Category Archives: Workplace Injury

I’M A 10!!!!

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

This article will not be discussing Bo Derek’s memorable jog down a beach in that memorable movie of the same name.  Instead it discusses the reliability of pain scales in the context of injury cases, a much less interesting topic!

According to the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, “Though the accuracy of the 5th vital sign for pain assessment is moderate, it is much lower in practice than under ideal research circumstances. Uniquely, we found that nurses may not always use the 0 to 10 scale to properly quantify pain levels and that informal screening practice leads to underestimation. Efforts to improve routine pain management can confidently use NRS, but provider training, education, and monitoring in screening techniques are needed, as are efforts to link the 5th vital sign to clinician action for better pain managementReading between the lines, this organization found nurses and doctors need more education in order for pain scales to be reliably used.

Typically, patients are asked to rate their pain from 0-10.  However, how those numbers are described seems to vary widely.  One clinician may describe a “10” as the worst pain imaginable, while another may describe it as the worst pain you have ever felt.  Of course, that can result in very different ratings depending on one’s history of prior injury and pain tolerance.  The results may be further complicated by cultural distortions, difficulties in interpretation, psychological factors including depression, education level which could impact understanding and an individuals pain tolerance in general.   Additionally, many injured people may generally feel that they must exaggerate their symptoms in order to be believed or to get the necessary medical treatment they require.  It’s important for us to emphasize to our injured clients that exaggerating symptoms is never a good idea and could result in some very real credibility consequences with the Court, employer and medical professionals.  On a similar note, it’s not uncommon to have some clients underestimate the symptoms they experience, and this also can result in difficulties related to being assigned appropriate work restrictions, getting necessary medical treatment and giving a full picture of the injury itself.

It’s not uncommon in trial for defense attorneys to make light of what they characterize as “exaggerated” pain ratings of 9 or 10.  Additionally, if you are arguing that a condition has gotten worse, it’s difficult to do so when 9 or 10 pain ratings have been given previously.  One colleague recently recounted an exchange during trial which is illustrative.  A client was discussing non-operative back pain to a Judge and had told him his pain was a 10.  When told to imagine Jesus Christ on the cross as the last spear thrust that ended his life as a “10”, and to compare his pain to that the client noted again his non-operable back pain was a “10”.  One can imagine how this client’s credibility may have been negatively impacted by this statement.

Don’t Go It Alone

Today’s post comes from guest author Richard Cahill Jr., from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

An injured worker walked through my door the other day frustrated beyond belief. He had been representing himself on his compensation claim for his back injury. He thought he did not need a lawyer and could handle it himself.

The insurance company accepted the claim and paid this worker only a fraction of what he was actually entitled to, though that was not the issue the client wanted to discuss. He did not even realize that he had been short changed.

What he wanted to discuss was getting back surgery. His doctor requested a laminectomy, but the insurance company told the doctor and the injured worker that they were not going to authorize it or pay for it. This man had been suffering terrible back pain for nearly six months and his surgery was never scheduled.

The injured worker was shocked when I told him that the insurance company did not have to give authorization — this surgery was already authorized under the Board’s Medical Treatment Guidelines. The insurance company knew this of course, but seemingly played ignorant to avoid paying for the needed surgery.

When I then told him that he could not only have his surgery, but also had been paid less than half of the indemnity payments to which he was entitled, the gentleman shook his head in frustration and said, “I shouldn’t have done this alone.”

How right he was. The New York Workers Compensation system is extremely complicated. Insurance companies know the system well and often do not tell unrepresented injured workers details that matter, often while telling the injured worker that they are acting in their best interest.

Do not go it alone.  At Pasternack, Tilker, Ziegler, Walsh, Stanton, and Romano, with more than eight decades of experience in defending the rights of New Yorkers, we help clients get the justice they deserve.

Trump’s Assault on Workers

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

As a workers’ compensation attorney, I tend to view current events through the prism of their effect on workers and more specifically injured workers.  The Trump Administration has rolled back his predecessor’s strides in environment, labor and finance, civil rights, health care, government reform, immigration, and education.  I would like to specifically address reverses in worker and consumer safety.  The Washington Post updated how Trump is rolling back Obama’s legacy through 16 executive actions, 74 cabinet level agency decisions, 14 congressional review acts, and a piece of new legislation. 

  • Specifically, in terms of worker and consumer safety, the Mine Safety and Health Administration is revising a mining inspection rule published three days after Obama left office by allowing examiners to do their reviews while miners are working letting companies not record hazardous conditions if they are immediately corrected.
  • The Trump Administration Interior Department ordered the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to stop a study of health risks for residents near surface mining operations in the Appalachians.
  • The EPA delayed implementing a rule that would have changed how agricultural workers are protected from pesticides.
  • The EPA is delaying implementation of rule to require manufacturers to label formaldehyde and composite wood products.
  • A Coast Guard plan to regulate firefighting systems on tanker ships and helipads on offshore platforms was withdrawn.
  • Additionally, a Coast Guard rule that would have required all ships and berths to maintain equipment and technical systems for safety was withdrawn.
  • OSHA delayed implementing a rule regulating construction worker exposure to silica (linked to lung disease and cancer).
  • The House and Senate passed a bill signed by President Trump eliminating worker safety regulations aiming to track and reduce workplace injuries and death.
  • The Labor Department removed from its agenda a proposal to stiffen exposure standards for chemical solvents.
  • The Labor Department cancelled plans to lower permissible exposure limits for some substances that had been set in 1971 and cancelled plans to revoke obsolete permissible exposure limits for other substances.
  • The Labor Department removed from its agenda a proposal to tighten exposure standards for styrene, a chemical used in plastics identified as a carcinogen.

This laundry list of anti-worker executive actions, Cabinet-level agency decisions and Congressional review acts reveals the hypocrisy of Trump’s campaign promises to help working families.  Rather, it reveals his completely anti-worker policy.

Saving Our Benefits – How Public Outcry Saved Workers’ Compensation in New York

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Some of you may recall that injured workers and their families were used as political scapegoats by big business and insurance interests who blamed them for the high cost of doing business in New York.  Workers’ Compensation benefits became an easy target as those who needed these benefits were hardly in a position to fight against the deep pockets and political clout of these lobbying groups.  

As a result of political pressure during New York State budget negotiations, there was a direction to update the existing impairment guidelines under the guise of reducing costs to employers while still protecting injured workers. The final budget contained a provision directing the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) to put together a task force with input from labor, the insurance industry, medical providers, and the NYS Business Council to revise impairment guidelines to reflect “advances in modern medicine that enhance hearings and result in better outcomes”.  These impairment guidelines determine the amount of compensation payable to an injured worker for a permanent injury.

Unfortunately for injured workers, the WCB unilaterally revamped and rewrote the guidelines and released them during a holiday weekend with a 45-day public comment period. These proposed guidelines bore very little resemblance to the recommendations made by labor groups and the Orthopedic Society, and were an outrageous abuse of power. As a result of a very public outcry, the New York State Assembly Labor Committee held a public hearing during which it became very clear to labor groups, injured workers’ advocates, and members of the State Legislature that the Board’s egregious actions would result in a slashing of benefits to injured workers at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Public outcry led to action. Workers’ advocates showed up at a number of WCB locations across the state, including Hauppauge, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, for Days of Action. More than 100,000 postcards objecting to the proposed changes were delivered. Members of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the AFL-CIO, NYCOSH, New York City District Council of Carpenters, DC37, and countless others all publicly railed against these changes. Members of the Legislature called out the WCB for overstepping its authority and for proposing changes that would vastly favor the Business Council over the injured worker. 

The Worker’s Comp Board subsequently issued amended revisions, and while there are still some reductions, it was a significant improvement over the initial version. The final version was released last year on December 29. It is clear that grassroots efforts sometimes do work. Governor Cuomo and the WCB Chair clearly listened, and for that we are grateful. We are also grateful to those State legislators, union groups, and medical providers who submitted their insight on the impact the original proposals would have on injured workers.

Lastly, it is clear that those who may have been past or current recipients of Workers’ Compensation benefits – those who have known injured workers or those who just saw an injustice and wanted to help right a wrong – took the time to make a phone call, send a letter, or sign a petition. The outpouring of support took many by surprise, including those interests that were financed by big business groups.   One of my favorite quotes is from Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Truer words were never spoken.

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

Small Businesses Don’t Have Workers’ Compensation Insurance

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

In a new study by Insureon, less than 1 in 5 small businesses carry workers’ compensation.  Although all State regulations require that small businesses have workers’ compensation, this study indicates that workers’ compensation is the least purchased insurance by small businesses.  (In Wisconsin, employers must have workers’ compensation if they hire only one employee paying more than $500 in a quarter or hire any three employees at any one time.)  The President of Insureon Jeff Somers said in an interview with workerscompensation.com that “small businesses often fail to carry workers’ compensation because they truly do not understand their insurance need; there is a major lack of awareness and education which insurers and brokers can alleviate.  One reason for this protection gap is a misplaced anxiety around how much workers’ compensation coverage actually costs, but when you compare the small price. . . the protection workers’ compensation provides makes an investment worth it.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 3 million workplace injuries were reported by private industry employers in 2016, with nearly one-third resulting in time away from work.  The Insureon statistics showed that one in three businesses reported an incident that could have been covered by a workers’ compensation insurance policy and that one-fifth of all small businesses that filed for bankruptcy in 2016 did so because of lawsuits.  Workers’ compensation protects an employer from a lawsuit.  (In Wisconsin a worker injured by an uninsured employer has access to the Uninsured Employers Fund.  After the Fund pays workers’ compensation benefits, the Fund then pursues reimbursement from the employer.)

Failure to Provide Workers’ Compensation for Employees is a Crime

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

I saw a recent newspaper story from New Jersey telling an employer was found guilty of a crime for filing to provide workers compensation benefits for the employees of his tree trimming service.

I can’t recall the last time I read of such a conviction, although virtually every state makes failing to provide workers compensation is a crime and wide spread employer evasion by labeling workers as independent contractor rather than employees. Recent studies find misclassification to occur a 30% rate. The costs of misclassification are in the hundreds of billions with workers being denied treatment and income replacement, government losing withholding taxes, unemployment benefit taxes and lawful employers paying higher insurance premiums for workers compensation and healthcare to name a few costs.

I run into these scoff law employers all too frequently. If more prosecutors treated as the criminals, they are perhaps more working people would be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Workers Compensation for the Work Camper

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

The Washington Post ran a feature story about “Work Campers” – senior citizens who live in campers and travel around for temporary jobs. The story noted that many, if not most, work campers were forced into the lifestyle by inadequate retirement savings and Social Security retirement benefits that have lost 30 percent of their purchasing power since 2000. The story also noted that the number of senior citizens working has increased from 4 million to 9 million during that same time period.

The idea of a growing number of senior citizens essentially acting as migrant laborers strikes many as odd and even dystopian. But work campers will present interesting challenges to the workers compensation system.  Though some studies show that older workers are less likely to get hurt on the job, this finding is attributed to older workers having more experience on the job. Since work campers tend to hop from temporary job to temporary job, their chances of injury could increase as temporary workers are more likely to get hurt.

This growing development in the workforce raises many issues for work campers who are hurt on the job because workers compensation laws are state specific so benefits and eligibility for benefits vary from state to state.

Here are some questions that will face work campers when they are injured on the job.

Which states and jurisdictions can you collect benefits?

Employees may be eligible to claim benefits in the state where they are injured, their state of permanent residence, the state their employer is based or the state they were hired. Employees may also be able to claim benefits in multiple states. Employees may also be able to bring claims under the Jones Act or Longshore Act if they were hurt on a ship or a navigable body of water. It helps to get advice from a qualified workers’ compensation lawyer as the decision as to where an employee should claim benefits should be driven by where they have the best chances of recovery.

Which states limit permanent benefits for older workers?

Iowa recently limited workers over the age of 67 from receiving permanent disability benefits for more than 150 weeks. A work camper who was covered under Iowa law and seriously injured could only receive 2 ½ years of benefits.

What is the law on pre-existing conditions?

Many elderly workers have preexisting conditions. In some states those preexisting conditions may impair the ability of an injured work camper to collect benefits. In Missouri employees need to show an injury is a “prevailing factor” in the disability whereas in Nebraska employees merely show the work injury was a “contributing factor” to the disability. In other words, it would be more difficult for a work camper to collect benefits in Missouri for the aggravation of an old injury than it would be in Nebraska.

How do you determine earnings?

Disability benefits are based on earnings or what is called average weekly wage.  The work campers profiled in the Washington Post were fairly low wage employees. However some work camping contracts include provisions for benefits like lodging that have a real monetary value. In some states, like Nebraska, those non-cash benefits can be included in the average weekly wage. Short term work assignments also present difficulties in determining average weekly wage because they might not accurately reflect an employee’s actual earning capacity. There could also be questions as to whether employment is seasonal or weather dependent which could also alter the average weekly wage.

Again, calculations of earnings can vary state by state, so work campers injured on the job should contact a member of WILG who specialize in workers compensation and regularly communicate with workers compensation specialists in other states.

Study: Work Injuries Could Increase Risk of Losing Job

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

“Compared to colleagues reporting no injuries, workers who were hurt were more than twice as likely to be fired in the next six months. … After one year, 30 percent of workers had been injured at work and about a quarter were no longer employed at that job after 18 months.”

Can you guess specifics about the quote above, or at least start with figuring out which industry the quote is talking about?

The answer may surprise you (or maybe not, if you or a loved one have worked in this industry): it’s results that “used data from a study done by the Work, Family and Health Network involving direct care workers from 30 nursing homes across New England,” according to the study’s lead author. Cassandra Okechukwu, the lead author, offered that the study’s “original goal was to examine workplace policies meant to improve workers’ health, safety, and wellbeing.”

I am glad that Okechukwu and her team followed the data where it led, even though that wasn’t the original intent of the study. I am also glad that Madeline Kennedy wrote about the study’s results at this link via Reuters Health.

“The results also indicate that federal and state-level regulations, which are supposed to protect workers from being fired after injuries and to give workers compensation and sufficient time to recover from an injury, may not always be followed,” Kennedy wrote.

The study included 1,331 nursing home workers who completed interviews at six-month intervals and reported injuries and job changes for the previous six months in each interview, according to Kennedy. “Nine in 10 of the participants were women, and more than two thirds were certified nursing assistants.”

“Workers who had been injured multiple times were also twice as likely to quit their jobs in the next six months as colleagues with no injuries, the study found. … Compared with people who were not injured, injured workers were 30 percent more likely to no longer be in their jobs within six months of the injury, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.

“People who were injured more than once were more likely to choose to leave their jobs than people with no injuries, while people injured only once were more likely to be fired.”

Why workers are being fired is a question that needs to be examined in another study, according to Okechukwu. I would add that additional research always needs to be done, and I hope someone addresses this issue, as I think it is very important to know about for injured workers and those of us who work with and care for them.

Another researcher Kennedy quoted in the Reuters article who wasn’t involved in the study was Peter Smith, from the Institute for Work and Health at the University of Toronto.

Smith suggested that “workers may be fired because their employers feel they can no longer perform the job duties, or due to worries that they will be injured again,” or that workers elect to leave their jobs because they’re scared of being hurt.

“‘Work is not supposed to lead to injury,’ Smith said, and employers should give workers resources to protect their health and earnings. ‘Measures must be put in place to ensure that employers do not fire or discipline workers because they have had a work-related injury,’ he said.” 

If you or a loved one have questions about a work-related injury or suspect you’ve been fired because of an injury at work, please speak with an experienced lawyer.