Tag Archives: Iowa

Do Employees’ Forced Smiles At Stores Cause Mental Distress?

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Most Nebraskans and Iowans can probably sing a jingle from a regional grocery chain that promises “a helpful smile in every aisle.” But helpful smiles may have a hidden cost for employees.

A summary of 95 medical studies showed that forced cheerfulness by employees lead to psychosomatic issues like trouble sleeping, headaches and chest pain as well as decreased job satisfaction. This so-called emotional labor has also been linked to aggression in the workplace.

Retail and service industry employees are usually required to be cheerful to encourage customers to return. These pressures are likely becoming more acute as certain sectors of retail employment have declined and online giant – and burgeoning monopoly – Amazon has barged into the grocery business with their acquisition of Whole Foods.

Unfortunately, U.S. employment laws are not equipped to deal with the day-to-day mental strains placed on retail workers. Workers compensation laws generally do not compensate purely mental injuries. Workplace bullying or harassment is only legally actionable if the harassment is severe or pervasive and motivated by an unlawful factor like race, religion, nationality, sex, disability, etc. 

But employees have the power to work together, even if they aren’t in a union, to address these conditions through protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. Recently a group of employees at a Target in rural Virginia banded together to help fire a manager who had been sexually harassing employees. Granted sexual harassment may be different than forcing an employee to be cheerful when dealing with the public, but by working together employees can address unreasonable rules and requirements by an employer.

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

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

Proposed Changes To Iowa Workers Compensation Cruelly Target Elderly Employees

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elderly employeeAnti-worker changes could be coming to Iowa workers compensation. To me the cruelest reform would be the proposal to end permanent total disability benefits at age 67 and limit workers who are over 67 who become permanently and totally disabled to 150 weeks of benefits. One memorable client of mine demonstrates the callousness of the proposed Iowa reforms.

My client Doris Newkirk was 83 years old when she was injured working as a hostess at Lone Star Steakhouse in west Omaha in June 2006. She was near a bathroom door when a large male co-worker came barreling into the bathroom and caused Doris to fall back and injure multiple parts of her body. Like many retirees, Doris worked because she needed the money. After her injury she was unable to work. Fortunately Doris was able to receive permanent total disability benefits to make up for the income she lost because she wasn’t able to work. Those permanent benefits started in September 2007 and continued for five years and 10 ½ months until her death on July 21, 2013.

If Nebraska law limited those injured over the age of 67 to 150 weeks of permanent total disability benefits, Doris wouldn’t have been paid anything for the last three years of her life. To her credit, Doris travelled from Omaha to Lincoln in her late 80s to testify against similar legislation when it was proposed in Nebraska. According the Business and Labor committee clerk at the time, the state Senator who introduced the bill at the behest of insurance interests made a motion to kill the bill after listening to her testimony.

Workers compensation is a cost of business. But according to CNBC, Iowa has the second lowest cost of doing business in the country. Iowa, like Nebraska, generally ranks well in national surveys of business climate. Iowa’s weakest area when it comes to business climate,  according to CNBC, is quality of workforce. Unlike Nebraska, Iowa lacks vocational rehabilitation for injured workers. If Iowa is looking to reform its workers compensation system, they should consider investing in vocational rehabilitation so injured workers can fully regain their ability to contribute to the economy in Iowa.

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 Elder Law, Employment, employment law, Iowa, Nebraska, Workers Compensation and tagged , , .

Workers’ Compensation ‘Reforms’ by State Have Costs, Too

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This ProPublica/NPR series should be required reading for all who care about workers’ compensation and how the process really works – or doesn’t work – for those who are injured on the job. The series shows the very real cost to loved ones when the system doesn’t hold up to the workers’ compensation “grand bargain” that was entered into more than a century ago in many states, including Nebraska. Families are hurt economically, and necessary role changes occur when a spouse and/or children become caretakers, which is often the case. 

Today’s blog post is focused on an excellent and informative, but very sobering, interactive chart that looks at how workers’ compensation “reforms” by state are occurring.

I found the introductory paragraph for the chart enlightening and honest:

“Over the past decade, states across the country have been unwinding a century-old compact with America’s workers: A guarantee that if you are injured on the job, your employer will pay your medical bills and enough of your wages to help you get by. In all, 33 states have passed laws that reduce benefits, create hurdles to getting medical care or make it more difficult to qualify for workers’ comp.”

When benefits are reduced and medical care is denied, the burden of caring for injured workers shifts to taxpayers through social programs because the workers’ compensation system has all too often come up short. This results in taxpayers subsidizing injured workers on the local and state levels through healthcare and the social safety net. At the same time, workers’ compensation insurance premiums for businesses are at their lowest rate in 25 years, partially because the “reformed” workers’ compensation systems can save businesses money while avoiding the costs of caring for these hurt workers.

I urge you to spend some time on the interactive graphic and see where your state stands in its support of injured workers. Although the firm’s lawyers are licensed in Nebraska and Iowa, we work with many who are injured in other states as the need arises and have an extensive network of lawyers who we work with on workers’ compensation, especially focusing on representing truck drivers.

This blog will feature continued commentary and analysis on the ProPublic/NPR report, as was first addressed last week. But if you have specific questions about an injured worker’s situation and need help or are unsure what the next steps are, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney like those at Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

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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OSHA’s Region 7 Busy in September

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is frequently referred to as OSHA.

OSHA’s Region 7 covers Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, although Iowa operates its “own OSHA-approved job safety and health programs and cover state and local government workers as well as private sector workers.” In addition, the approved program “must have standards that are identical to, or at least as effective as, the federal OSHA standards,” according to an OSHA web page. The region has had a busy month releasing the results of investigations and resulting fines, so I thought it would be interesting to make this blog post a roundup of the results, which were gleaned from OSHA news releases, found at the web page for Region 7.

Although the proposed fines unfortunately do not reflect the severity of some of the injuries, OSHA’s job is not to punish businesses for injured workers, but for unsafe working conditions. That also means that fines are often decreased or eliminated when the hazard in the workplace is fixed. However, OSHA investigating a business based on an accident can often help an injured person’s workers’ compensation case.

  1. Date and location: Sept. 2, McCool Junction, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $84,000

    Number of citations for safety violations: one repeat, two serious to Farmers’ Cooperative at its McCool Junction fertilizer plant

    Details: A 73-year-old worker died from injuries after falling while loading a tanker truck on May 7, according to OSHA’s news release. Citations were related to lack of fall protection, lack of guard rails, and not providing railing on stairways.

  2. Date and location: Sept. 2, Kansas City, Mo.

    Damages paid to whistleblower: $12,000: $2,000 compensatory and $10,000 punitive

    Law violated: Federal Railroad Safety Act by Farmers’ Cooperative

    Details: A railroad conductor at the Murray Yard complex was disciplined in retaliation after a doctor’s appointment in November 2013 where the doctor told him to stay out of work for the rest of the day because of a personal illness, according to OSHA’s news release. Although the worker notified a supervisor about the doctor’s treatment plan, “the company then accused the employee of violating its attendance policy and subsequently disciplined the employee.” In addition to paying damages, the company must “remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record and provide whistleblower rights information to its employees.”

  3. Date and location: Sept. 22, Omaha, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $133,900

    Number of citations for safety violations: three repeat and three serious, including confined space safety regulations, to Watco Companies of Pittsburg, Kan., a business that specializes in rail car repairs and has 30 employees in Omaha

    Details: A worker “reported suffering from respiratory inflammation after performing welding work inside a rail car in Omaha,” according to OSHA’s news release. An investigation in March was launched after the Nebraska Department of Labor Workers’ Compensation Division notified OSHA via a report of the illness. Repeat violations were “for failure to implement training, procedures and practices for safe entry into these spaces, including the company’s failure to evaluate for hazards, and to provide workers with communication devices or implement measures to prevent unauthorized entry.” Previous citations that made these repeat happened in Texas in 2013. “Serious violations were cited for failure to provide administrative and engineering controls to reduce damaging noise exposure, electrical hazards and lack of atmospheric controls in confined spaces.”

  4. Date and location: Sept. 25, Holdrege, Neb.

    Proposed fine: $14,000

    Number of citations for safety violations: two serious: “for failing to train workers in the recognition of unsafe conditions and to teach them how to access emergency medical services from a job site,” according to OSHA’s news release. The company is Van Kirk Sand and Gravel, operating as Van Kirk Brothers Contracting, which is based in Sutton, Neb.

    Details: One worker died and one worker was hurt after getting hit “by an excavator bucket while installing stormwater drainage in a trench … in Holdrege on July 17.” The inspection by OSHA “found that one of the employees sustained puncture wounds from the bucket after it disconnected from the excavator and rolled into the trench from a height of about 4 feet.” That worker died, and the other worker “suffered contusions and abrasions in the incident and has since returned to work.”

  5. Date and location: Sept. 25, Wichita, Kan.

    Damages paid to whistleblower: $261,787 for back wages and damages; and also reinstatement to their job and removing references to the disciplinary action from the employee’s record

    Law violated: Surface Transportation Assistance Act by Stericycle Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., which specializes in biohazard waste disposal

    Details: “An investigation found the company wrongfully terminated a transportation supervisor at its Wichita terminal because the worker raised safety concerns after a driver was instructed to pull a trailer without a valid license plate,” according to the OSHA news release. When the employee was fired in September 2012, it was because of his status as a whistleblower. “It was determined that his protected activity was a contributing factor in the company’s decision to terminate his employment on Sept. 14, 2012, in direct violation of STAA.”

In addition to investigating unsafe working conditions, OSHA also works with nonprofits, businesses and industries to promote safety and accident prevention, which is what the remainder of the news releases in September are about.

  • On Sept. 3, OSHA announced that it is forming an alliance with the Heartland Workers Center of Omaha. This effort will “provide HWC staff, immigrant workers and others with education, guidance and access to training resources on protecting the health and safety of workers,” according to the OSHA news release. This includes promoting workers’ rights, how to make an OSHA complaint, what employers’ responsibilities are under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and providing Spanish-language safety and health training.
  • On Sept. 16, OSHA announced that it will work with Holder Construction Group to keep workers safe during the building of a data center called the Oasis project in Omaha, “which will include a chiller plant, administrative areas and supporting mechanical, electrical and plumbing rooms,” according to OSHA’s news release. The estimated 180 tradesmen who will construct the building, along with their employers, will learn “about hazards construction workers face daily on the job, including fall, electrical, caught-in and struck-by hazards.” In addition to other details, “all contractors and subcontractors on the project will be required to have specific written safety and health programs in place and attend meetings before major work takes place.”
  • Finally, on Sept. 25, OSHA announced in a news release that it was National Farm Safety and Health Week Sept. 21-27. Although the way workers’ compensation is handled when it comes to agriculture varies from state to state, ag is a dangerous industry. The news release includes both statistics and resources with many links for ag workers and their loved ones and also employers. The 2014 theme was “Safety Counts: Protecting What Matters,” according to the OSHA news release. “With a fatality rate of 22.2 for every 100,000 full-time workers, agriculture recorded the highest fatality rate of any industry sector,” in 2013. Issues include “awareness of confined space, farm equipment, grain handling … work-related lung diseases, heat exposure, noise-induced hearing loss, struck-by and fall hazards, skin diseases and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure.”

While it would be great if OSHA didn’t have to exist because workplaces were safe for employees, it is helpful to see both proactive steps taken to make workplaces safe and also businesses being held accountable when workers are injured because businesses or job sites are unsafe in Region 7.

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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How Do Iowa Workers’ Compensation Permanent Benefits Work?

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Iowa’s workers’ compensation laws classifies permanent injuries to the neck, back, shoulders or hips are as unscheduled, or body as a whole, disabilities. Most other injuries are treated as scheduled member injuries, for which an injured worker can still recover permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits.

A permanent partial disability is a permanent injury that does not totally keep the injured person from eventually returning to work.

How is my percentage of disability determined in Iowa scheduled member cases? 

This is initially determined by a doctor chosen by your employer or your employer’s insurance company. The doctor typically looks at a medical text to determine what percentage is appropriate. If that physician assigns you a rating of permanent disability that you think is too low, you have the right to be examined by another doctor whom you choose. The cost of this second opinion is also paid by your employer or their insurance company. However, you must first submit an application to the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commission to get this second opinion.

How much will I receive in permanent partial disability payments? 

The amount of money you receive as a PPD benefit payment depends on several things. First, your average weekly income before the accident or injury affects the amount of your weekly benefits. Injured workers receive 80 percent of their previous weekly pay, up to a maximum benefit amount of $1,419 each week. All workers entitled to PPD benefits will receive a minimum weekly payment of $270, even if their weekly earnings were lower than that amount.

Second, the amount of your disability also affects the amount of benefits. Scheduled members are assigned a number of total weeks by statute. You simply apply the percentage of disability assigned by the doctor to the total weeks. The result is how many weeks the worker must be paid the full weekly benefit.

How is my percentage of disability determined in Iowa body as a whole cases? 

Body as a whole injuries have a different compensation package. An injured worker with a permanent body as a whole injury receives a maximum of 500 weeks of PPD benefits. You will receive benefits according to the lost earning capacity. For example, if a back injury left you with a 15 percent earning capacity loss, you will receive benefits for 15 percent of the 500 weeks, or 75 weeks at the full weekly rate discussed above.

When determining the percentage of lost earning capacity, the Commissioner will weigh a number of factors:

  • age of the worker;
  • the employer’s ability to accommodate a return to work;
  • lack of motivation to find a job;
  • whether the earning capacity changed after the healing period;
  • psychological conditions impacting ability to work;
  • employee’s work experience, educational background, and training before the injury;
  • functional impairment or impairment rating caused by injury;
  • whether the worker can speak English or has tried to learn English;
  • inability to engage in other employment because of injury, despite making bona fide efforts to do so;
  • has the worker retired; and
  • workers’ refusal to submit to medical treatment or surgery.

None of the factors are determine the issue alone, and all factors will be considered as a whole when determining the earning capacity rate. Typically, a vocational counselor must be hired to evaluate these factors and how they impact a workers’ earning capacity. Anyone with permanent restrictions from a work injury should contact an attorney to ensure they receive all of the permanent benefits to which they are entitled.

Whole body injuries can affect the rest of your life and be incapacitating. The attorneys at Rehm, Bennett & Moore can make sure you receive all of the benefits you are owed, which includes fair compensation for your injury. Contact our office at (800) 736-5503 to set up your free initial consultation with one of the attorneys licensed to practice in Iowa. Find out more about the practice at www.rehmlaw.com.

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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The 12 Things You Must Do If You are Hurt at Work

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Today’s post is by our colleague Paul J. McAndrew of Iowa. While almost all of his advice applies to both Iowa and Nebraska, in Nebraska, unlike Iowa, you can choose your doctor. In Iowa you must see a “Company Doctor.” Regardless of what state you are from, you should not hesitate to consult with a lawyer if you were hurt at work and have questions or concerns.

 

Not seeing a doctor chosen by your employer could negatively affect the validity of your work injury compensation claim.

Injured workers call me all the time asking me what they need to do to make sure they protect their legal rights.  If you are hurt on the job, whether it is due to an acute traumatic injury (like cutting yourself on a saw), cumulative-trauma injury (like carpal-tunnel syndrome) or some other job-related injury, there are several basic things you should do. If you do not do any of the things on the list below, you may lose your rights under Iowa’s workers’ compensation law.

Although there may be rare exceptions to this list,  following it will leave you reasonably secure that your rights are protected:

  1. Report the injury. By “injury,” I mean almost any condition including but not limited to (a) an acute traumatic injury, (b) a cumulative-trauma injury, or (c) a disease or a hearing loss. You should report the injury to your supervisor or company nurse (for clarity we’ll just call these people your Supervisor from here on out), making clear your injury was caused by work. Under Iowa law, you need to make the report within 90 days of the date of your injury.
  2. Make sure your Supervisor prepares a company accident report.  If your Supervisor won’t prepare the report, then you should write a letter stating the facts of your injury and give a copy of the letter to the Supervisor. Keep a record of when you gave the letter to your Supervior. If you can get him/her to sign a receipt for having received it, that’s even better.
  3. Get a copy of the accident report and keep it in a safe place. If you prepare a letter, keep a copy of it.
  4. If you are part of a collective bargaining unit you should (a) join the union if you are not already a member and (b) tell your steward that you were injured and that you reported your injury to your Supervisor.
  5. Keep notes of all significant contacts you have with anyone (including but not limited to supervisors, insurance company representatives and doctors) concerning your work injury.
  6. Under Iowa law you must and should get medical care through the doctor selected by your employer (we’ll call this person the Company Doctor). Don’t get frustrated if you are denied care. Keep demanding proper care through the Company Doctor. If you go to your own doctor, you can make it look like you believe your injury was not caused by work. Also, under Iowa law your employer may not be required to pay for care you get from a doctor you choose.
  7. Tell the Company Doctor clearly and in great detail how your work caused your injury. If you do not think that the Company Doctor is caring for you properly or has not taken careful notes on how your work caused your injury, then give the doctor a written statement of how your work caused you injury and keep a copy of that statement.
  8. Follow all medical directions. If you don’t, your employer may argue that you chose not to get proper care and purposely stayed sick so you did not have to go back to work.
  9. If the doctor recommends you not do certain things at work, get the doctor to write that down and get at least 2 copies, one for the Supervisor and one for you to carry at work.
  10. Make sure that the doctor sends all bills to your employer for payment.
  11. If your employer and/or insurance company denies your medical care or the Company Doctor does not provide effective care, you have a right to seek effective medical care.  You do this by first demanding the employer and/or insurance company provide effective care to you.  If you are denied, you then need to file an “Alternate Care Petition” seeking an order from the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner that you be provided the effective care.  You can get a copy of the Petition at: http://www.iowaworkforce.org/wc/forms/14-0011altcarefillable.pdf. You should consult a lawyer if you are denied proper and effective medical care for a work injury.
  12. If you miss work because of a work injury, your employer may have a right to a 3-day “waiting period” before starting to pay you money benefits.  If your employer does not start to pay you after 3 days have passed, you should demand payment. If you are denied payment of money benefits for time missed from work because of a work injury you should consult a lawyer. You have a right to be paid money benefits in a timely manner – which means on the same day each week.  If that does not happen, you may have a right to a “penalty” benefit payment equaling up to 150% of the money benefits owed and not timely paid.

 

 

Image: Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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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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