture injured workers’ about resilience, churn some money off of drug formularies and shift the cost of pain management back onto injured employees.

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 opioids, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , , .

EPA, USDA rule change proposals could impact workplace safety

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Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts (left) with former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (center) at a meeting in Lincoln last month

Regular readers of this blog know that workplace safety is regulated by the state and federal governments  But even within the federal government, agencies besides OSHA regulate workplace safety. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have proposed rule and procedure changes that could have an impact on workplace safety.

The USDA has proposed relaxing rules about line speeds in pork plants. Employee advocates have opposed the change because of the well-known link between line speed and musculo-skeletal injuries. In a relatively rare bit of good news, under public pressure the USDA rejected proposed rule changes that would have speed up lines in poultry plants. Public pressure for workers can be effective even in the Trump administration.

The EPA has proposed delaying implementation of two Obama era-rules regarding the prevention of chemical plant explosions  and rules on training workers who are exposed to agricultural chemicals. (5)

The rules concerning exposure to farm chemicals are particularly concerning from a workplace safety perspective. Chemical exposure injuries can take years to manifest and that delayed manifestation can make it more difficult for employees to collect workers’ compensation benefits.

The delays in implementation of the chemical plant and chemical handling training rules have both been subject to court challenges. If the USDA approved an increase in line speed for pork plants, that change would likely be challenged in court as well. Though the Supreme Court is viewed as friendly to business, the court is open to arguments that the actions of administrative agencies can violate the constitutionally-mandated separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch.  In other words court challenges to changes in USDA and EPA rules could succeed. 

The chemical safety rules are also an example of how delay of a rule or implementation of a rule can effectively kill a rule.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been the target of well-deserved criticism of his administration of the agency. But, as pointed out by Mike Elk of Payday Report, the Obama administration slow-walked some chemical safety rules which them vulnerable to repeal and delay by the Trump administration.

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 EPA, Nebraska, OSHA, USDA, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , , , .