Tag Archives: workers’ compensation

Talking points for injured workers who want to see their own doctor

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Talking points for employers looking to undermine rights of injured workers to pick their own doctor

I was sitting in a conference call when I screen captured the email that is the photo for this post.

The email came from an occupational medical clinic in Omaha. It used the occassion of an updated doctor choice form from the Nebraska Workers Compensation court to distribute talking points for management when injured workers balk, rightly, at being sent to an occupational medical clinic.

Injured workers have the right to pick their own doctor in Nebraska. But that doesn’t mean that the insurance industry and self-insured employers aren’t going to try to control medical care to their advantage. Insurance companies spend money on “nurse case managers” and self-insureds usually have in-house nurse case managers, who in my view, try to persuade doctors to write medical records and reports that are favorable to the employer. The use of occupational medicine or “occ, med,” clinics is another tactic used by emplyoers to get favorable outcomes for themselves in workers’ compensation claims.

These talking points overcoming employee objections to going to an occ, med. clinic are an example of how employers/insurers try to work around rules that allow injured workers to see theiir own doctors in Nebraska.

I am going to break down these talking points one by one.

1.“We want the best care for you.” If an employer wants the best care for their employees, it would stand to reason they would let the employee go to a doctor who has treated the employee previously and knows their medical history. Treatment would be more effective and efficient without having to re-invent the wheel with a new doctor.

A lot of injured workers end up at occupational health clinics because they don’t have a family doctor because they don’t have health insurance. If a company doesn’t offer affordable health insurance, I would question whether the company really wants what is best for their employees.

2. See you right away – If the injury is acute, an employee will be sent to the emergency room rather than an occupational medical clinic that is more or less an urgent care clinic. While there can be delays in getting to see a family doctor, many family doctors or general practitioners will hold back appointments for urgent cases like work injuries. Injured workers need to be assertive with medical office staff in insisting that they be seen that day.

Of course, this point is moot if an employee doesn’t have their own doctor. See the previous paragraph. That’s why I support the initiative to expand Medicaid in Nebraska.

3.You don’t have to pay if you go to an occ. med. clinic – Under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act, an employee doesn’t have to pay out of pocket for medical care – period – it doesn’t matter who they see. There is an element of truth that some doctors don’t accept workers’ compensation insurance. But if the case requires a referral to surgeon, that surgeon will almost certainly accept workers’ compensation insurance.

By the way, if an employee does get stuck at an occ, med. clinic and they get a referral for a surgery, they can pick their own surgeon even if the employee agreed to let the employer pick the doctor at first.

4. You have to go to this clinic to get drug tested clinic anyway – This isn’t so much a talking point as it is an assertion of power by an employer. It’s a thinly veiled threat that if the employee doesn’t go to the cliinic the employer wants, then they are going to be in trouble. The use of occupational health clinics to perform mandatory post-injury drug testing is a way from employers to cleverly work around Nebraska law on doctor choice under the cover of state and federal law about drug testing. Employee drug testing is as much about employers asserting control over employees as it as about employee safety.

OSHA regulations have recently been revised to allow employers more clarity — or latitude — to drug test emplyoees after a work injury. I will post on this in the near future, but take a look at this post for now,

In short, some employers are going to do their worst to cajole and coerce injured workers into undermining their workers’ compensation case by not letting employees pick their own doctors. Employees in such a situation ought to call a lawyer to get advice and help with their workers’ compensation 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 Doctor Choice, Medicaid, Nebraska, nurse case managers, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , .

Indefinite suspensions are employer ghosting

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True fact stated: Millennials didn’t invent workplace “ghosting”

Employee “ghosting”, or employees quitting without notice, has been a hot topic among HR “influencers”. This trend seems to be blamed on the usual suspects of millennials and the internet.

But more thoughtful commentators have argued employers bear some of the blame for employee behavior through harsh application of employment at-will. One particularly nasty example of employer “ghosting” is the indefinite suspension.

This form of employer ghosting is well-established enough that the Nebraska Department of Labor presumes that an indefinite, involuntary suspension is a termination for the purpose of an unemployment appeal. As I’ve stated in previous posts, an employee who is terminated should have an easier time in getting unemployment benefits because they employer has to prove the employee was fired for misconduct in connection with work.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a hard and fast rule about how long of a suspension constitutes a termination. I believe it would be prudent to ask how long the suspension is supposed to last. I also think that an employee should check in with their employer about the status of investigation during a suspension. By taking these steps the employee shows that they didn’t intend to end the employment relationship, but that the employers lack of communication forced their hand.

Once an employee has filed for unemployment, the employer is forced to provide a reason and some evidence about if and how the employment relationship came to an end. If the employer doesn’t do this and the employee can show they were let go not to due to misconduct, they employee generally gets unemployment benefits. Unemployment appeal hearings also give employees some opportunity to investigate and question their employer about the reason for their termination. This information can sometimes be helpful in other employment-related cases like workers’ compensation or discrimination claims.

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, Unemployment and tagged , , , , .

Be thankful for poultry workers, give them a safer workplace

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Most people were fortunate to sit down for the traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey and all the trimmings this weekend. Stopping to reflect about what people are thankful for is a part of Thanksgiving.

People should be thankful for the people who make their meals possible.

Bloomberg reported before the holiday that turkey processors have been cited for safety violations 61 times by OSHA since 2011 and that poultry workers are 60 percent more likely to be injured on the job than the average workers. Debbie Berkowitz with the National Employment Law Project also pointed out that turkey processing can be more hazardous than chicken processing because turkeys tend to be larger than chickens.

Our firm has blogged quite a bit about the dangers of meat processing whether about poultry  or beef and pork which is more common in Nebraska and Iowa. OSHA and other government agencies like the USDA have recently announced plans that could increase the risk of injury to meat processing workers.  But even when  federal regulatory agencies were aggressive in protecting worker safety, many of an injured workers’ legal remedies – whether through workers’ compensation or anti-retaliation laws – stem from state law.

Much was made of the “blue wave” in November’s elections. Democrats picked up governorships and won control of state legislatures. Hopefully newly empowered Democrats will protect and expand worker safety and workers rights bills on a state level.

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, OSHA, Workers Compensation and tagged , , .

Somebody get me a doctor: Nebraska rules against P.A reports in workers’ compensation

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Somebody get me a shot! (Sorry no appropriate Diamond Dave images to go with this post)

The Nebraska Supreme Court held recently that a written reports from a Physician’s Assistant or P.A. are inadmissible into evidence under the Rule 10 of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act.

The decision resolves what amounted to a “circuit split” among the seven judges of the Nebraka Workers’ Compensation Court as to whether P.A. reports were admissible into evidence.

The decision didn’t come as a shock to me or any of the other lawyers at this firm. The decision shouldn’t impact how we or any other lawyers develop evidence in Nebraska workers’ compensation cases.

But I believe the decision harms workers in rural areas whose only access to medical care is often a P.A. The decision also harms workers without health insurance whose only treatment for a work injury might be treating with a P.A. at an urgent care clinic. If an employer denies compensability, the only medical evidence that employee may have would be a report from a P.A.

Most lawyers “fix” P.A. reports by having the supervising doctor sign the report. I’ve had P.As take offense at that request. I’ve also had defense lawyers attack medical opinions on hearsay grounds by getting a medical doctor to admit that the P.A. is the one with first-hand knowledge about the injured worker.

Lawyers are stuck with two options if a P.A report is the sole source of expert opinion from a treating provider: 1) Call the P.A. live as a witness in the same manner as in a civil trial or 2) retain an examiner.

Neither of those is a great option. The best fix would be for the Legislature or the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court to amend Rule 10 to allow P.A reports into evidence.

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, Rule 10, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , .

Between a rock and a hard place: Hurt on the job with a non-compete agreement

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Jimmy John’s franchises in Illinois dropped non-compete clauses for their workers as part of a settlement with the Illinois attorney general

The Washington Post reported that janitors are being subject to non-compete agreements. Janitors join some Jimmy John’s franchise employees  as low wage employees who are or who have been subjected to non-compete agreements.

Non-compete agreements can be particularly daunting for injured workers. Oftentimes injured workers will quit the job where they were hurt and move to another job that is physically less demanding.  But a non-compete agreement can add more fear and uncertainty to the life of an injured worker who is already dealing with a work injury.

In Nebraska, non-compete agreements are somewhat difficult to enforce.  Nebraska outlaws restraints of trade by statute  and by case law. But non-compete agreements can be enforceable if they are reasonable in scope – for a limited time and geographic area – and ancillary to a contract of employment.

The general test of whether a non-compete is enforceable in Nebraska is that 1) not harmful to the public 2) not greater than necessary to protect employer’s legitimate interest and 3) not unduly harsh or oppressive to employee.

Courts in Nebraska tend to focus on whether the compete is too broad to protect the employer’s legitimate interest. A non-compete would likely to be held to be unenforceable under this clause if the employee had no personal or business contact with customers or prospective customers, didn’t know or have access to confidential information, has no skills or knowledge different than what they would have acquired in another business and the employer had no trade secrets regarding their industry.

The issue of whether a non-compete is unduly harsh to an employee is a separate issue. My feeling is that a good argument could be made that changing jobs as a way of essentially self-accommodating a work injury would fall into that category. I believe the Zweiner v. Becton-Dickinson East  case would bolster such an argument, but litigation is almost always uncertain and it can be costly. An injured worker looking at the prospect of a workers’ compensation claim may not be willing to take on a non-compete fight as well.

Even a low wage worker who isn’t hurt may not want to fight a non-compete on their own. Jimmy John’s franchises in Illinois only relented on their non-compete for their employees in the face of litigation from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. While I believe individual workers can fight non-compete clauses, I believe the issue of non-compete clauses and low wage workers would best be addressed in the legislative process. That means voting in legislators who have the best interests of employees in mind and at heart. Pay attention to who those candidates are and vote from them on November 6th.

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, non-compete agreements, Workers Compensation and tagged , , .

Nebraska, Iowa switch spots in workers’ compensation premium ranking; both states in middle of pack nationally

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Are Nebraska and Iowa taking different roads on workers’ compensation?

Nebraska moved from the 32nd most expensive workers’ compensation insurance premium rates to 26th, while Iowa moved from the 24th most expensive to 30th most expensive workers’ compensation insurance premium rates, according to the 2018 Oregon Workers’ Compensation Premium Ranking produced  by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.

While Nebraska and Iowa both remained in the middle of the pack nationally, Iowa workers’ compensation insurance rates decreased from 101 percent of the national median from the last study in 2016 to 96 percent of the national median in the current study. In contrast, Nebraska’s workers compensation insurance rates increased from 91 percent of the median rate in 2016, to 100 percent of the median rate in 2018.

In short, workers’ compensation insurance became comparatively cheaper in Iowa while it became comparatively more expensive in Nebraska when compared to other states.

Iowa made many changes to that state’s workers’ compensation laws in 2017, that could explain the relative decline in the cost of workers’ compensation insurance in that state. If the relative price of workers’ compensation insurance in Nebraska and Iowa continues to diverge, I would expect a strong push for workers’ compensation reforms in Nebraska similar to those enacted in Iowa.

In other measures, Nebraska remains a friendly legal jurisdiction for business. According to the pro-tort reform Institute for Legal Reform, Nebraska has the seventh least costly legal system for business.

 

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

This entry was posted in Iowa, Nebraska, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , .

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 , , , .