Tag Archives: Nebraska

Kansas Supreme Court Decides Whether Undocumented Immigrants Are Entitled To Workers’ Compensation Benefits

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

Are undocumented immigrants entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in Nebraska?

Recently, the Kansas Supreme Court examined the same question that has been previously answered by the Nebraska courts.

The short answer is, yes. Undocumented workers are entitled to most workers’ compensation benefits under Nebraska law. The exception is that undocumented immigrants are not entitled to the vocational rehabilitation benefit because the worker is not legally permitted to be in the country.

To some people, Nebraska law and this Kansas decision make sense, but unfortunately many people believe that undocumented workers should not be entitled to work comp. This argument fails for the following reasons:

  1. If someone is injured at work and needs to seek medical treatment, it must be paid somehow. If it is not paid by workers’ compensation (even though the injury occurred at work), the cost of that treatment will be passed to the medical providers and the general-public. The employer will get away scot-free while everyone else would share the burden of mounting healthcare costs.
  2. Employers should not get a benefit of hiring undocumented workers over citizens or documented workers. As stated above, if the employer does not have to pay workers’ compensation benefits for an injured, undocumented worker, the employer will be encouraged to hire undocumented workers over others as cost-savings. It is the employer’s responsibility to hire documented workers, but if it means the cost-savings of not having to pay work comp benefits, you can bet that employer will try to hire undocumented workers over others.
  3. Similar to the previous reason, employers would be discouraged from taking safety measures to ensure the safety of its workers if it knows that it won’t be required to pay for undocumented workers’ injuries. This would make the workplace more dangerous for all workers.
  4. Regardless of citizenship, an injured worker has an inalienable right to be treated for work injuries simply based on the fact that his/her job has made money for that employer. This is the whole point of the workers’ compensation system: to provide a quick (relatively speaking) and efficient way to get medical treatment and compensation for any worker that is injured while making money for that employer. Without the beneficiary of the work that cause the injury being required to pay work comp, this burden would inevitably be pushed to tax payers in one form or another. In other words, taxpayers should certainly want undocumented immigrants to get workers’ compensation benefits.

Opioids And Doctor Choice

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

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said in 2008 that “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” In the context of opioids and workers compensation this could mean reforms to workers compensation systems beyond drug formularies If solving the opioid crisis means limiting the number of doctors who can prescribe opioids, then there will be fewer doctors who will treat workers compensation cases.

Additional licensure and certifications aren’t unheard of in the world of occupational health. In 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration implemented a new rule that only doctors on their registry can perform DOT Physical Examinations for truckers and other professional drivers. This reduced the number of doctors who can perform those examinations. 

When I testified on LB 408, a bill that would have implemented drug formularies for opioids under the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act, some doctors were testifying that there was little training in regards to prescribing opioids. Though an opioid prescription registry like the DOT examination registry wasn’t proposed, you could certainly see it proposed as a solution to the opioid problem.

By limiting the numbers of doctor who handle workers’ compensation claims through additional licensing requirements, injured employees will have fewer choices for medical treatment and are more likely to have their employer control their care.

Evidence shows that the workers compensation system has made some contribution to the opioid crisis. According to a 2015 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics over 3.5 million employees were injured at work. Half of those injuries required the employee to miss sometime from work. A study of employees in 25 states done by the Workers Compensation Research Institute revealed that 55 to 85 percent of employees who missed at least one week of work were prescribed at least one opioid prescription.

When I testified on LB 408 the consensus among the doctors testifying on the legislation was that injured workers were more vulnerable to narcotic addiction than other patients who are prescribed narcotic pain medication. Scientific studies give some credence to these conclusions. Workers compensation claims can cause economic insecurity. According to an article in Scientific America, Addiction rates for opioids are 3.4 times higher for those with incomes under $20,000 per year than they are for employees making more than 50,000 per year.

But that article also shared studies that state that pain pill prescriptions are not driving the opioid epidemic. Patients with pre-existing addiction issues are more likely to become addicted to opioids and 75 percent of those who develop opioids start taking opioids in a non-prescribed manner. Furthermore, only 12 to 13 percent of ER patients who are treated for opioid overdoses are chronic pain patients.

Workers’ Compensation is traditionally an area of the law that is controlled by the states. Regulation of drugs is generally an area reserved for the federal government. Any laws imposing additional hurdles or requirements upon doctors who prescribe opioid drugs may have to come from the federal government.

Welders Exposed To Increased Risk Of Parkinson’s Even If Manganese Within Legal Limits

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

Welders have an increased risk of Parkinson’s even if manganese exposure is within legal limits according to a recent article in the on-line journal Neurology, which is the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Welders who did flux core arc welding in confined spaces were particularly vulnerable to Parkinson’s according to the study. Workers in Nebraska who would attempt to get compensation for manganese exposure would face problems if the onset of symptoms happened after an employee stopped working. A court case in Nebraska held that an employee who didn’t experience symptoms of an occupational disease until after he retired was not entitled to be compensated because he wasn’t earning wages when the injury manifested. Welders and others who are exposed to manganese on a regular basis should recognize the early symptoms of Parkinson’s such as tremors, difficulty sleeping, constipation and loss of smell and report these symptoms to their doctors and employers as soon as possible so they can be treated under workers compensation and receive workers compensation disability benefits.

The study comes on the heel of a final flurry of OSHA rule making at the Obama administration. In May 2016 OSHA finally adopted a silica exposure rule for workers exposed to sand particles which can cause lung problems. Earlier this month OSHA lowered exposure thresholds for berrylium which is another pulmonary hazard, particularly for construction workers.

The example of beryiluim could explain why exposure to manganese levels at supposedly safe levels can lead to occupational disease. Those supposedly safe levels of exposure may not actually be safe. Another explanation about why supposedly safe levels of manganese lead to Parkinson’s could be found in the practices of the coal industry. Howard Berkes of NPR and Ken Ward Jr., author of the excellent Coal Tattoo blog for the Charleston (WV.) Gazette Mail teamed up to report on how coal companies would fudge coal dust level testing to make it appear that miners were exposed to much lower levels of coal dust than they were actually exposed.

OSHA’s rules could also be reversed by Congress under the Congressional Review Act. In 2001, the OSHA ergonomics rule that would have reduced musculo-skeletal injuries was reversed under this law.

Why Immigration Policy Changes Will Probably Impact Workers Compensation

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

In theory, the changes to immigration policy proposed by President Trump shouldn’t impact workers compensation in Nebraska. Workers compensation laws are state laws and Nebraska, like most states, awards workers compensation benefits regardless of immigration status.

But theory is one things and reality is another.

Mike Elk of Payday Report recently ran an article detailing that workplace deaths among Latinos were the highest in 2015 than they had been since 2007. This spike was attributed in part to aggressive immigration enforcement by the Obama administration which immigrant advocates believed made workers afraid to speak out about working conditions over fear of deportation.

During the Obama administration tougher immigration policies were at least coupled with tougher and even innovative workplace safety enforcement by OSHA. In the Trump era, workplace safety enforcement is expected to be curtailed and new OSHA rules are poised to be rolled back.

Immigration and workers compensation is often thought of in the context of Mexicans and central Americans working in industries like meatpacking and construction. This is a misconception, the meatpacking industry in Nebraska and elsewhere employs an uncounted but significant number of Somali workers. Somalis are one of seven nationalities banned from entering the United States under President Trump’s order. Ironically Somalis were recruited heavily into meatpacking work after raids during the Bush administration lead to the deportation of Latino meatpacking workers. Somalis had refugee status so there were few questions about their immigration status or eligibility to work legally. Under the new executive order, their immigration status is less secure and they may be less likely to speak out about working conditions.

A smaller but growing number of Cubans are coming to Nebraska for meatpacking work as well. Like Somalis, Cubans are deemed to be refugees so their ability to work lawfully is not a question for employers. However in the waning days of Obama administration, President Obama ended automatic refugee status for Cubans in an effort to normalize relationship with the Castro regime. There was little public outcry over this order like there was for the so-called Muslim Ban. However because of an executive order, Cuban nationals working in Nebraska may be less inclined to speak out about working conditions or claim workers compensation benefits due to newfound uncertainty over their immigration status.

It’s Complicated: Volunteer First Responders Generally Covered for Workers’ Compensation, with Exceptions

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

On a recent Monday, an anhydrous ammonia pipeline leaked near Tekamah in rural northeast Nebraska, leading to one fatality. When such accidents in happen in rural Nebraska, the first responders are usually volunteers.

Nebraska has extended workers’ compensation protections to volunteer firefighters and EMTs by statute. Volunteer first responders also have the same coverage for mental-mental injuries that other first responders have. Even though volunteer firefighters are not usually paid a wage, they can collect disability benefits based on the higher amount of two-thirds their regular wage or the state maximum benefit rate. In 2016, the maximum workers’ compensation rate was $785 per week.

Unfortunately, Nebraska’s volunteer first responders also share the same exclusions from workers’ compensation as professional first responders. Foremost among these exclusions is the exclusion for occupational diseases that Brody Ockander wrote about here last month. In short, if an occupational disease manifests itself after a volunteer first responder retires for reasons not related to the occupational disease, the worker or the worker’s survivors could be excluded from receiving workers’ compensation indemnity benefits.

This exclusion is troublesome because of the regularity that volunteer first responders have to respond to chemical explosions and leaks. These chemicals cause symptoms that might not manifest for years. Last week, in addition to the chemical leak in Tekamah, Nebraska, there was a chemical spill at a grain processing plant in rural Atchison, Kansas, that led to 125 people being treated for chemical inhalation. Nebraska has had fertilizer plant explosions in 2012 and in 2014.

Fertilizer plant explosions are not uncommon in rural America. In 2013, a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, killed 12 first responders and wounded 200 in a town of 2,800. In addition to physical injuries, such devastation can also lead to mental injuries, which is in part why Nebraska expanded so-called “mental-mental” benefits to first responders. However, mental injuries like chemical exposure injuries may have delayed symptoms. I would encourage the Nebraska Legislature to amend court decisions on occupational diseases that would exclude the injuries of volunteer first responders.

OSHA Investigates October Incident; Also Focuses Efforts on ‘High-Hazard Manufacturing Industries’

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

The U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently highlighted two news releases that are related to or will affect workplace safety, workers’ injuries, and workers’ compensation in both Iowa and Nebraska. These two states are in OSHA’s Region 7, along with Kansas and Missouri.

OSHA’s news release on Jan. 14 focused on an incident where a Nebraska worker fell more than 20 feet and died in October of last year. The worker had been employed for Custom Contracting Inc., of Lincoln, for just two weeks, according to the news release from OSHA.

There was no fall protection provided to the workers at their construction site, and “the agency also found the company failed to train workers to:

  • “Recognize fall hazards.
  • “Render first aid.
  • “Operate powered industrial vehicles.

“In addition, guard rails were not installed on open sides and ends of platforms to prevent falls, and lift trucks were found to be modified without manufacturer’s approval,” according to the website.

OSHA proposed penalties of $36,000.

“Fatal incidents like these are entirely preventable. They have tragic consequences for the victims, their families, and their communities,” said Jeff Funke, OSHA’s area director in Omaha, as quoted in the news release. “Construction industry employers must protect workers from falls, which continue to be the leading cause of worker’s death in the construction industry.”

In the second news release from OSHA that I’d like to discuss, a regional emphasis has been announced this is focusing on “high-hazard manufacturing industries” in Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

“The increased likelihood that workers in high-hazard manufacturing industries – such as food, furniture, fabricated metal, nonmetallic mineral, machinery and computer products – will be injured on the job is leading federal safety and health inspectors in three Midwestern states to increase its focus on industry outreach and inspections to reduce injury and illness rates,” according to the news release from OSHA.

This “region-wide emphasis program” is expected to last three months and includes “outreach and education to assist employers” to decrease hazards “and increase the probability of inspections at establishments in high-hazard industries with more than 10 employees and those that have not had a comprehensive inspection since 2011.”

If you or a loved one are involved in an incident at work that results in an injury or death, please contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer. This person should also be able to help report your concerns to OSHA as applicable.

Is a Pulmonary Embolism Compensable under Workers’ Compensation?

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

The short answer is yes, but it could be difficult to prove if it is not directly related to another workers’ compensation injury. In Nebraska, proving a pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) requires the same legal and medical causation tests as a heart attack or stroke (see Zissin v. Shanahan and Wingfield v. Hill Brothers Transportation, Inc.).

What that means is legal causation must be proved by showing that exertion or stress encountered during employment is greater than that experienced during the ordinary non-employment life. Then, it must also be proven by medical causation: i.e., show that the employment contributed in some material and substantial degree.

On the other hand, if someone develops DVT as a result of another injury caused by work, it would probably be much easier to meet the causation required to prove compensability. For example, let’s say a worker injures his knee during work and has surgery on that knee. Then, as a result of the surgery, a postoperative complication of DVT arises and eventually becomes a pulmonary embolism. In that scenario, the pulmonary embolism is clearly related to the work injury and clearly compensable.

Absent a prior injury, however, causation must be met by the standards stated above, which will be very fact intensive. An example of this scenario came up in the recent case, Wingfield v. Hill Brothers Transportation, Inc., 288 Neb. 174. In that case, a truck driver for 35 years asserted that his deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism was from sitting while driving a truck so long. The workers’ compensation court dismissed the cases, holding that the truck driver did not adequately prove legal and medical causation.

This case illustrates how difficult the causation standard is for pulmonary embolism cases that are not directly linked to a work injury. These types of cases will almost certainly require the assistance of a lawyer. 

Let’s Think About Medical Marijuana for Injured Workers

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

Nebraska, known for its conservative views, is considering legalization of medical marijuana. Sen. Tommy Garrett writes a passionate, persuasive and practical letter to constituents in support of medical marijuana. 

“Bottom line up front: The Cannabis Compassion and Care Act (LB643) is all about making life better for Nebraskans who are sick and ailing. Period! Nothing more … nothing less. This is entirely about helping very sick people in need who deserve the right to a medication that treats their illnesses.” Sen. Tommy Garrett

Sen. Garrett is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a registered Republican, and his views may surprise some people. He deserves credit for his advocacy on this issue. 

Relief from chronic pain is one use for medical marijuana. Chronic pain is an all-too-common problem for injured people. Current treatment patterns with strong opiates have reached crisis status. 

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam now allow medical marijuana. It seems now is a good time to study and consider adding marijuana as an alternative to the very dangerous opioids. 

Sen. Garrett put it this way. 

“While Washington may be broken, Nebraska is not. States have rights and I trust that the decision makers here in Lincoln will join me in looking at the research and see that cannabis has demonstrated effectiveness in treating cancer, ALS, MS, Dravet’s syndrome and other terminal and debilitating illnesses. I’m doing this because stuff needs fixing.”