Category Archives: Workers Compensation

Injured workers served poorly with AMA “cookbook” on causation

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DON”T GET ON THE AMA CAUSATION GUIDES SHIP!!!

My friends and colleagues on the WILG listserv were discussing the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Disease and Injury Causation, 2nd edition. The consensus was that the new guidebook treats injured workers, to quote the President, very unfairly.

Lawyers in Illinois and Montana have encountered the AMA Causation Guide. I encountered the causation guide in Nebraska this spring/summer in Tapee v. Nestle (available on NWCC Decision and Order Search by clicking here). My experience was that the trial judge was not impressed by the opinions of an examining expert who relied generalizations from studies rather than looking at the particulars of my client’s injury.

A colleague in Montana seemed to have a similar experience.  Another weakness of the AMA Causation Guides is that doesn’t address the fact that states have different standards for medical causation. For example, even if it’s true that occupational causes aren’t a prevailing factor in causing carpal tunnel syndrome, that doesn’t matter in Nebraska because a worker only needs to show that occupational factors were a contributing factor to the injury.

Even among WILG members, the AMA Guide to Causation is still confused with the better known AMA Guides to Permanent Impairment that have been subject to numerous court challenges. The so-called AMA 6th has long been a target of plaintiff’s lawyers because of how it reduces compensation for many types of permanent injuries. When the AMA 6th came out about 10 years ago, plaintiff’s lawyers were good about educating courts about the problems with the AMA 6th.

Nebraska isn’t bound by the AMA Guides to Impairment, but courts often follow them in determining permanent disability for scheduled member impairment. In 2010, one trial judge criticized the AMA 6th in Endorf v. Chief Industries (click here for NWCC Decisions and Orders Search) But the insurance defense bar was relentless in pushing the AMA 6th and it is often used as a basis to pay permanent impairment in Nebraska despite early misgivings by some workers’ compensation judges.

I suspect the insurance defense bar will be as relentless in pushing the AMA Causation Guides. From discussion on the WILG listserv, it appears as if there is a nationwide push to use the AMA Causation Guides. The AMA Impairment Guides are sometimes referred to as a “cookbook”. (Hence the headline and artwork for this post) But at least in Nebraska where the AMA Guides to Impairment are generally just applied to so-called “scheduled members” that are paid on a loss of use basis, I can see why a judge may rely on those guides. (The distinction between scheduled member disability being paid on a loss of use basis and non-scheduled injuries being paid on a loss of earning power basis in Nebraska seems to be largely a judge-made distinction)

But causation would seem to be a different story. Causation would seem to be an issue that Judge’s would still want to decide on an individualized basis rather than deferring to a book. But prolonged use of the AMA Causation Guides may eventually lead to an informal heightening for medical causation standards by workers’ compensation judges. 

Maybe this is burying the lead, but the more acute danger is that stae legislatures will adopt the AMA Guides to Causation like they did with the AMA Guides to Permanent Impairment.

Plaintiff’s lawyers have some studies they can use to the counter the AMA Guides to Causation. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons have compiled studies about carpal tunnel syndrome that would contradict the studies that form the basis of the AMA Causation Guide. Plaintiff’s lawyers may also want to bone up on rules regarding expert testimony. At least in Nebraska, those rules don’t govern admissibility of medical evidence, in workers’ compensation but they can certainly be helpful to a court in weighing medical evidence.  NWCC Rule 10 narrowly defines who can testify by written report in our workers’ compensation court. In my experience, “non-Rule 10 experts” can make good witnesses for the plaintiff on cross-examination.

Lawyers for injured workers need to see recognize the threat posed by the AMA Guides to Causation and make every available factual and legal argument against its application at every opportunity –whether in a courtroom, a legislative committe hearing, at a legal confernece and/or on social media.

 

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 AMA Guides to Causation, AMA Guides to Impairment, Nebraska, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , .

Why are mental-mental benefits generally limited to first responders?

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Convenience store clerks are often exposed to violence. But in order for them to be compensated for work -related mental trauma, they generally need to have a physical injury.

The question of why coverage of so-called “mental-mental” injuries, or work injuries that do not involve a physical injury, is generally limited to first responders is a question that is increasingly vexing attorneys for injured workers and commentators on workers compensation — and workers.

The answer boils down to politics.

From a logical and moral point of view there is no reason why a convenience store clerk and a police officer shouldn’t be able to collect workers’ compensation for purely mental injuries from exposure to violent crime. 

Legally that moral and logical sentiment is often expressed as an argument that such distinctions violate equal protection under state and federal constitutions. Advocates for injured workers have had some success in striking down so-called workers compensation reforms on equal protection grounds.

But while equal protection arguments can be useful in restoring rights to workers compensation, they are less helpful in creating new rights such as compensation for mental injuries. When addressing whether a law is constitutional, appellate courts usually decide first on what level of scrutiny to apply. The less stringent the scrutiny, the more likely the court will find the law to be constitutional.

Health and safety laws like workers compensation are generally afforded rational basis scrutiny by appellate courts. That means courts will generally uphold the constitutionality of those laws. That deferential level of scrutiny emerged out of the New Deal era as a way to uphold the constitutionality of laws relating to social welfare. But in the modern era rational basis scrutiny is often used to argue that the protections of laws like workers compensation shouldn’t be expanded by courts in a way not intended by a legislature.

In Nebraska it was the legislature that created compensation for mental-mental injuries for first responders and expanded that protection to prison guards and Department of Health and Human Services employees in contact with high risk indviduals. So ultimately providing protection for purely mental injuries to all workers — not just first responders — will be a political issue.

 

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, PTSD, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , , , .

Nebraska Supreme Court rules on employment risk, attorney fees and third party claims

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The Nebraska Supreme Court has made three recent rulings about workers’ compensation

Three important cases have recently come down from the Nebraska Supreme Court regarding workers’ compensation claims.

Probably the case with the biggest impact is Maroulakos v. Walmart case. In that case, the Supreme Court affirmed a decision by the trial court that found that an injury was not compensable when a worker was injured because of an “idiopathic” fall. What makes this case distinct from its predecessors is that it appears as though there was possibly evidence that there was an increased risk to the injured worker, which could have made the idiopathic fall compensable. However, the trial court did not explore that option and the Supreme Court found that it could not make a determination on an issue that was not at issue during the trial court. In other words, it appears that the Maroulakos case puts an extra burden on the Plaintiff to ensure that an “increased danger” analysis is overtly pled and argued at trial for idiopathic falls. The concurrence in that opinion hints that the at the trial court level, the court probably should have conducted an analysis as to whether there was an increased-danger when there was evidence presented that could contribute to that analysis of an idiopathic fall.

Another recent case was Dragon v. Cheesecake Factory. In Dragon, the work comp case reached a settlement that was accomplished via a settlement release under Section 48-139(3). The settlement was not paid, however, within the 30-day limit proscribed in 48-139(4) and thus, the Plaintiff argued that he was entitled to a 50% penalty for the late payment. The trial court denied the penalty under a theory that it did not have authority to award a penalty after the release had already been signed. The Supreme Court overturned the finding of the trial court and awarded the penalty based on the fact that the Nebraska Legislature cleared up any ambiguity in the statute in awarding penalties for settlements that are not paid within 30 days.

The final case that recently came down worth discussing is Gimple v. Student Transp of America. In Gimple, there are two take-aways. First, if there is a third-party action, along with the work comp claim, the Work Comp Court does not authority to make a determination of future credits for the employer or work comp carrier based on any monies paid in that their-party action.

Second, if there is a stipulation and no dispute as to an injury; then, there is a permanent impairment assigned to that injury, the Defendant must pay the permanent partial disability in a timely manner, within 30 days. In other words, there is no reasonable controversy.

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 attorney fees, employment risk, Nebraska, third party claims, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , .

What happens when an employee needs family leave after a work injury?

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Taking leave to care for a family member can be complicated by a work injury

Work injuries create all sorts of unexpected complications for injured worker. One complication is what happens when an injured employee on alternate or light duty needs to take time away from work for a family emergency.

If the employee has been employed with the same employer for a year, worked more than 1250 hours during that year and the employer has more than 50 employees within a 75 mile radius, then the employee could take leave for up to 12 weeks under the Family Medical Leave Act without worrying about losing their job.

If the employee or employer is not covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, then things can get sticky for an injured worker as the employer is not obligated to provide unpaid family leave. In Nebraska, an employer is still obligated to pay temporary disability regardless of whether an employee is fired or quit.  But employers, especially ones that are self-insured for workers’ compensation, ignore the law which means that an employee has to wait for a hearing to get temporary disability benefits paid. There may also be a question as to whether an employer’s ability to accommodate a work injury but for a termination or quit should factor into how much an employee should get paid for temporary disability.

Although I haven’t encountered this issue, I suspect an FMLA eligibile employee who took family leave while on light duty could have an employer deny payment of temporary disability. Ultimately I believe a court would award temporary disability in that circumstance. In other words, the analysis for the purpsoses of workers’ compensation benefits would be the same even if the new employee has less job protections for taking family leave.

Short-term employees are already more vulnerable to injuries. Short-term employees also targeted for termination under policies that fire new employees for having “lost time” or “recordable” accidents. While you can, and I have, argued successfully those types of policies retaliate against new workers who get hurt at work, you can’t make the same argument about new employees who get fired for taking family leave. The law excludes new employees from the protections of the Family Medical Leave Act. The law allows employees to discriminate against new employees who need family leave. That’s not to say than a new employee who gets fired after taking leave can’t even have a wrongful termination case, but there would have to evidence of some unlawful motives for an employee to bring that case.

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 FMLA, temporary disability, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , .

Thanks for reading Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Watch

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My article in Trial Magazine started out as a post on this blog

If you are a member of The American Association of Justice (AAJ) you can read my article “Portable Benefits and The Gig Economy” in this month’s edition of Trial Magazine. If you are a plaintiff’s lawyer and not an AAJ member, you can click here to join AAJ.

If you are a non-plaintiff’s lawyer reader of this blog you can click here or here for what amount to rough drafts of the Trial article. (Sorry the article is copyrighted to AAJ and only available to members)

Briefly, the main takeaway from my article is that while the fight over worker misclassification as it relates to the gig economy is an old fight, the move to develop a separate employee benefits scheme is a new issue. Of course, some more senior practitioners, namely Tom Domer, have pointed out privately that remedies like today’s “portable” benefits” proposals were proposed in the late 19t/early 20th century when workers’ compensation laws were being proposed, debated and drafted.

I assume that I will be writing more about portable benefits in the future as events and time warrant. But for now, my next big blog project is going to be exploring how employment risk fits in within the so-called “grand bargain” of workers’ compensation. My thesis is that workers’ compensation developed in response to new risks from the newly industrializing economy of the late 19th century. Farm and domestic workers were excluded from those laws as judges in the late 19th century thought risks of those occupations where inherent. Putting aside legitimate concerns about how this excluded women and African-Americans from workers’ compensation, I think this exclusion is why employment risk is such a hotly contested issue as industrial jobs decline and service jobs increase.

This exclusion of workers from workers’ compensation, which is inherent in workers’ compensation, is one reason why I don’t like the term “grand bargain” in describing the origins of workers’ compensation. My dislike of the term grand bargain will probably be fleshed out over the next few months as well.

So thanks for continuing to read Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Watch. Thanks to all the attorneys, whether on the worker or management side, who take the time to write original content based on their experience in practice. I gain insight from what you write and I will continue to try to provide insight to lawyers and non-lawyers alike about workers’ compensation and employment law.

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, portable benefits, The Grand Bargain, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , .

Two worker deaths lead to criminal charges for Omaha corporation

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A memorial for two workers killed in Omaha in 2015. The employer is facing criminal charges.

An Omaha business is facing federal criminal charges in connection with the death of two employees in 2015.

Adrian LaPour and Dallas Foulk were killed on April 14, 2015 due to a fire in started by chemicals in a rail tanker car that they were cleaning. They were working for Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services which had a long history of OSHA violations.

The criminal charges in this case stem from obstructing the investigation of the accident and violating federal safety rules rather than the death of the employee. In the rare cases where employers are prosecuted for workplace deaths, those types of charges are typical. Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was convicted in 2016 for violating federal mine safety rules in connection with the death of 29 miners in West Virginia in 2010.

The charges provided some sense of psychic justice for the longtime girlfriend of one the victims. That sense of psychic justice is often missing in work injury cases where an employer is at fault. Workers compensation benefits are limited, OSHA fines are often almost laughable and negligence cases may be difficult to prove. Even if a family can get a sizeable amount of money for a workplace death of a loved one, money is not a perfect substitute for the loss of a loved one. A criminal prosecution can help address emotional needs in a way a civil or administrative sanction can’t.

Criminal prosecutions also deter wrongful conduct by corporations and their owners.  Rod Rehm practiced criminal law in the 1970s and 1980s before focusing on workers compensation and personal injury cases. He has spoken out in favor prosecuting employers for manslaughter in connection with workplace deaths and criminal prosecution for employers who don’t carry workers compensation insurance. I commend Nebraska’s  U.S  Attorney,  Joe Kelly, for exercising his prosecutorial discretion and charging the owners of Nebraska Railcar Cleaining Services.

h/t to www.fairwarning.com for their reporting.

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 criminal law, Nebraska, OSHA, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , .

Are surveillance drones watching injured workers in Nebraska?

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An eye in the sky watching injured workers?

Nearly 7 years ago, I wrote a blog about employers and insurance companies using surveillance of injured workers to fight paying workers’ compensation benefits in hopes of finding any reason to reduce or deny an injured workers name. Recently, our Plaintiff lawyer colleagues in other states have noticed use of drones for video surveillance of their clients.

I have not personally experienced “drone surveillance” of any of my clients yet, but I am sure the insurance companies will soon find a way to follow suit in Nebraska. In discussions with other workers compensation lawyers throughout the country, other lawyers have that mentioned insurance companies have used drone-surveillance against their clients in multiple states.

Is drone surveillance even legal? Well, that might depend on what state you live in. However, the FAA does have guidelines on the use of drones and restrictions of how those drones may be operated. Some surveillance tactics may run afoul FAA rules.

Also, many states have enacted their own laws to protect citizen’s privacy from drone-use and cameras. Here are a few examples:

Arkansas forbids the use of drones to invade privacy

California forbids the use of drones to invade a person’s privacy and to record anyone without his or her consent.

Texas Code Section 423.002(a) lays out specific situations in which drones with cameras may be used and insurance surveillance is not one of them.

Virginia makes it a criminal misdemeanor if drones are being used to harass if given notice to desist.  

Florida also prohibits a person from using a drone to record someone if such person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the presumption being that someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy if they are on their own property. 

While it is good that states are acting to protect privacy from the intrusion of aerial drones, there may be a legal fight over whether federal rules should preempt state laws about drones.

While aerial drones may be used to sniff out workers’ compensation fraud by employees, I doubt they will be effective in stamping out the larger problem of employer and provider fraud in workers’ compensation.

In summary, while I have not seen it in Nebraska yet, it is a possibility that some day drone surveillance will be used here. However, given all of the regulations (along with the cost and conspicuousness of drones) it is doubtful that drone surveillance would be used. If it is used, Nebraska may have to enact some laws similar to these other states with regards to drone use.

 

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 Fraud, Nebraska, surveillance, Workers Compensation and tagged , , , , .