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(c) 2014 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Get the New, Free, Workers Compensation Widget

OSHA Releases 15 Years Worth of Valuable Measurement Data

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released 15 years worth of measurement data and has placed the information on-line for easy access. This Chemical Exposure Health Data is comprised of measurements taken during the course of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections and includes exposure levels to hazardous chemicals including asbestos, benzene, beryllium, cadmium, lead, nickel, silica, and others. 


Dr. David Michaels is the Assistant Secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor., stated that "....Making this dataset available to the public for the first time will offer new insight into the levels of toxic chemicals commonly found in workplaces, as well as how exposures to specific chemicals are distributed across industries, geographical areas and time. This information will ultimately lead to a more robust and focused debate on what still needs to be done to protect workers in all sectors, especially in the chemical industry."


To read more about health care and workers' compensation click here.



Thursday, April 29, 2010

Put It Down - Friday April 30th

Distracted driving is a major cause of work related motor vehicle accidents. Encouraging employers and employees to go phone free in their vehicles while working is a goal of the US Department of Transportation. 


The US Department of Transportation in conjunction with a campaign by Oprah Winfrey has declared Friday, April 30th a phone free day in motor vehicles.


To read more on distracted driving activity and workers’ compensation, click here.

President Obama Proclaims April 28th Workers Memorial Day


Presidential Proclamation -- Workers Memorial Day

A PROCLAMATION
This year marks the 40th anniversary of both the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, which promise American workers the right to a safe workplace and require employers to provide safe conditions. Yet, today, we remain too far from fulfilling that promise. On Workers Memorial Day, we remember all those who have died, been injured, or become sick on the job, and we renew our commitment to ensure the safety of American workers.
The families of the 29 coal miners who lost their lives on April 5 in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia are in our thoughts and prayers. We also mourn the loss of 7 workers who died in a refinery explosion in Washington State just days earlier, the 4 workers who died at a power plant in Connecticut earlier this year, and the 11 workers lost in the oil platform explosion off the coast of Louisiana just last week.
Although these large-scale tragedies are appalling, most workplace deaths result from tragedies that claim one life at a time through preventable incidents or disabling disease. Every day, 14 workers are killed in on-the-job incidents, while thousands die each year of work-related disease, and millions are injured or contract an illness. Most die far from the spotlight, unrecognized and unnoticed by all but their families, friends, and co-workers -- but they are not forgotten.
The legal right to a safe workplace was won only after countless lives had been lost over decades in workplaces across America, and after a long and bitter fight waged by workers, unions, and public health advocates. Much remains to be done, and my Administration is dedicated to renewing our Nation's commitment to achieve safe working conditions for all American workers.
Providing safer work environments will take the concerted action of government, businesses, employer associations, unions, community organizations, the scientific and public health communities, and individuals. Today, as we mourn those lost mere weeks ago in the Upper Big Branch Mine and other recent disasters, so do we honor all the men and women who have died on the job. In their memory, we rededicate ourselves to preventing such tragedies, and to securing a safer workplace for every American.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 28, 2010, as Workers Memorial Day. I call upon all Americans to participate in ceremonies and activities in memory of those who have been killed due to unsafe working conditions.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-eighth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Facing Unacceptable Hazards in the Workplace








TESTIMONY OF JORDAN BARAB DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON WORKFORCE PROTECTIONS THE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND LABOR U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES APRIL 28, 2010



Chair Woolsey, Ranking Member McMorris Rodgers and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) particularly on the issues of whistleblower protections and victim’s rights in OSHA’s enforcement process.



I recognize the significance of today’s hearing being held on both the 39th anniversary of the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Workers Memorial Day. Today is the day set aside to recognize workers killed, disabled, injured or sickened by their work – to honor the men and women who have died on the job and to rededicate ourselves to improving safety and health in every American workplace.



This commitment is especially needed now, as we commemorate this Workers Memorial Day not only to remember the 29 brave miners who lost their lives at the Upper Big Branch mine, the 7 refinery workers who were killed the week before at the Tesoro refinery in Washington, but also the 14 workers who die on the job every day in this country.



This hearing focuses on two areas that are crucial to reaching the goal set by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) to assure safe and healthful working conditions for all working men and women in the United States: 1) ensuring that workers are safe from retaliation for exercising their health and safety rights; and 2) ensuring victims of workplace incidents and their family members have information and a meaningful role in OSHA enforcement activities.



Whistleblower Protections



Congress realized that OSHA inspectors would never be able to visit more than a small fraction of the nation’s workplaces. The OSH Act therefore relies heavily on workers to help identify hazards at their workplaces. The authors of the OSH Act also realized that employees are not likely to participate in safety and health activities if they fear that they will lose their jobs or otherwise be retaliated against. That is why Congress wrote Section 11(c) -- to protect employees from discrimination and retaliation when they report safety and health hazards or exercise other rights under the OSH Act. The OSH Act was one of the first safety and health laws to contain a provision for protecting whistleblowers.



Section 11(c) was innovative and forward looking in 1970, but 40 years later it is clearly antiquated and in dire need of substantial improvement. Achieving Secretary Solis’ goal of Good Jobs for Everyone includes strengthening workers’ voices in their workplaces. Without robust whistleblower protections, these voices may be silenced.



This Administration strongly supports the whistleblower provisions of the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA), which expands the OSH Act’s anti-retaliation provisions, codifies a worker’s right to refuse to perform unsafe work, prohibits employer policies that discourage workers from reporting illnesses or injuries, prohibits employer retaliation against employees for reporting injuries or illnesses, and grants workers the right to further pursue their case if OSHA does not proceed in a timely fashion.



OSHA currently administers the whistleblower provisions of sixteen other statutes, protecting employees who report violations of various trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail, consumer product, and securities laws. In the four decades since the OSH Act became law, Congress has enacted increasingly expansive whistleblower protections in these other laws, leaving section 11(c) of the OSH Act in significant ways the least protective of the 17 whistleblower statutes. It is time to bring OSHA’s protections up to the same level of these other laws.



Notable weaknesses in section 11(c) include: inadequate time for employees to file complaints; lack of an administrative forum for the adjudication of cases; lack of a statutory right of appeal; lack of a private right of action; and OSHA’s lack of authority to issue findings and preliminary orders, so that a complainant’s only chance to prevail is through the Department of Labor filing an action in U.S. District Court.



PAWA would strengthen section 11(c) by including the full range of procedures and remedies available under the more modern statutes and by codifying certain provisions, such as exemplary damages and the right to refuse work that could result in serious injury or illness, which have been available but not expressly authorized by current statute. There is no reason that workers speaking up about threats to their safety and health should enjoy less protection than workers speaking up about securities fraud or transportation hazards. PAWA would also make explicit that a worker may not be retaliated against for reporting injuries, illnesses or unsafe conditions to employers or to a safety and health committee. This protection is already implicit in the OSH Act, but PAWA would leave no doubt in employers’ or employees’ minds about this right.



PAWA is an improvement on OSHA’s current law in significant ways. It would increase the existing 30-day deadline for filing an 11(c) complaint to 180 days, bringing 11(c) more in line with some of the other whistleblower statutes. Over the years many complainants who might otherwise have had a strong case of retaliation have been denied protection simply because they did not file within the 30-day deadline. For example, we received an 11(c) complaint from a former textile employee who claimed to have been fired for reporting to management that he had become ill due to smoke exposure during the production process. The worker contacted OSHA to file an 11(c) complaint 62 days after he was fired, compelling OSHA to dismiss the case as untimely under existing law. Under PAWA, however, OSHA would be able to investigate the merits of cases such as this one. Increasing the filing deadline to 180 days would greatly increase the protections afforded by section 11(c).



PAWA’s adoption of the “contributing factor” test for determining when illegal retaliation has occurred would be another significant improvement in 11(c). This test, which examines the employer’s decision to take adverse action against the employee following whistleblower activity, is less stringent than the current “motivating factor” test to which OSHA is currently restricted. Adoption of the “contributing factor” test would make 11(c) consistent with other more recently enacted whistleblower statutes and would strengthen the whistleblower protections afforded to America’s workers.



The private right of action is another key element of whistleblower protections that is lacking in OSHA’s current 11(c) provision and is contained in PAWA. It is critically important that, if an employer fails to comply with an order providing relief, both DOL and the complainant should be able to file a civil action for enforcement of that order in a U.S. District Court. We strongly support this provision.



PAWA also allows complainants to move their case to another prescribed venue if the Department does not make prompt decisions or rulings. For example, PAWA would allow complainants to “kick out” from an OSHA investigation to a de novo Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing if the Secretary has not issued a decision within 120 days from the case filing; “kick out” from an ALJ hearing to district court if an ALJ has not issued a decision within 90 days of the request for a hearing; or “kick out” from an Administrative Review Board (ARB) hearing to district court if the ARB has not issued a final order within 60 days of the request for an administrative appeal. “Kick-out” provisions have become a standard feature of whistleblower protection statutes, and OSHA believes it is appropriate for 11(c) complainants to have the same right.



The provision in PAWA allowing employees in states administering OSHA-approved plans to choose between Federal and State whistleblower investigations would likely result in a significant increase in the number of Federal complaints. All 22 states and territories that administer private sector plans are required to provide protections at least as effective as Federal OSHA’s. We have some reservations about this provision because we are not convinced it would add much protection to workers in those states and it would be a significant drain on OSHA and Solicitor resources. We would welcome further discussions on how to best ensure whistleblower protections in these states.



Finally, PAWA would codify a number of OSHA’s high standards for professionalism and transparency in conducting whistleblower investigations that are of critical importance to this Administration. For example, PAWA requires OSHA to interview complainants and to provide them with the respondent’s response and the evidence supporting the respondent’s position. PAWA affords complainants the opportunity to meet with OSHA and to rebut the employer’s statements or evidence. While we train our investigators on the critical importance of conducting thorough interviews with complainants and involving complainants in the rigorous testing of proffered employer defenses, we believe that requiring these investigative steps by statute would assist OSHA in its mission of providing robust protection to occupational safety and health whistleblowers.



These legislative changes in the whistleblower provisions are a long-overdue response to weaknesses that have become apparent over the past four decades. This legislation makes good on the promise to stand by those workers who have the courage to come forward when they know their employer is cutting corners on safety and health and guarantees that they do not have to sacrifice their jobs in order to do the right thing.



Not only do we support the provisions of PAWA intended to improve whistleblower protections, we would like to explore areas where we might want to go further.



I would propose amending the OSH Act to provide for assessment of civil penalties against employers who violate the whistleblower provisions. Currently, while an employer found to be discriminating against an employee must make the employee whole again, there is no provision for civil penalties against employers. The provisions are not in the current version of PAWA but similar provisions were included in the S-MINER Act that was passed by this Committee and the full House of Representatives in 2008. Under such a provision, any employer found to be in violation of Section 11(c) of the Act would be subject to civil penalties of not less than $10,000 and not more than $100,000 for each occurrence of a violation.



Additionally, as conclusion of these cases can often take many months, a provision should be made to reinstate the complainant pending outcome of the case. The Mine Safety and Health Act provides that in cases when the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) determines that an employee’s complaint was not frivolously brought, the Review Commission can order immediate reinstatement of the miner pending final order on the complaint. OSHA’s 11(c) complainants should have the same reinstatement rights.



Victims’ Rights



OSHA has long known that workers, and often their families, can serve as OSHA’s “eyes and ears,” identifying workplace hazards. Workers injured in workplace incidents and their friends and family often provide useful information to investigators, because employees frequently discuss work activities and co-workers with family members during non-work hours. We are dedicated to findings ways to involve workers and their families in OSHA’s enforcement investigations. Both Assistant Secretary Michaels and I make it a priority to set time aside to talk with victims’ families whenever we have the opportunity.



Last month, as part of an effort to reach out and hear from stakeholders on a variety of safety and health issues, we hosted “OSHA Listens.” As part of the event, we heard recommendations from the family members of workers killed on the job on how to enhance victims’ and families’ participation in the enforcement process.



I want to thank Tonya Ford whose uncle, Robert Fitch, was killed at Archer Daniels Midland on January 29, 2009, for coming to Washington today to testify and describe to us the tragic circumstances of Mr. Fitch’s death and the unnecessary problems she and her family faced getting information about what happened and what OSHA was doing. We appreciate the suggestions she has on how to improve our enforcement process and better involve victims and their families.



Katherine Rodriguez, whose father was killed at the BP Texas City Refinery on September 2, 2004, also spoke at OSHA Listens and made several recommendations to OSHA officials on how to enhance the rights of victims’ families. She said that before her father died in the hospital her family received information about the incident that might have been useful to OSHA investigators, noting that “fellow coworkers are more willing to talk to the family members than any investigator.”



Family members and co-workers are sincerely and understandably interested in learning how an incident occurred, finding out if anything could have been done to prevent it, and knowing what steps employers and employees will take in the future to ensure that someone else is not injured or killed in a similar situation.



It is OSHA’s policy to talk to families during the investigation process and inform them about our citation procedures and settlements. OSHA first contacts the family at the beginning of the inspection. All families get a letter from the Area Director discussing the process and advising that they will be kept informed. In some cases the families initially get a phone call. Families are then normally provided a copy of the citations when issued.



However, we have found that some of these policies have not always been implemented consistently and in a timely manner. It is also clear that a letter is not adequate. Therefore, we will be putting these policies into a directive and adding them to our Field Operations Manual. We will also be instructing the Area Directors to call the family to express condolences, advise that a letter is coming, and assure families we will be staying in contact.



In addition, we need to work on interacting with families following a tragedy. As might be expected, many OSHA inspectors understandably have trouble knowing how to interact with a person who has just lost a loved one in tragic circumstances. While brief training on this issue is provided to Compliance Officers at the Initial Compliance Course at the OSHA Training Institute, clearly more training is needed and will be developed. We will also develop webinars and webcasts for training of all compliance officers, team leaders, and Area Directors.



In general, OSHA is supportive of expanding interactions with families and victims. Therefore, the Agency is examining the issue of victims’ rights from the administrative level to seek ways to better ensure the rights of victims and their families to participate in OSHA’s enforcement efforts. OSHA supports many of the changes to the OSH Act embodied in PAWA for victims and their families.



PAWA would place into law, for the first time, the right of a victim (injured employee or family member) to meet with OSHA regarding the investigation and to receive copies of the citation or resulting report at the same time as the employer at no cost. PAWA would also enable victims to be informed of any notice of contest and to make a statement before an agreement is made to withdraw or modify a citation.



However, we also want to ensure – and I think the families would also want to ensure – that the provisions of PAWA do not unduly slow down the inspection, enforcement and adjudication process, which only hurt victims and their families in the long run. We believe therefore that clarification is needed of the provisions allowing victims or their representatives to meet in person with OSHA before the agency decides whether to issue a citation, or the right to appear before parties conducting settlement negotiations. This could be logistically difficult for victims and OSHA’s regional and area offices, resulting in significant delays in the negotiations and ultimate citation. OSHA would be happy to work with the Committee to address this issue.




Madam Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to appear today to discuss PAWA and how it would improve whistleblower protections and victim’s rights. I believe stronger whistleblower protections and more substantial rights for victims and their families can lead to safer jobsites and ultimately, more men and women who go safely home to their families at the end of the day. I would be happy to answer your questions.

Congressional Hearing: Whistleblower and Victim’s Rights Provisions of H.R. 2067, the Protecting America’s Workers Act



Workforce Protections Subcommittee Hearing10:00 AM, April 28, 20102175 Rayburn H.O.B
Washington, DC
The Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing Wednesday on a proposal to strengthen protections for workers who blow the whistle on dangerous workplace conditions, and guarantee a voice for families of workers killed, and those who are seriously injured, or become ill on the job.
Among other provisions, the Protecting America’s Workers Act (H.R. 2067) and proposed changes to legislation, would update workplace whistleblower protections by mirroring other modern whistleblower statutes, such as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The bill would also ensure that victims and their families are kept informed about investigations of fatalities and incidents involving serious injuries or illnesses.
Witnesses:
  • Jordan Barab »Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and HealthWashington, D.C.
  • Lloyd B. Chinn »PartnerProskauer Rose LLPNew York, New York
  • Tonya Ford »Niece of Robert Fitch, a worker killed at an Archer Daniels Midland plantLincoln, Nebraska
  • Neal Jorgensen »whistleblower formerly employed at Plastic IndustriesPreston, Idaho
  • Dr. Celeste Monforton »Assistant Research Professor
    Department of Environmental and Occupational Health
    The George Washington UniversityWashington, D.C.
  • Dennis J. Morikawa »Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLPPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Lynn Rhinehart »General CounselAFL-CIOWashington, D.C.

Preventing Joint Replacement Surgery in Workers' Compensation Claims

Joint replacement claims are becoming more frequent in workers’ compensation and proving compensability remains challenging. As the aging working population has expanded so has been the need for workers’ compensation to pay for the cost of replacing aging joints.

The cost for a new hip or knee can cost as much as $30,000 to $40,000. for the surgery alone. Additionally, workers’ compensation companies maybe responsible for the payment of temporary disability benefits to injured workers who are required to undergo surgery. Should the medial procedure fail, the insurance company could possibly be liable for the payment of total disability benefits to the injured worker.

Historically workers’ compensation programs were only liable for specific traumatic injuries. The original acts enacted in 1911 were amended the 1940’ and 1950’s to cover occupational conditions and cumulative stress disorders.

Whether a joint replacement is required because of a work related condition sometimes becomes a difficult proof issue. Pre-existing conditions. ie. natural degeneration, may be considered as the sole or contributing factor for the need for replacement. . Ruhe v. Industrial Commission of Arizona, 2010 WL 1253527 (Ariz. App. Div. I), Raymer v. Interstate Brands Company, 2009 WL 277539 (Ky. App.). A prior condition may be ruled out as a con-contributory factor. Anheuser-Busch Co. Inc., 156 N.H. 677, 940 A.2d 1147 (N.H. 2008).

Even if there is a traumatic injury, there may be a need for joint replacement that can be anticipated in the future. Stevens v. Citizens Memorial Healthcare Foundation, 244 S.W.3d 234 (Mo. Ct. App. 2008). In such situations future medical care should be considered at the time of the initial judgment.

Avoiding the need for joint replacement is the best solution altogether. While 400,000 people a year have joint replacement surgery, taking the preventive route of  caring for your joints can save both lot of money and a lot of discomfort. The NY Times has reported some prevention methods that look promising.  Workers’ compensation courts should consider these concepts and order recognized preventive programs when adjudicating claims where potential joint replacement maybe anticipated.

To read more about workers' compensation click here.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dan Rather Reports on Burn Pit Exposures to Soldiers in Iraq & Afghanistan



Burn Pit exposures will be the topic of a televised report by Dan Rather. The program is scheduled to air on Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 8pm and 11pm on HD Net. To watch a video preview click here.

The focus of the program will be the American shoulders who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from new diseases and illnesses that were not the direct consequences of armed combat. The program will discuss the alleged exposures to burn pit dust, fumes and other toxic pollution to enormous burn pits that were utilized by government contractors to dispose of waste. Lawsuits are presently pending against these contractors including KBR and Kellogg, Brown and Root.

The diseases reported include: respiratory disease, chronic cough,
 debilitating headaches, and neurological skin disorders, and cancers. Some deaths have been reported from the alleged exposures to the burning toxic waste.

In a report in the Huffington Post,  Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis (Ret.) U.S. Air Force, a bio-environmental engineer, commented on the burn pit at Balad Air Base, "..it was 'amazing that the burn pit has been allowed to operate without restrictions over the past few years with no significant engineering controls put in place.'"

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Contractor Town Hall Meeting 4/29/10


Changes in the MSPRC Conditional Payment Process for Liability Insurance, No-Fault Insurance, and Workers' Compensation Cases


On April 29, 2010 from 1:00pm – 3:00pm (EDT), the MSPRC will host a Town Hall Meeting regarding
"Changes in the MSPRC Conditional Payment Process for Liability Insurance, No-Fault Insurance, and Workers' Compensation Cases."
This Town Hall Meeting will provide education on the New Conditional Payment Notice and Process, as well as updates on:
  • The MSPRC Recovery Process & Timelines
  • The Rights and Responsibilities Letter
  • Proof of Representation vs. Consent to Release
  • What's new with the MSPRC
Space is limited, to reserve your Webinar seat now : Click Here!

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/164660640


REMINDER: As space is limited, if more than one person from your organization is participating, we encourage you to convene in one conference or meeting room.


Click here to read more about Medicare Secondary Payer Act and workers' compensation.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Workers Memorial Day April 28, 2010

"


The AFL-CIO has announced Workers Memorial Day commemoration.


"Decades of struggle by workers and their unions have resulted in significant improvements in working conditions. But the toll of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths remains enormous. Each year, thousands of workers are killed and millions more are injured or diseased because of their jobs. The unions of the AFL-CIO remember these workers on April 28, Workers Memorial Day.


"The first Workers Memorial Day was observed in 1989. April 28 was chosen because it is the anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the day of a similar remembrance in Canada. Every year, people in hundreds of communities and at worksites recognize workers who have been killed or injured on the job. Trade unionists around the world now mark April 28 as an International Day of Mourning.


CDC reports:
"Workers Memorial Day recognizes those workers who died or sustained work-related injuries or illnesses during the previous year. In 2008, a total of 5,071 U.S. workers died from occupational injuries (1), and 49,000 deaths annually are attributed to work-related illnesses (2). In 2008, an estimated 3.7 million workers in private industry and 940,000 in state and local government had a nonfatal occupational injury or illness; 40%--50% of these workers were transferred, placed on work restrictions, or took time away from work (3). An estimated 3.4 million workers were treated in emergency departments for occupational injuries and illnesses in 2007, and approximately 94,000 were hospitalized (CDC, unpublished data, 2010).

Coaching the Witness to Cry on Cue

A recent trial level decision discounted the testimony of the claimant  after the trial judge made a finding that the witness had been coached. How do you determine if the witness was coached or merely prepared by his or her attorney in anticipation of  testimony? How do you define the fine line between permissible and unethical? What factors are essential in making that finding?


Excellent lawyers spend hours with their clients in advance of testimony. Is it merely to discuss what to wear to court, and what to eat the day before? Sometimes witnesses are so anxious that lawyer needs to calm them down by explaining the routine of trial, the dress code required and the need to get a full night's sleep before the hearing. Sometime there are so many documents and collateral testimony that it is helpful to review them with a client before his or her testimony.


While clients need to know the parameters of what is expected in a judicial proceeding, feeding the answers to a client to mimic like a ventriloquist act is obviously over the line. Telling the client to be honest and accurate as well as responsive is appropriate. The witness needs to know that they shouldn't guess if they don't know an answer to a question.


Attorney's objections made at a hearing can be phrased in such a fashion as to signal or suggest an answer to the witness. That would appear to be coaching is objectionable. Likewise a spectator in the courtroom signaling in a non-verbal manner to a witness could be deemed to be prejudicial error and grounds for a mistrial.


A NJ workers' compensation court characterized coaching when an injured worker started to cry on the witnesses stand, when asked a question as to how he felt. "Overall, the JOC found petitioner's testimony appeared “to be well coached and practiced. [He] cried as if on cue when his counsel asked how he felt.” 


Credibility seems to be the essential criteria in judicial witness evaluations. Judges, especially in a non-jury, administrative action, must take all aspects of the conduct and appearance of the witness into consideration. Determining if an individual is making a non-credible, or coached cry, is an extremely difficult call to make. Applying the law to the facts is a difficult enough judicial task. Even if it is only a workers' compensation proceeding, asking judges to make a determination if a cry is "coached" seems to be an extraordinary responsibility.


Valle v I.M.Supermarkets, Docket # a1910-08, NJ App Div 2010. (Decided April 16, 2010)


Click here to read more about witnesses and workers' compensation.





Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rescue Legislation for Missouri Second Injury Fund Fails

The Missouri legislature failed to pass legislation that would rescue the state's Second Injury Fund (SIF) from financial collapse. The SIF has been long targeted for extinction by Industry in Missouri. The Attorney General order the SIF to stop making payments in October 2009.


The national trend for decades has been the closing of SIF's throughout the country. That trend has been advocated by those who claim that Federal legislation now supports hiring the handicapped and that the dollars paid into the SIFs are not being utilized to assist the payment of total disability awards as intended by the acts. The State of New Jersey has recently reported that the NJ Fund is also in financial difficulty. 




Monday, April 19, 2010

Football Players File Claims for Brain Damage

Football, the sport of humans clashing heads together, is now subject to a growing wave of workers' compensation claims for dementia. Recent studies have shown that football players have suffered head injuries as a result of multiple concussions suffer chronic traumatic encephalitis (CTE)


At recent discussion on Legal Talk Network reviewing this topic in depth, Christopher Nowinski, President and CEO of the Sports Legacy Institute and former Harvard football player, participated. He remarked that former football players have donated their brains for pathological research concerning CTE and its association with multiple concussions playing the sport.


It has been alleged that CTE results in early dementia, early onset of Alzheimer's Disease and multiple other brain disorders. The average football player sustains over 1,000 concussions each game.


Recently claims have been filed by several players against the National Football League in California. Massachusetts attorney, Alan S. Pierce, explains that that the statutory prohibitions make California a fertile jurisdiction for workers compensation claims.  In additional to the medical causation issue, it is anticipated that players will be confronted with conflict of laws issues in selecting an appropriate jurisdiction(s) to insure a maximum recovery.


As employment relationships become more geographically complex due to interstate and international relationships, the courts have been confronted with an ever-increasing problem as to what forum's law will apply to specific situations.  In most instances, courts have adopted their local law as long as the site of the injury, or the site of the contract, or the site of the employment relationship was within their state.  In certain instances, the court must go beyond those factors and assess whether another forum's law would provide the certainty of result which would occur in the their own state.  The court looks towards fairness to the employee in selecting the choice of law to be applied.  An overwhelming consideration is that public policy demands that the injured employee be cared for adequately within their jurisdiction.


Additionally rates of compensation vary among the states as well as laws defining what constitutes an occupational exposure and the allocation of liability where multiple jurisdiction, employment and events occur.


It is anticipated that these claims will increase and will proliferate in multiple-jurisdictions throughout the country. Since it it is impossible to avoid injuries in a sport designed for body contact sport, the courts and legislatures will be faced  ultimately with  public policy consideration concerning the sport and continuing to mandate workers' compensation benefits.


Click here to read more about jurisdiction and workers' compensation.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Is The Virtual Doctor a Cure for Workers' Compensation

The American Association of Retired People (ARRP) reports in May/June2010 edition of their magazine that the concept of online appointments is taking hold in the medical system.  Doctors are making house calls by computer or phone. Patients will no longer have to sit in waiting rooms watching "Medical TV" or read magazines while waiting to see their doctor.

One of the primary benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act is that of medical benefits.  Medical benefits are mandated by the Act, and require the employer to furnish the injured worker with medical, surgical and other treatment and hospital services as are necessary "to cure and relieve the worker of the effects of the injury and to restore the functions of the injured member or organ" if possible. The injured worker's exclusive remedy to receive medical treatment is in accordance with the provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act.  The employer can be compelled to provide prompt and adequate medical treatment, and an action at common law against the workers' compensation insurance carrier is barred. The employee's right to medical benefits is independent of other remedies available under the Workers' Compensation Act.  The injured worker need not wait until final adjudication of his claim for permanent disability in order to proceed with a claim for medical benefits.

This year OptumHealth is about to launch NowClinic. The site is compatible with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. Using Chrome will not allow you to access the site. The planned cost, according to AAARP is  $45 for a ten minute dialog.

Will this trend be adaptable to workers' compensation programs is a major question. With so much paranoia concerning fraud on both sides of the program involving into RICO claims, many employers and insurers might be apprehensive in launching such a system. On the other hand, the cost savings benefits to employers and insurance companies maybe monumental. Clinical care, diagnostic testing and pharmaceutical dispensing may also become incorporated into the program. Some delays maybe eliminated for claims that are not contested or denied.  Once into the "system" the chance for straying to unauthorized medical care could be reduced.

As technological expands in the health profession, the use of virtual care system will probably become more available. Tailoring them to the needs of the workers' compensation program will remain a challenging opportunity to improve the benefit system.

To read more about health care and workers' compensation click here.


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