Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

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College Athletes Unionized? They Must Be Employees First

Northwestern University Quarterback Kain Colter

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

Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter announced plans to form the first labor union for college athletes. The College Athletes Players Association, in concert with the Steel Workers (who have agreed to pay the legal bills for the effort) will try to unionize college athletes. The big question: whether college athletes can be considered employees.  If certified by the National Labor Relations Board, the union will be called the College Athletes Players Association. In order for the association to be recognized as a union, the players have to prove they are employees and that the NCAA or each school is its employer. Most experts indicate this is an uphill legal fight.

Worker’s compensation lawyers see everything through the prism of worker’s compensation law. Most State statutory schemes presume that a worker is an employee, except where the employee may be considered a volunteer or an independent contractor. Where the top five power conferences ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big Twelve generate nearly $10 billion annually, it is hard to claim players are “volunteers” in this system.

Some college athletes who have been seriously injured have filed worker’s compensation claims. Those claims have all been dismissed on the notion that the injured player was not a “employee” and thus not entitled to benefits. (see our prior blog posts on this issue

Athletes who successfully use their college careers as a platform for a later career in professional sports are not the norm. In many situations, college players are injured, precluding any further athletic career for pay. There is no compensation awarded for this lost potential career. Furthermore, if an athlete is injured while on campus, once they leave school or graduate, the school generally does not covered future medical costs for that injury.  

Worker’s compensation lawyers will be monitoring the case with interest.

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Mileage Reimbursement Set at 56 Cents per Mile for 2014

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

Getting reimbursed for mileage and travel expenses is often part of the medical process in a workers’ compensation claim. However, it’s essential to keep detailed receipts and have a plan for submitting those expenses in a timely manner.

The federal government has set the 2014 mileage reimbursement rate to 56 cents per mile. This rate was effective Jan. 1, 2014. This is a decrease from 56.5 cents per mile last year, but the price of gasoline is also slightly cheaper.

Generally speaking, the federal rate changes annually. However, when gas prices went soaring in 2008, a mid-year increase went into effect.

As a reminder from a blog post that firm partner Todd Bennett wrote in 2011, injured workers can be reimbursed for activities such as “travel to seek medical treatment, pick up medications, or while participating in a vocational rehabilitation plan.”

The best way to do this is to work with your attorney and legal assistant to keep track of all mileage. This can include appointments for Independent Medical Exams (IME), too. Then your attorney can help you get reimbursed. 

It is often essential to save receipts and keep a record for yourself of your doctor’s visits and other reimbursable trips, including physical therapy and trips to pick up medication. Providing that log to your attorney and saving receipts incurred from specific doctor visits and other reimbursable trips creates a “narrative” that makes it easier to justify those expenses.

Because money is always tight for injured workers, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if you have questions about a specific situation.

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Facebook Pictures’ Use Evolving in Workers’ Compensation Cases

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

In the past, I have warned about the possible pitfalls of social media on a workers’ compensation claim.

However, the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court has never really ruled on Facebook in the context of discovery matters in a work comp claim, meaning how much access can your employer have to your Facebook account if you file a workers’ compensation claim? 

Recently, however, the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court (at least one judge) has taken the position that in order for your employer to gain access to photographs from your Facebook profile, it must “make a showing of the necessary factual predicate underlying [the] broad request for access.” In other words, your employer must have a decent reason to suspect that a certain photograph or something from your Facebook account has the potential to be relevant to the work comp case before the court will simply grant full access to your Facebook account to your employer.

Therefore, depending on your situation, your Facebook may be safe from your employer to some degree. However, this is a cautionary tale to remind you that even though your employer cannot simply have blanket access to all of your Facebook photos – at least according to one Nebraska judge – it does not mean that your Facebook photos or posts are necessarily safe from your employer gaining access to them at some point during your work comp case. I think the judge in this case takes a step in right direction, but you still must be aware that anything you put on Facebook may be subject to discovery (i.e., your employer may still possibly get access to it) at some point in the future.

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Are Firefighter Cancer Deaths an Occupational Disease?

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

Workers’ compensation has provided benefits or coverage for occupational diseases for generations. Occupational disease is defined by Nebraska law as: “a disease which is due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation, process, or employment and excludes all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed.” This is a typical definition of an occupational disease. Some examples of recognized occupational diseases are black lung disease for miners, mesothelioma for asbestos workers, lung disease for rubber workers, and leukemia for workers exposed to benzene.  

More studies are done to determine the cause of diseases as medical science advances. A recent study concludes that smoke and chemical exposure by firefighters may cause higher rates of cancer among firefighters. Firefighters, while usually healthier than the general population, have a higher incidence of cancer. More studies need to be done to determine if the peculiar exposure to smoke causes or aggravates cancer.

As medicine and science evolve, there may be more recognized “occupational diseases” and more workers and their families compensated for harm caused by the workplace.

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Am I Entitled to Attendant Care?

Today’s post comes from guest author Kristina Brown Thompson, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Attendant care can be ordered by the treating physician for an injured worker when s/he needs some type of assistance with daily activities, like bathing, cooking, or help with walking. For example, the treating doctor could order two hours a day for light household assistance or more significant assistance (e.g. dressing and bathing) depending on the patient’s condition. Attendant care professionals are sometimes referred to as home health aides and have varying levels of skilled training. In some cases, an injured worker’s spouse or family member may be authorized to provide these services and receive payment for his or her time. In North Carolina, these services can be paid for by workers’ compensation.

Over the past several years, the case law and statutory law on attendant care has been evolving. The North Carolina legislature in 2011 created a prerequisite that an injured worker obtain an order from the authorized treating physician as well as approval from the insurance company (or the Industrial Commission) before attendant care services will be authorized.

Last week the North Carolina Supreme Court released two opinions addressing the issue of attendant care in workers’ compensation cases (see Mehaffey v. Burger King and Chandler v. Atl. Scrap & Processing). The issue in these cases dealt primarily with when or how an injured worker could request attendant care services before the 2011 legislative change, and whether the injured worker could require the workers’ compensation insurance company to pay retroactively for attendant care services provided by a family member. If you think you may be entitled to attendant care benefits then you should probably discuss this issue with an attorney. Restrictions apply and it has become a complicated area of law.

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Contact a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer, Even if Your Medical Bills Are Being Paid: Here’s Why

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

Nebraska is a state that has a “prompt payment rule” for medical expenses in workers’ compensation cases. This means that so long as your employer has sufficient knowledge that your medical care is necessary because of the injury, your bills should be paid. This is a huge plus because even a minor workers’ compensation injury can cause an employee to rack up thousands of dollars in medical bills.   

In Nebraska, delay of medical payment is treated as a denial of a claim. That is why a delay in paying for medical bills from a work injury gives the employee the right to pick their own doctor for a work injury.

The issue of doctor choice brings up a couple of the hidden dangers of the prompt payment rule.  Many times, employers will promptly pay medical expenses for doctors who will oftentimes release employees before they are done healing and return employees back to work before they are ready. Employees need to be able to know their doctor-choice rights before they agree to an employer/insurer-oriented clinic or doctor – especially if that doctor is not their family doctor.  link know their doctor choice rights to  title Physician choice crucial to work comp claimants )

Secondly, employees can get lulled into contentment when an employer pays their medical bills. Medical benefits are one aspect of workers’ compensation benefits; the other is loss of income benefits. An employer/insurer may use their leverage with a doctor to minimize loss of income benefits. Also, when employees get into litigation, they are oftentimes confused by the fact that an employer will pay for medical benefits, but not loss of income benefits, or will deny that the injury is even work related. This is related to the prompt payment rule. Just because an employer pays medical bills, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they or a workers’ compensation judge will believe those medical bills are related to the work accident.

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Why Overturning DOMA Is a Win for Employee Rights

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

Regardless of your opinion on the issue of gay rights, Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act is a win for workplace fairness.

The constitutional authorization for most federal fair-employment laws is based on the guarantees of equal protection of the law based on the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the right of Congress to regulate interstate commerce clause. In his opinion overturning DOMA, Justice Anthony Kennedy found that DOMA violated the Fifth and 14th Amendment rights of gays and lesbians. He reaffirmed the role of the Fifth and 14th Amendments in preventing discrimination.

Kennedy’s opinion is important because in last summer’s blockbuster Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, Chief Justice John Roberts undercut the interstate commerce clause as a justification for passing federal legislation. Conceivably, corporate opponents of workplace fairness laws could point to Roberts’ decision in the Affordable Care Act as a way to argue that federal workplace fairness laws are unconstitutional. However Wednesday’s decision in the DOMA case means that workplace fairness laws still have clear and strong constitutional support.

The DOMA decision is a bright spot in a Supreme Court session that has otherwise been pretty bleak for employees. My opinion is that as a result of recent Supreme Court decisions, more and more fair-employment cases will be brought in state court. The decision in DOMA is still relevant to state law discrimination and retaliation claims. Most states have equal protection clauses in their state constitutions. The reasoning supporting the DOMA decision supports state fair-employment statutes. I believe this is true even for fair employment claims based on retaliation. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg pointed out in her dissent in Nassar, retaliation is a form of discrimination. In other words, if you have been fired in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim, your constitutional rights have been violated. If the Supreme Court had decided DOMA differently, employees would have a weaker argument that a retaliatory discharge violated their equal protection rights.

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Worker Privacy Concerns : Employers’ Access to Employees’ Prior Worker’s Compensation Claims

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

Republican legislators are feeling their oats these days. Throughout the Midwest, legislators are depriving workers of collective bargaining rights and trying to restrict workers’ rights in workers’ compensation claims.

In Missouri, workers’ compensation legislation was recently proposed that would have permitted an employer to provide a potential hire’s name and Social Security number so an employer could identify the potential employee’s prior workers’ compensation claims and the status of those claims. The Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation estimated an online data base that would include over a half million claim records with over 10,000 records added each year.

To his credit, Democratic governor Jay Nixon vetoed this proposed online data base which would allow businesses to check a prospective employee’s workers’ compensation claims. He said it was “an affront to the privacy of our citizens and does not receive my approval.” As expected, supporters of the workers’ compensation data base (employers primarily) said the legislation would speed the hiring process and help bosses and workers. Regularly, information about workers’ compensation claims is available by written request and takes about two weeks to arrive.  Supporters of the legislation indicated the law was “preventing workers’ compensation abuses.”

Wisconsin’s workers’ compensation records are subject to Wisconsin public records law, except for records identifying an employee’s name, injury, medical condition, disability, or benefits – which are confidential.  Authorized requestors are limited to parties of the claim (the employee, the employer, and the insurance carrier), an authorized attorney or agent, a spouse or adult child of a deceased employee. Workers’ Compensation Division staff may provide limited confidential information regarding the status of claims to a legislator or government official on behalf of a party. In addition, workers’ compensation staff are not permitted by law to conduct a random search to determine if other injuries have been reported.

If the requestor is the same employer or insurance carrier involved in a prior injury, then access will be allowed. If the requestor is a different employer or insurance carrier but they make a reasonable argument that the prior injury and the current injury are related, access may be allowed. For example, the Department considers injuries “reasonably related” if the two injuries involve the same body areas.

Simply put, in Wisconsin, at least for the present, claimant information is confidential and not open to the public, other than to the parties to a current claim.