Cal/OSHA fines aviation company in death of LAX baggage worker

Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from www.latimes.com

LAX ramp area
LAX ramp area

State officials fined an aviation services company $77,250 on Wednesday for five safety violations related to the death of a baggage worker in February at Los Angeles International Airport.


Related: Luggage cart that killed LAX worker had no seat belt, officials say
Related: Luggage cart that killed LAX worker had no seat belt, officials say

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health leveled the penalty against Menzies Aviation, whose employee, Cesar Valenzuela, 51, died after being thrown from a baggage tug that did not have a functional seat belt.

Cal/OSHA investigators said seatbelts were required for the vehicle and that Menzies’ safety policies related to baggage tugs did not require and even discouraged the use of restraints in certain areas of LAX.

"This fatality could have been prevented with a well thought out and implemented safety plan as is required for all worksites in California," said Christine Baker, director of the state Department of Industrial Relations.


Decision on seeking death penalty for accused LAX shooter due by fall
Decision on seeking death penalty for accused LAX shooter due by fall

Menzies and other aviation service companies contract with airlines to provide cabin cleaners, security personnel, custodians, wheel-chair assistants and baggage handlers.

The citations prompted union officials and service company employees to renew their calls for improvements to working conditions at LAX, the nation’s third-busiest airport.

"Workers punching in at the start of a shift ought to be able to finish the day without risking their health or losing their life,"…

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Family of BU student killed in fire prepares lawsuit

Today’s post was shared by The Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group and comes from www.bostonglobe.com

Binland Lee

The family of a 22-year-old Boston University student who died in a fire last year after getting trapped in her attic bedroom is filing a lawsuit against the landlord and brokers, accusing them of renting an illegal apartment with insufficient exits and a faulty fire-alarm system.

The wrongful death suit, which is expected to be filed Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court, comes three months after the Globe’s Spotlight Team published a detailed reconstruction of that terrifying morning in Allston when Binland Lee’s last screams were heard as her fellow tenants jumped out of third-floor windows at 87 Linden St.

The Spotlight investigation revealed persistent problems at the overcrowded house and the failure of key individuals — from the building’s past and present owners to city regulators — to do much about them. When Lee, a marine science major from Brooklyn, moved into the building in 2012, landlord Anna Belokurova was renting out nearly every space as a bedroom, leaving the tenants on the third floor with only one way out, down a flight of stairs. On April 28, 2013, those stairs were blocked by surging smoke and flames.

The first warning people on the third floor received of the approaching inferno was when the smoke detector on the ceiling of the attic’s common hallway was activated, according to the lawsuit. By the time the alarm went off, thick smoke and heat made it impossible to use the stairs to escape.

The apartment did…

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Mother files wrongful death lawsuit over 19-year-old son who died on Rikers Island in solitary confinement

Today’s post was shared by The Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group and comes from www.nydailynews.com

Andy Henriquez, 19, suffered a slow, agonizing and lonely death while he was locked up in solitary confinement at Rikers Island, court papers charge.
Andy Henriquez, 19, suffered a slow, agonizing and lonely death while he was locked up in solitary confinement at Rikers Island, court papers charge.

A 19-year-old man suffered a slow, agonizing and lonely death while he was locked up in solitary confinement at Rikers Island, court papers charge.

Andy Henriquez, his friends, family members and even his fellow inmates pleaded with guards to get him proper medical help in the days before his April 7, 2013, death, but prison officials just turned a deaf ear, his mother charges in a wrongful-death suit.

“We believe the conditions at Rikers . . . are deplorable,” said the family’s lawyer, Carmen Giordano.

A MAY 17, 2011 FILE PHOTO
A MAY 17, 2011 FILE PHOTO

The suit, filed in October and seeking unspecified damages, says that while in lockup, Henriquez complained frequently about chest pains and breathing problems before dying of a ruptured aorta.

A city Law Department rep declined to comment. A spokesman for the city Correction Department said the agency cannot comment on ongoing litigation.

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Protecting Workers from being Destroyed by the Work Schedule

Senator Tom Harkin

I wrote the post below as an editorial in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Because The Scheudles That Work Act is of national importance I want to make sure this issue receives the attention that it deserves by promoting awareness of it as broadly as possible. I hope you’ll take the time to read my editorial and pass it along to concerned citizens in your area.

Workers deserve some certainty in their work schedules. Why? Because we all have need to plan for child care, time for school, transportation, or simply time to pay bills and manage the household. It’s basic fairness.

But don’t you, a friend or an acquaintance work a job with unpredictable and irregular work schedules? You’ve probably noticed that irregular and on-call scheduling are increasingly common. It’s especially common in the fastest-growing areas of our economy—- cleaning, janitorial, retail and restaurant work.

These scheduling practices can devastate the worker and her/his family. The practices demand the worker choose between his job or his family. They often lead to the worker being fired.

Vermont and San Francisco have already passed laws to help employers and workers avoid this devastation.

Senator Tom Harkin has now proposed The Schedules That Work Act to help workers balancework duties with family duties. The Act helps both workers and employers by:

  • Protecting all employees from retaliation for requesting a more flexible, predictable or stable schedule.
  • Creating a process under which an employer considers a worker’s schedule request in a way that’s sensitive to the needs of the worker and her/his family. For example, schedule requests based on caregiving duties, health conditions, pursuing education or the need to meet the demands of a second job, must be granted, unless the employer has a good business reason for denying it.
  • Compensating retail, food service, and cleaning workers for at least four hours of work if an employee reports to work when scheduled for at least four hours but is sent home early.
  • Providing that retail, food service, and cleaning employees receive work schedules at least two weeks in advance. Though schedules may later be changed, one hour’s worth of extra pay is required for schedules changed with less than twenty-four (24) hours’ notice.
  • Providing workers an extra hour of pay if scheduled to work split shifts or non-consecutive shifts, within a single day.

Kudos to Senator Harkin! Some politicians and billionaire-driven PACs parrot “Iowa values” as a campaign slogan. Senator Harkin, on the contrary, uses those values to create legislation like the ADA and The Schedules That Work Act.

What’s Happening to North Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act? (Part II)

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

 

In 2010 after the Republican Party took complete control of the legislature for the first time since 1898, changes to the system began. As death benefits and funeral expenses were being increased, along with an increase in wage loss benefits, current injured workers were told that new proposals would not affect their claims. True enough, but anyone who was injured after June 24, 2011 would see some fairly drastic changes in benefits:  

 

  1. 500 Week Cap On Total Disability Benefits.

Absent extroardianry circumstances (such as a brain injury) disability benefits would stop after 500 weeks (9.6 years). Thus, for a 25-year-old severely injured person who did not meet one of the exceptions, total disability benefits would stop at age 34 or 35, even though this person could no longer obtain employment in the competitive market place and had been out of the workforce for nearly a decade. For these disabled and unemployable people, the future cost of the injury will be shifted away from the workers’ compensation insurance company to the U.S. taxpayer, through Social Security and Medicare. Before this change, as long as the employee was disabled and unemployed because of his injury, he would be entitled to lifetime disability and medical benefits related to the injury.

 

  1. Employer Gets Credit For Social Security Retirement Benefits

If benefits are extended beyond 500 weeks, the employer can reduce workers’ compensation  by 100% of Social Security retirement benefits. This change gives the  insurance carrier a huge financial break at the expense of the elderly and disabled who have earned retirement income.

 

  1. Even Catastrophic Injury Benefits Can Be Terminated

If a person is disabled from a workplace injury because of a spinal injury, brain injury, or serious burns to 33% of the body, then they can get lifetime disability benefits. However, if the employer can show that this individual can return to “suitable employment” then those benefits can be terminated or suspended.

 

  1. 4.       New Definition of Suitable Employment After Maximum Medical Improvement

In the above context, suitable employment means employment that the employee is capable of performing, considering his pre-existing and injury-related physical and mental limitations, vocational skills, education and experience, and is located within a 50 mile radius of the employee’s residence at the time of injury or elsewhere if there was a legitimate reason for leaving. [Before leaving the Tarheel state, be sure to get approval that the move is legitimate. Otherwise, you may get a job offer that is within the 50 mile job radius.]

 

Part III will discuss further changes to the workers’ compensation system. Stay tuned.

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Truckers Fired Over Workers’ Comp Claim: What to Do Next

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Truck drivers have a remedy if fired for making a workers’ compensation claim.

A recent award of over $100,000 to a truck driver who was fired for making a workers’ compensation claim illustrated the protection drivers have under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). New Prime of Springfield, Mo., had to pay the former employee lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages. “The company must also expunge the complainant’s employment and DAC Report records of any reference to his unlawful termination,” according to the article above. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is often criticized for a variety of reasons, enforced anti-retaliation laws that protect truck drivers who are unfairly punished for taking steps to protect their health and financial welfare. These laws can also be enforced through lawsuits as an alternative to the OSHA administrative process. 

Truck drivers need to be aware of this protection. Truck drivers also need to know that OSHA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have just announced an agreement to strengthen protections for transportation workers from coercion and retaliation.   

The industry publication FleetOwner gives more details about how OSHA and the FMCSA interact with the STAA in this article.   

Here is one helpful quote from the FleetOwner article:

“If OSHA finds that a complaint is valid, it can order the employer to reinstate the worker; pay back pay, interest and compensatory damages; pay punitive damages up to $250,000 where warranted; and/or take other remedial actions.”

In addition, “action by one agency didn’t preclude action by another in the same situation” when it comes to the STAA.

“OSHA’s mandate is protecting workers, while FMCSA’s mandate is safety, (an FMCSA document) said. And FMCSA can take action against a carrier or other entity but, unlike OSHA, it can’t compensate a driver. So a driver filing a complaint with FMCSA about coercion might be able to file a whistleblower protection complaint with OSHA and vice versa, FMCSA said.”

The recent award and very recent press release from OSHA are great news for truckers and their families. The laws that protect you work. There is an apparently serious effort to make them work better. It will now be easier to protect your health and welfare if you are injured on the job.

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Don’t Demean FMLA Leave

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

Workers do not have many rights.  It’s an unfortunate mantra I recite to many of my injured worker clients.  Of course, union protections exist in certain settings.  Protections against discrimination and harassment exist if unlawful conduct occurs.  However, in most circumstances, Wisconsin employees are “at will” employment–meaning they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all.

An “at-will” employee who is forced to miss work for their own serious health condition (or for a child’s health condition) can face a difficult situation.  Missing work can put their employment status in jeopardy.   In these situations, the protections provided by the federal and state Family and Medical Act are crucial.  While FMLA leave only applies to certain employment settings (generally those with over 50 employees), the FMLA can provide job protection for a certain amount of unpaid weeks while an individual is out of work.

Given this invaluble security, a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel caused me concern (“Agency scrutinizes family medical leave in Milwaukee County“).  The article raised questions about the amount of Milwaukee County workers using FMLA leave.  The article certainly paints this type of leave in a negative light, even suggesting the potential “abuse” of this FMLA leave by employees.

 FMLA leave is unpaid leave.  Unless an employee has other available/accrued leave benefits, when they are off on FMLA leave, the employer is not paying wages.  The employee is off work, not getting paid.  Thus, FMLA provides some job protection for the employee, but the employee is not getting rich being off work.  I find it questionable that many employees are abusing a benefit that does not pay them anything.  Demeaning the FMLA is concerning.

 

 

 

 

Sedgwick County judge dismisses toddler death lawsuit

Today’s post was shared by The Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group and comes from cjonline.com

WICHITA — A Sedgwick County judge has dismissed a lawsuit accusing a state agency of failing to protect a toddler before she was killed.

Sedgwick County District Judge William Woolley said in his ruling that Kansas law “does not impose on child welfare agencies an independent duty” in the investigation of child abuse. And because there is no duty, or legal obligation, there can be no claim of negligence against the state child-protection agency, the judge wrote.

Woolley’s ruling last week was in response to a lawsuit brought after the death of 18-month-old Jayla Haag, who died in 2012 with injuries that included brain swelling, bleeding around her eyes and teeth that had been forcibly removed. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of the child’s father, claimed DCF was told Jayla was being abused and did nothing to protect her.

The state had sought the dismissal of the lawsuit.

DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed said in a statement Friday that the agency appreciates the judge’s “careful consideration of this case,” The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/UvEhBe).

“Any death of a child is a tragedy, and our hearts go out to those mourning the loss of a child. DCF takes seriously its responsibility to protect children,” Freed said.

Jayla was living with her mother, Alyssa Haag, and her mother’s boyfriend in El Dorado at the time of her death. Alyssa Haag, 24, was sentenced for involuntary manslaughter-reckless and is serving…

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