Category Archives: Workers Compensation

The why and how of injured workers’ can protect themselves from debt collectors in Nebraska

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Two important and helpful changes to the law for injured workers and their family will take effect on August 31, 2019. One change could protect injured workers’ form debt collectors. The other change will make it easier for dependents of foreign workers who were killed at work.

Today I will write about the collections bill and on Monday I will post about the foreign dependents law.

The law amends Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-1,108 by prohibiting a collection agency from attempting to collect a debt if there is a case pending in the Workers’ Compensation Court and the debt is alleged to be subject to payment under a work comp injury. Nebraska has gained national infamy for aggressive debt collection practices, so this legislation provides much needed relief for injured workers.

What this means is that lawyers can assist in getting collection agencies to halt collection of medical bills that are related to the work accident and injuries. This is extra important for injured workers because often they may not be able to return to work, and if their work comp claim has been denied, it often isn’t even possible to pay the bills that the employer should have to pay in the first place.

How does the bill work? Once an injured worker is billed for treatment, he/she should contact his lawyer if that bill has not been paid. Then, the lawyer representing the injured worker must provide the collection agency with notice of the pending workers’ compensation claim. The notice must be provided, in writing, to the provider or collection agency. The initial notice must contain the provider’s name, the injured worker’s date of the injury, a description of the injury and the filing date/case number of the pending case in the Workers’ Compensation Court.

In that same notice, or within another thirty days, notice should also be given that identifies the specific debt that is related to the workers’ compensation claim. In other words, the collection agency must be able to know what bills are potentially related to the work comp claim that way they can still continue to pursue collection on any unrelated debts.

The notice must be made by personal delivery, first class mail, or by another method otherwise agreed to. What “any other method” means is that likely the parties will agree that notice via email will be enough for purposes of the statute. Once notice is received, any collection lawsuits will be stayed (halted) until the workers’ compensation claim has been finalized.

The law requires that a workers’ compensation case actually be filed in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. While an injured worker can proceed pro se or without a lawyer, the employer will likely have an attorney, so injured workers should at least consult with an attorney,

The collections bill and foreign dependents bill both passed as part of LB 418 that passed the Legislature 35-0.  We were able to get these laws passed due, in part, to our firm’s close work with the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and are proud that we are able to help workers in the Legislature.

On that note, these bills will be further discussed and analyzed in a seminar that I am chairing for the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys on October 9, 2019 as part of the annual meeting of the Nebraska State Bar Association.

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 Nebraska, Workers Compensation and tagged .

Workers compensation in a new “Lochner era”

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Last week I wrote about a 4th Ciicruit Court of Appeals decision, U.S.v Hill,  that upheld a federal hate crime conviction of an Amazon employee who assaulted his co-worker because he believed the co-worker was gay.

That post focused on how workers’ compensation laws could apply to a violent hate crime on the job. But in the big picture, Hill is an important case beause of its disucssion of the interstate commerce clause. The commerce clause is important to many areas of law including workers’ compensation

The Constitution gives Congress power to regulate commerce between states. The federal role in regulating interstate commerce has been argued in the federal appellate courts for nearly 200 years. The 4th Circuit does a good job of summarizing those arguments in U.S. v. Hill. (If you are lawyer or law student with a long flight coming up you can read the Lopez and Morrison decisions for even more background)

Workers’ compensation laws were enacted in the early 20th century when there was a relatively narrow definition of what constituted interstate commerce. Therefore Congress couldn’t enact general workers’ compensation laws, states had to enact workers’ compensation laws for them to be constitutional.

But the definition of interstate commerce was broadened in the 1930s during The New Deal. That broader definition of interstate commerce allowed Congress to enact the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the 1970s. That broad definition of interstate commerce also underlined federal efforts to impose minimum standards on state workers’ compensation laws. The threat of federal intervention in the 1970s and 1980s actually lead to states making their workers’ compensation laws more generous to employees. This stands in stark contrast to pro-corporate “reforms” that started in the 1990s once threats of federal intervention receded.

Federal hate crime laws are also based on relatively broad readings of the interstate commerce clause. The 4th Circuit broadly read the interstate commerce clause in the Hill case. But starting in 1995 with afore mentioned Lopez case, the Supreme Court has effectively narrowed the reach of the interstate commerce clause without formally overturning New Deal and post-New Deal case law broadly interpreting interstate commerce clause. The trial court and disenting judge in the 4th Circuit relied on that narrow reading of the commerce clause in Hill.

If you read the 4th Circuit’s and trial court decision in U.S. v. Hill along with Lopez and Morrison, most people would agree that the Supreme Court’s law on interstate commerce is a jumbled mess. The last time workers’ compensation laws were broadly improved on a national basis it happened under the threat of federal intervention. Employers likely wouldn’t have been able to challenge federal intervention in the 1970s or 1980s based on the interstate commerce clause. I’m much less sure of that in 2019. If workers’ advocates want federal intervention to improve state workers’ compensation laws, they may need to find other ways to make that intervention pass constitutional muster.

Lawyers who represent injrued workers tend to be skeptical of “federalization.” We have our reasons. Federal law can create serious hassles for medical charges related to air ambulances, negotating insurance liens under ERISA and Medicare Set Asides are a persistent headache as well.

But while federal law can cause hassles for injured workers and their lawyers, states gutting workers’ compensation laws is an a direct and existential threat to the well being of injured workers and their attorneys. The threat of federal intervention in state workers’ compensation laws in the 1970s and 1980s meant that workers’compensation plaintiff’s lawyers didn’t have that ever present sense of dread about the future of their practice.

Trial lawyers have had some luck fighting back against workers’ compensation reforms in state courts. But relief from the federal courts seems to be less likely. University of Michigan law professor Sam Bagenstos published a law review article about a return to the so-called Lochner Era when it comes to labor and employment law. This means case law will tend to favor employers. The Supreme Court’s interstate commerce clause decisions seem to algin with  Lochner era. Ultimately, appellate courts probably aren’t going to preserve let along substantially improve workers’ compensation laws. Those improvements will have to be made in the political arena.

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, Workers Compensation and tagged , , .

Can a hate crime be a workers’ comp. claim?

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Why would a blog entitled “Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Watch” post about a federal criminal case in Virginia?

What drew my attention to the 4th Circuit’s decision in U.S. v Hill was that involved two things relevant to workers’ compensation: 1) a workplace assault and 2) a discussion of the interstate commerce clause. I will write about the workers’ compensation issues arising from hate crimes on the job today and post about the constitutional law issues on Monday.

Factual background

Hill assaulted a co-worker in at an Amazon warehouse in Virginia because he perceived him to be gay. Hill was charged under federal hate crime laws. He was ultimately convicted by a jury, but his conviction was overturned by the trial judge who found federal hate crimes statute violated the interstate commerce clause. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision. (You can read a better summary of the Hill case in a blog post written by New York civil rights attorney Eric Lesh. I wouldn’t have known about the case without seeing his post on Twitter.)

Can a hate crime on the job be a workers’ compensation case?

The answer to the question depends on your jurisdiction. Not every injury to an employee during work hours or on company premises is necessarily covered by workers’ compensation. The injury has to arise from an employment risk. In Nebraska, an injury incurred from a workplace assault is compensable if it is at least facilitated by work, but it is not compensable if it is related solely to personal reasons.

I believe a hate crime at work, could be a close legal case. Arguably a bias crime would be motivated by personal reasons not related to work. On the flip side, a hate crime arguably isn’t motivated by anything thing else than a status they could share with millions of people. A racist, bigot or homophobe just wants to target someone belonging to a group they dislike.  if work facilitates that targeting, then the hate crime should arguably be covered under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act.

The practical problem with a legal case for an injured workers is that it gives a workers’ compensaiton insurer a reason to deny a claim. This means that a hate crime victim assauted at work would be stuck paying for medical expenses out of pocket depedning on what type of health insurance they have or whether they even have health insurance.

Fortunately in the Hill case, the injured employee didn’t appear to miss much work. The dark cloud to that silver lining is that if the employee was stuck with a medical bill an attorney may be reluctant to take their csse if there isn’t a chance of monetary recovery in the way of temporary or permanent disability.

Physical assaults can also lead to mental trauma. Most states, including Nebraska, allow so-called physical-mental claims when a mental injury stems from a physical injury. In practice, mental injuries can be difficult to quantify if an injured employee has returned back to work. The difficulty of valuing mental injuries could discourage attorney involvment in a workers’ compensaiton case involving a hate crime.

I believe states should pass laws creating a presumption of compensability if an employee is injured on the job as part of a hate crime. Such a presumption would make it less likely that hate crime victims would be stuck with medical bills as a result of a violent hate crime in the workplace. A presumption would also encougage employers to try to prevent violent hate crimes in the workplace. In that regard workers’ compensation laws would work hand-in-glove with occupational safety laws like OSHA and state and federal civil rights laws.

A hate crime in the workplace could also be an employment discrimination case in certain circumstances. This is important because often times when an employee is the victim of an assault from on the job they could be forced to chose between a workers’ compensation case and a tort case under the so-called exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation. But an employee could recover in workers’ compensation without effecting their right to collect on a workplace harassment case. Any criminal sanction against the assailant would also have no effect on a workers’ compensation claim.

Federal hate crime laws only apply in states without hate crime statutes or hate crime statutes that address a bias crime. There was federal jurisdiction in Virginia because, Virginia’s hate crime legislation does not cover sexual orientation. Nebraska law does cover sexual orientation, so an on the job hate crime motivated by sexual orientation would not be a federal criminal case.

Hate crimes laws are like workers’ compensation laws in that they tend to be state specific. The reason workers’ compensation laws are state specific is related to how the Supreme Court interpreted the interstate commerce clause when workers’ compensation laws were enacted. I will discuss this issue more in depth in my next post. 

 

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 interstate commerce, Nebraska, Workers Compensation and tagged , , .

Still getting medical bills after going to court and winning a workers’ compensation case?

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Getting a collection notice for a bill that was ordered to be paid by a judge is like a bad horror movie sequel

How can an injured worker go to trial, have the court order payment of disputed medical bills, have their employer pay the bills they were ordered to pay, but still be receiving medical bills? It’s like a horror movie or franchise where you think the villain is dead but keeps coming back to life.

Here’s the why and how it can happen in Nebraska.

Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-120(8) allows the court to order that an employer can pay bills through the so-called fee schedule or that employers reimburse other payors. Those payors are either the injured worker or a health insurer that paid a bill that was part of the workers’ compensation case.

Recently I encountered a situation where the court ordered the employer to reimburse a health insurer who had paid some bills in a disputed workers’ compensation case. The employer paid the health insurer, but then the health insurer decided that since the expense was related to a work injury that they could reverse the payment they made to the provider originally.

So, the medical provider attempts to collect the balance from my client. My client was confused and upset because they were getting collection notices for a case where the court had ordered that medical bill to be paid.

What is the solution for the client in this situation? In Nebraska the most leverage a plaintiff would have would be the penalty and fee provisions under Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-125. Once the employee gets the bill, thy should send to their attorney who will put the employer on notice that the medical bill remains unpaid after it was awarded. That puts the onus on the employer to pay within 30 days or be subject to an award of attorney fees under 48-125.

Medical providers and third-party payors don’t have standing to litigate in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court, so I question whether the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court would have jurisdiction over them or what relief it could order against them even if it did.

The employee could have a case directly against their health insurer for breach of contract. Since health insurance payments are wages under the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act, there could be a cause of action under that law as well. But in a case of relatively small-time graft by a health insurer, it might not be worth an attorney’s time or even filing fees to bring a case.

The best prevention for this situation would be to have the court order that bills be paid directly to the provider under the fee schedule. But there isn’t any Nebraska case law about when to pay bills under the fee schedule or when a payor should be reimbursed. I’ve had employers balk at being asked to pay at the fee schedule rate rather than to reimburse a third-party payor. In cases involving Medicare and Medicaid the reimbursement rate is generally much less than the workers’ compensation fee schedule rate, so paying at the fee schedule means the employer pays out more.

Injured workers’ may also want the faster reimbursement afforded to them when the court orders an employer to pay them back for any out of pocket medical expenses. If bills are paid under the fee schedule, then medical providers have to reimburse other payors. This can delay repayment and unscrupulous providers may try to pocket payments or double bill workers compensation and health insurance and/or the injured worker.

In the last legislative session, Nebraska passed bills that going forward will limit the ability to collect medical bills that are related to a workers’ compensation claim. However those protections only extend throhg final adjudication of a case. In a case where a health insurer reversed payment to a provider when they had been reimbursed through workers’ compensation after an awarded case, a provider would be free to collect an unpaid balance.

 

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 Nebraska, Workers Compensation and tagged , .

Legislation seeks to prevent heat-related deaths on the job

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Reps. Raul Grivjala (D.-Ariz.) and Judy Chu (D.-Cal) introduced federal legislation that would mandate OSHA  standards for workers exposed to high heat as well as mandating paid cooling breaks, access to water and training to recognize heat stroke.

The Asuncion Valdiva Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act is named after a California worker who died after picking grapes for ten hours in 105-degree heat and modeled after a California law passed by Rep. Chu when she served in the California legislature.

Fortunately, deaths and injuries from heat exposure are covered by workers’ compensation in Nebraska. This can even be true if heat causes a heart attack where there is a heightened standard for causation. But compensation in workers’ compensation cases is limited and no amount of money can replace the life of a family member.

Nebraska recently experienced nasty heat wave that is still effecting most of the country. While agricultural production in Nebraska is more capital-intensive than in states like Arizona and California, many workers are still vulnerable to heat. The first to come to my mind would be residential construction workers building new houses in shade less subdivisions.

Climate change is expected to raise average summer temperatures in Lincoln, Nebraska by 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 and by 11 degrees by 2100. Heat will be an even larger occupational risk than it is today.

Chicago experienced a heat wave in 1995 that killed 749 people. This little remembered natural disaster could be a precursor for more heat-related health problems and deaths in the future and the need to take precautions. The Chicago heat wave of 1995 shows how northern and cold weather areas could be particularly vulnerable to risks from climate-change induced heat waves. Federal legislation about heat standards on the job would be one precaution.

I would urge everyone to contact their elected representatives to support the Asucnion Valdiva Act. Nebraska’ legislators lo like to tout the value of manual labor as a way for young people to build character. But building character shouldn’t mean sacrifcing safety. I also believe that Nebraska should adopt a state law version of the Asuncion Valdiva 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 Nebraska, Workers Compensation and tagged , .

Why I don’t mind my client’s using social media (most of the time)

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The idea of workers’ compensation fraud is embedded in the popular imagination and an evergreen mainstay of local news coverage — and of course social media.

Social media is a new wrinkle on the old chestnut of workers’ compensation fraud. Usually stories go something along the lines of:

“A Florida man who was receiving workers’ compensation benefits for a back injury was arrested after he posted about his “epic workout at Beast Mode Crossfit” where he “maxed out” on his “deadlift at 405” on Facebook.” (FTR Beast Mode Crossfit is a real gym, but it’s in Texas)

There is a lot wrong with this stereotype or trope besides my poor attempts at humor.

First of all employer and medical provider fraud is as prevalent, more costly, but less reported than employee fraud.

Second, injured workers have to go through all sorts of gatekeepers to get benefits such as insurance adjusters, defense lawyers and medical examiners in workers’ compensation case that either actively or passively assume their cases are somehow illegitimate or exaggerated.

But the inconvenient truth for plaintiff’s lawyers is that sometimes injured workers do post things on their social media accounts that hurt their cases.

That’s why some lawyers advise their clients not to have or not use social media accounts during litigation.

I don’t think that is practical or helpful for a lot of reasons.

Job and business opportunities – People find out about jobs through social networks. Those social networks have now moved online. It’s not unusual to see a “My company is hiring” post on Facebook. (There is a whole social network, Linked-In, that is geared towards these posts) If you are off of work and or looking to return to work after recovering from an injury that is the subject for a court case, then Facebook and other social networking sites may be helpful in finding work.

Many people also run home businesses or side businesses. Social media is helpful in promoting those businesses. Traditional want-ads have largely moved to social media as well.  Sometimes injury victims will need to sell possessions to get by while a court case is pending.

Social connections – People with serious injuries are often unable to work for a period of time, so they lose the social connections of work. They tend to get lonely and unhappy. These unhappiness compounds the physical pain of an injury and anxiety over a court case.  Social media is a way to maintain  social connections and connect to people you don’t know in real life (IRL), but may share common interests. Those social media connections can be particularly important for people who may have relocated from another part of the country or immigrated from another country and may not know many people locally.

News and Entertainment – I read something on Twitter where some hipster-type tweeted they needed a show for background noise while they were on their phone. The combination of smart phones (a dated term) and social media means that people find entertainment by accessing social networks on their phone. Cable televisions and even streaming services cost money. But so long as you have phone service, you have a source of entertainment. Social media is also a free news source whereas news sources that require a subscription may be beyond the financial means of an accident or injury victim.

Social media may have been extraneous 10 years ago. In 2009, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to tell someone “Don’t go on Facebook while your case is open.” Many clients might not have even had an account.

But as a lawyer in 2019, if you tell a client not to use social media, you are telling them something like, “I don’t want you to interact with your friends, talk about sports, television shows, politics. I don’t want you sharing jokes, trying to run a home business or use a free service that could help you find work. I’m telling you this because there is a small chance you could ruin your case (and my fee) if you post something dumb.”

I still think lawyers should advise their clients about social media use. I don’t think there is anything unwise or unethical about advising clients to adjust privacy settings. I advise my clients to be careful on socail media I also think it’s smart to advise clients not use social media during a trial or deposition.

But I believe it’s impractical to tell clients not to use social media while they are involved in a claim or litigation.

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 personal injury, social media, Workers Compensation and tagged .

Will worker-friendly prosecutors be stymied by the 8th Amendment?

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Newly elected Queens County NY District Attorney Tiffany Caban vows to crackdown on wage theft

Newly elected Queens County District Attorney Tiffany Caban vowed to step up criminal enforcement  of wage theft.  But prosecutors wanting to use the criminal justice system to push for workplace justice may be blocked by arguments adopted by the Colorado Supreme Court recently.

The Colorado Supreme Court held that a $841,200 fine to an employer for not having workers’ compensation insurance violated the excessive fines clause of the 8th Amendment. Colorado imposes a fine of between $250-$500 per day for every day an employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance.

The Colorado court found lower courts erred as a matter of law in not applying Supreme Court precedent stating that fines could be challenged if they were clearly excessive. The Colorado court found that there was an insufficient record to determine whether the fine actually was clearly excessive and sent the case back to the trial court for a factual determination.

While not controlling in other states or jurisdictions, the Colorado decision would likely be persuasive in jurisdictions, such as Nebraska, that impose daily fines on employers for not having workers compensation insurance.

But even if Nebraska did adopt the Colorado fine decision, I question somewhat the practical effect of the decision. Employers are rarely fined for not having coverage. Colorado employers still bear the burden of contesting their fine on a violation by violation or day by day basis. But this would also place a burden on prosecutors to prove violations on a day by day or violation basis. I believe this would discourage prosecution under Nebraska’s law as Nebraska law vests sole authority to prosecute fine cases to the Attorney General. The law also give doesn’t make prosecution mandatory.

My view is that the Colorado decision would be less persuasive in challenging penalties and fees awarded to employees under Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-125.

The Supreme Court has held that while civil fines are still fines under the 8th Amendment, fines do not include punitive damage awards in civil cases. Fines are limited to money paid to or taken by the government.

Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-125 awards penalties and attorney fees to employees where there is no reasonable controversy of fact or law as to an award of medical or disability benefits. No reasonable controversy is a difficult standard for an employee to meet. Penalties and fees under 48-125 serve as a substitute for a bad faith action in Nebraska.

Since penalties and fees are awarded directly to parties and they serve as a substitute for damages that could be awarded in a civil case, there is a good argument that penalty and fee awards under 48-125 would be immune from an 8th Amendment challenge.

On the flip side, since Nebraska doesn’t allow for punitive damages in civil cases, a narrow reading of Supreme Court precedent on fines might open up an 8th Amendment challenge. The fact that Nebraska doesn’t allow for punitive damages would give Nebraska employers a stronger argument to challenge an award of penalties and or fees under 48-125 as excessive.

Previously I wrote about how employee benefit plans under ERISA can complicate the resolution of workers compensation claims.   Employees have  the ability to have a court fine an insurance plan for not providing a copy of the benefit plan. This leverage may be lessened if more courts adopt the reasoning of the Colorado Supreme Court about fines.

Lawyers for injured workers should be proud of the success we have had making constitutional challenges to anti-worker changes to state workers’ compensation laws. But last year I wrote that the defense bar could also mount constitutional challenges of their own. They succeeded in Colorado. Hopefully legislators in Colorado will fix a decision that makes it harder to punish deadbeat employers who don’t provide workers compensation insurance to their employees.

One way to make fines pass constitutional muster would be to allow injured workers to share in the fine. This would probably mean changing fine statutes to allow for private prosecution, but if it was coupled with what amounts to a bounty it could mean more aggressive prosecution employers who didn’t get workers’ compensation insurance. In states like Nebraska, that don’t allow for punitive damages, I also think an award of a set general damage to a plaintiff where the employer didn’t have insurance would help penalize scofflaw employers.

On Monday, I wrote about my reluctance to criminalize workers’ compensation fraud. Allowing employees expanded civil remedies against employers who don’t carry insurance may be more effective in combating this form of workers’ compensation fraud. It may also be more permissible from a constitutional perspective.

But from a practical standpoint I am well aware of the leverage that criminal prosecution gives to an employee-side attorney in a wage and hour case. I represented an employee who was paid nothing for several weeks of sales work, Nebraska doesn’t have a so-called outside sales exception, so the emplyoer had no defense to not paying my client. Furthermore, Nebreska has tough language in our wage and hour act stating that county attorneys shall prosecute violations of the law. I hope newly elected pro-workers prosecutors will be willing to partner with civil attorneys in cracking down on wage theft.

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 Nebraska, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , .

Beware of criminalizing workers’ compensation

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The idea of harshly punishing white collar criminals is one of the few ideas that is popular across most of the political spectrum.

So in spite of the headline “Restoring the Death Penalty and other Reasonable Solutions to Workers’ Compensation Fraud”, I found myself agreeing with Robert Wilson’s post about increasing the criminal penalties for some forms of workers’ compensation fraud.

I had a good first reaction to Wilson’s post because he focused on the mild punishment for offenders who conspired with others to commit millions in fraudulent billing in California. (In Florida, medical billing fraud can get you elected Governor and United States senator, but I digress)

I give Wilson credit for focusing his recent discussion of workers’ compensation fraud on medical providers rather than on claimants. But then, I had some second thoughts.

First many doctors are reluctant to get involved in workers’ compensation cases. Adding harsh criminal penalties for doctors involved in workers’ compensation would discourage doctors from helping injured workers.

More importantly, who would be most vulnerable in a criminal crackdown on workers’ compensation fraud? It would be injured workers. Claiming workers’ compensation benefits is stigmatized for many reasons and almost assumed to per se fraudulent by many.  Enhanced criminal penalties for workers’ compensation fraud would have to be done through legislation. Who has more political clout, doctors or injured workers’ making $12 per hour?

Wilson’s post made mention of a “woke” prosecutor in southern California who was willing to prosecute white-collar crime. “Woke” law enforcement is not common. Enhanced enforcement of workers’ compensation fraud by claimants would disproportionately impact working class wage earners. My guess is that would disproportionately impact lower income people of color who are more likely to work in labor jobs with high injury rates.

So should insurance companies just be allowed to get ripped off by crooked providers? As I thought more about Wilson’s post, I wondered why insurance companies couldn’t just sue crooked providers under Civil RICO. Civil RICO allows for treble damages for civil conspiracies as well as other damages. It can be a powerful civil tool againt fraud.

I beleive here are a few reasons why insurance companies would want to go the criminal route rather than the Civil RICO route in combating provider fraud. First of all, appellate courts have made it difficult to bring a Civil RICO case. When I say difficult,  I mean cases routinely get tossed on the pleadings before discovery. The enervation of Civil RICO is connected to the enervation of anti-trust law that has allowed for Gilded Age levels of corporate consolidation.

Also, the insurance and claims industry likes to conspire, er I mean, collaborate with friendly medical providers themselves. Injured workers sucessfully brought Civil RICO claims in Michigan and Colorado alleging employers and claims managers have conspired with medical providers to undercut the value of their workers’ compensation claims.

In short, I believe the solution to workers’ compensation provider fraud is a robust civil justice system. Looking to the criminal justice system to root out workers’ compensation fraud will likely just lead to injured workers’ being targeted for criminal penalties.

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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