Things you should know

Employer control over medical providers can lower costs for spinal injuries

A study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) found the greatest disparity in medical and indemnity costs between states that allow injured workers to choose their own providers and those that give employers more control is for spinal injuries. Researchers noted that there is more subjectivity in the nature of care for back and neck injuries, whether employees can go back to work, and the level of pain.
ISEA updates fall protection guide

In response to new regulations and standards, the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) has updated its Personal Fall Protection Equipment Use and Selection Guide. The 30-page document explains how to set up a fall protection program, details the major parts of fall protection systems, and advises on the selection of equipment based on industry. It also includes relevant OSHA regulations and U.S. and Canadian consensus standards.
New chronic pain guideline emphasizes physical activity

An “overwhelming theme” in treating patients for chronic pain is to keep them as physically active as possible, according to an American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine treatment guideline recently released, which has not been released to the public. The therapy needs to move beyond simply stretching to strengthening, aerobic conditioning, and functional improvement and one key is to not prescribe activity “as tolerated” or “as needed.”
Study of severe injury data finds poultry and meat workers at high risk

Every day, 27 workers suffer on-the-job amputations or injuries that require hospitalization, according to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project. According to the data, employers reported 17,533 severe injuries between Jan. 2015 and Sept 2016.

Out of more than 14,000 companies reporting to the government, Tyson Foods ranked fourth, and JBS/Pilgrim’s Pride ranked sixth, in terms of the number of severe injury reports filed. Further, the poultry industry as a whole has the 12th highest number of severe injuries of all industries reporting-higher than the sawmill industry, auto, steel, and other high-hazard industries.
Large variation in worker attorney involvement by state: study

WCRI released a new FlashReport to help inform policymakers and stakeholders about worker attorney involvement in their state. According to the study, the percentage of claims with worker attorneys ranged from 13-14 percent in Wisconsin and Texas to 49-52 percent in New Jersey and Illinois. States included in this study are Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Mine safety rule implementation delayed until Oct. 2

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has extended the effective date for its rule on workplace safety examinations for metal and nonmetal mines to Oct. 2. The rule addresses the timing of workplace safety examinations and strengthens notification requirements.
MSHA launches lone miner safety initiative

MSHA announced it will begin focusing inspections and mine visits on lone miner situations after five of eight miner fatalities this year have involved miners working alone.
State updates

California

  • Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has issued a revised advisory pure premium rate, reducing rates by 16.5% to $2.02 per $100 of payroll effective July 1.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approved a new regulation that serves to strengthen process safety management around the state’s oil refineries.
  • The start date for the planned drug formulary will be delayed by six months to January 1, 2018 to revise parts of the plan and receive public comments.

Florida

  • 14.5% increase in comp premiums upheld by appeals court.

Illinois

  • The average indemnity benefit per claim in Illinois was $21,275 in 2013, while the median state benefit per claim was $18,269 according to a WCRI study.
  • The Senate passed two pieces of workers compensation reform legislation that would reduce the cost of workers compensation insurance for employers and introduce market competition. The bills will be sent to the governor for signature.

Mississippi

  • The Workers’ Compensation Commission has adopted an amendment to its 2017 fee schedule, adding opioid guidelines.

 

 For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Legal Corner

ADA
Part-time schedule not required when the essential duties of the job cannot be performed

In Green v. BakeMark USA LLC, 6th Cir., the manager had been granted several leaves for cancer surgery and subsequent complications and returned with hour restrictions for a limited time. Shortly after returning to full duty and working a 24-hr shift, he collapsed and his doctor again issued work restrictions. At the employee’s request, the company provided information on the hours he was expected to work to the treating physician. It also attempted to reach the employee by phone and email, but received no response, which led to mediation.

At mediation, the employee, in effect, requested an indefinite leave of absence. The company terminated the employee who filed several claims under the ADA. A federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of BakeMark and on appeal, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal.

Based on witness testimony and the job description for the position, the appeals court noted anything less than full-time hours would fundamentally alter the position, which is not required by the ADA. While part-time or flextime schedules can be a reasonable accommodation, they are not required when the essential duties of the job cannot be performed within the restricted hours.

 

Workers’ Compensation
Supreme Court tightens rules on where injury lawsuits can be filed – United States

The U.S. Supreme Court tightened rules on where injury lawsuits may be filed, handing a victory to corporations in a case involving Texas-based BNSF Railway Co. In an 8-1 decision, the justices threw out a lower court decision in Montana allowing out-of-state residents to sue there over injuries that occurred anywhere in BNSF’s nationwide network. State courts cannot hear claims against companies when they are not based in the state or the alleged injuries did not occur there, the justices ruled. In effect this significantly limits the ability to bring claims in friendly courts.
Work Comp policy can be rescinded for misrepresentation – California

A Workers’ Compensation Appeals Court determined that an insurer has the right to retroactively rescind a workers’ compensation policy, even if a worker has already been injured. In this case, the employer’s application for coverage implied that its employees did not travel out of state, but an employee was injured out of state.

In Southern Insurance Co. vs. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB), EJ Distribution Corp. et al., EJ Distribution Corp.’s application indicated covered employees would not travel out of California or outside of a 200-miled radius. After the arbitrator found the policy could not be rescinded and the WCAB adopted the arbitrator’s report, Southern petitioned the court for a writ of review, which was granted.

“Contrary to the arbitrator’s ruling, a workers’ compensation insurance policy may be rescinded,” the court said in its ruling. “A recession is enforced by a civil action for relief based on recession or by asserting recession as a defense. Because the arbitrator and the appeals board did not address and determine whether rescission was a meritorious defense to the employee’s claim, we annul the appeals board’s decision and remand the case with directions to hear and determine whether the insurer was entitled to rescind, and did rescind, the policy.”
Court of Appeals allows apportionment to genetics – California

In City of Jackson v W.C.A.B., a police officer injured his neck and was diagnosed with cervical degenerative disc disease and cervical radiculopathy. A physician concluded that his injury was cumulative and caused by a combination of work and personal activities as well as a personal history of “heritability and genetics”, among other things.

After the neck surgery, the doctor changed the apportionment to 49 percent; saying that there was new evidence that showed genetics played a more significant role in cervical spine disability than previously thought, citing several studies. The WCAB did not agree, but the Court of Appeals noted employers are able to base apportionment on other factors such as a preexisting disability or the natural progression of a non-industrial condition. The Court determined that there was substantial medical evidence to justify the apportionment, since new medical studies showed that heritability had a role in about 75 percent of degenerative disc disease cases.
Injured employee gets lawn care but not home renovations for treatment – Florida

An employee was injured on the job, had a compensable spinal fusion surgery, after which she developed a dropped foot, and experienced balance issues and falls. She also suffered from depression. A Judge of Compensation Claims awarded her lawn care, home renovations, attendant care, a podiatrist, an AFO brace, and evaluation of the need for specialized shoes based on medical necessity.

The First District Court of Appeals upheld the award for lawn care because there was evidence that it would improve her depression and anxiety, both of which were compensable. The home care, podiatrist, AFO brace and specialized shoes were also upheld because the employer failed to contest their medical necessity in a timely manner. The home renovations proposed by a registered nurse, however, were denied. The court reasoned that while the orthopedic surgeon indicated that he agreed with some of the suggestions in a home assessment report completed by a registered nurse, the physician never identified which ones should be provided and the registered nurse was not qualified to establish the medical necessity.
Worker can request change in doctor even after discharge from medical treatment – Florida

In Dominguez v. Compass Group, the1st District Court of Appeals ruled that a worker was entitled to exercise her statutory right to a one-time change in physicians, even though her doctor had discharged her from care.
School employee due benefits for fall when senior prank day necessitates different parking location – Illinois

In Field v. Pinckneyville Community H.S. Dist. 101, a teacher was walking from her car to the building where she worked when she fell and fractured her lower leg. She was walking a much further distance than usual because vehicles blocked the entrances to the school parking lot as part of a senior prank day. The Workers’ Compensation Commission awarded the teacher permanent partial disability benefits based on 35 percent loss of use of the left leg and medical expenses of $80,791 for injuries. It noted the prank day is implicitly approved by the school administrators, and the blocking of the teachers from parking in their customary parking spaces is a known activity, therefore, the teacher was within the scope of her employment.
Chicago Bears pay over $12.5 million to settle comp claims – Illinois

According to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, over the past 20 years the football team has spent nearly $12.5 million to settle worker compensation claims filed by 141 players. And the team it still grappling with 144 additional claims from 55 other players. The Chicago sports teams have been arguing that the state’s laws regarding wage differential payments create a financial burden.
Highest court restricts admissibility about immigration status – Indiana

The Supreme Court ruled that an injured worker could pursue a damage claim for his lost future earnings in the U.S. job market, even though his immigration status did “not allow him to be legally employed.” It also restricted the admissibility of evidence about his immigration status to the jury unless the preponderance of the evidence establishes that he is likely to be deported and that his future lost earnings would therefore be limited to what he could earn in his native Mexico. Escamilla v. Shiel Sexton Co.
EMT suspended for criminal charges due benefits – Massachusetts

In Brian Benoit v. City of Boston, an EMT suffered an ankle injury and one year later was indicted on charges relating to misuse of controlled substances intended for his emergency patients. The city refused to pay benefits citing a 1972 state law banning public-sector workers facing criminal charges from receiving compensation from a government agency. However, the court ruled unanimously that the benefits are not salary, but an insurance agreement between the injured worker and the insurer and benefits were due.

Request for work with a different employer in rehabilitation plan nixes termination of TTD benefits – Minnesota

In Gilbertson v. Williams Dingmann, LLC, an employee who had given her notice, was injured prior to her departure date. The employee’s rehabilitation plan stated that her vocational goal was to return to work, but with a different employer. Although her employer offered her the same position at the same pre-injury wage, with reasonable accommodations for her physical restrictions, it was not completely consistent with the rehab plan as required by law. The employer’s offer could not, under any circumstances, be consistent with that plan.
Teacher cannot sue school district for injuries incurred during student fight – Minnesota

There are three exceptions to Minnesota’s workers’ comp exclusive remedy provision, including an assault exception, an intentional act exception and a co-employee liability exception. In John Ekblad vs. Independent School District, a high school teacher also served as lunchroom supervisor for additional compensation. While his duties included intervening to break up fights if he could do so safely, he was not required to do so. He received workers’ comp benefits when he intervened in a fight and was injured.

He sued the school district, alleging negligence and negligent supervision. The assault exception covers injuries inflicted for personal reasons and he argued the students made references to his race, but the court found that racial animosity is insufficient to establish a personal connection. The court also ruled the intentional act exception did not apply because even if the district’s policies were substandard or ineffective, that did not establish a conscious and deliberate intent to inflict injury. Further, the co-employee liability exception did not apply because the duty to provide a safe workplace is a non-delegable duty held by the employer as part of workers’ comp law.
Employee’s death does not negate settlement agreement not yet approved by Commission – Mississippi

In Taylor v. Reliance Well Service, the Court of Appeals ruled that an employer must honor a $71,659.43 settlement for a comp case even though the worker died before the Workers’ Compensation Commission approved of the deal. The agreement was submitted to the commission for review on May 13, 2016, the employee was killed on May 16, and the Commission approved the settlement on May 18, assuming the employee was still alive. The company filed a motion to have the approval order vacated, which was initially granted.

Upon appeal, the court reversed noting Workers’ Compensation Law specifically provides that settlement agreements “shall not be made except when determined to be in the best interest of the injured worker” and therefore, the sole statutory basis for disapproval of a settlement is a finding that the settlement would not be in the best interest of the worker. The employee’s death wouldn’t affect the commission’s determination of this issue.
Eastern District refuses to approve post-award settlement, in direct conflict with the Western District – Missouri

In the Western District, cases have determined that the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission must sign off on a joint proposal to commute an award so long as it was not made as a result of undue influence or fraud, the employee understood his rights and benefits, and he voluntarily agreed to accept the terms of the agreement. In Andrew Dickemann v Costco Wholesale Corporation, the Eastern District says these criteria, derived from Missouri Revised Statutes Section 287.390.1, apply only when there is an unresolved claim for benefits.

If the worker has established his entitlement to an award, the Eastern District said the applicable Section is 287.530, which says that commutations are to be granted only in “unusual circumstances,” and it requires that the value of the commutation be equal to the present value of the future installments due to the employee. In this case, there was no evidence of “unusual circumstances” and the terms of the agreement did not provide a payment equal to the present value of the future benefits, therefore, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission properly refused to authorize the deal. The Eastern District panel said it believed the case setting precedent in the Western District had been wrongly decided.

Liability for asbestos-related condition can not be apportioned – New York

In Matter of Manocchio v ABB Combustion Eng’g, the Workers’ Compensation Board appropriately refused to apportion liability for an employee’s asbestos-related disease despite some evidence that he had been exposed to asbestos at multiple employers over a long period of time. While a medical expert indicated that apportionment was appropriate in terms of exposure, the expert admitted that determining the exposure to asbestos at each employer was impossible. Therefore, the appellate court concluded there was no objective way to prove that the employee contracted pleural plaque while working for another employer, and could not be apportioned.
Employer stops negligence suit on labor law technicality – New York

In Robinson v. National Grid Energy Mgt. LLC, an electrical foreman’s negligence suit was thrown out after his employer argued that Labor Law § 240(1) did not require it to protect workers from electrical shock. The employee was installing wires for a company hired by T-Mobile, when he fell 12-15 feet to the ground from a faulty aerial bucket. Noting that the bucket was not equipped with the proper electrical protection and that the lift function on the truck was malfunctioning, he decided to climb down, but his foot became stuck in the part of the bucket typically covered by the electrical protection, and he slipped and fell.

When he sued, T-Mobile petitioned to dismiss the complaint, arguing the bucket was faulty because it did not provide adequate protection from electrical shock, not because it provided inadequate fall protection and that the Labor Law did not guarantee a protection from electrical shock. While a lower court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that the decision to exit the bucket had caused his fall, the Supreme Court of the State of New York’s 2nd Judicial Department Appellate Division disagreed, but dismissed the case based on T-Mobile’s reasoning regarding the Labor Law.
Protz decision does not automatically nullify IRE rating – Pennsylvania

In William Gillespie vs. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) (Aker Philadelphia Shipyard), the Commonwealth Court affirmed the decision of the WCAB, reversing the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ), who upheld the employee’s constitutional challenge to his impairment rating evaluation (IRE). The Commonwealth Court ruled that its 2015 decision in Protz v. WCAB (Derry Area School District) does not automatically allow injured workers who had their disability status converted through the impairment rating evaluation process to undo this change.

While the court’s decision in Protz declared the IRE rating standard unconstitutional, the court said workers who have already gone through the IRE process have 500 weeks to appeal the conversion of their disability status, and they need evidence of a full-body impairment above 50% to support their claim, which the employee did not provide. The court said it had already rejected the idea that the Protz decision invalidated all IREs performed using the fifth edition of the guides late last year, in the case Riley v. WCAB.
Lay testimony sufficient to prove exposure – Pennsylvania

In Kimberly Clark Corporation v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Bromley), the injured worker was an electrician who was diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer in the summer of 2005, and died a year later. His widow filed a Fatal Claim Petition and relied upon the testimony of two co-workers who detailed the various chemicals and substances known to cause cancer that her husband worked with, as well as an oncologist, who explained that the bladder cancer developed due to the exposure to these carcinogens. This testimony was considered more credible than that presented by the “environmental manager” for the Employer’s plant and the insurance company’s expert physician. The Fatal Claim Petition was granted by the WCJ and upon appeal, affirmed by the Commonwealth Court.

One issue addressed by the Court was whether the death took place within 300 weeks of the “injury.” When viewed as a repetitive or cumulative trauma case, the date of the “injury” is the date of the last exposure to the harmful source; thus, the death did take place within that period.
Co-employee immunity protects unpaid volunteer – Wisconsin

In Fitzgerald v. Capezza, an employee of a catering company suffered injuries in a car accident while en route to a work site as a passenger in a truck driven by a volunteer for the catering company. The employee filed a workers’ compensation claim, which she eventually settled. About a year later, she filed a personal injury action against the volunteer and her automobile liability insurance carrier. The case went through several appeals, but all concurred that the unpaid volunteer for the catering company was still a co-employee. As long as she received something of value in exchange for her work, and she received food, lodging and free admission into events, the court said she would be a “paid” worker for purposes of Wisconsin comp law.

 For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

OSHA watch

Legislative updates (see first article for details)

  • Electronic record-keeping rule delayed, but anti-retaliation provisions remain
  • Walkaround rule rescinded
  • Enforcement of silica standard for construction delayed until Sept. 23

No major budget changes for FY 2018, but shifting priorities

The proposed FY 2018 budget includes $543 million with $130 million for “federal and state compliance assistance activities to enhance employer outreach and training.” The budget for fiscal year 2017, which ends Sept. 30, was $552.8 million. While adding money to compliance assistance, the proposed budget slashes funding for the standards and statistics programs. Enforcement remains intact and there are no new riders that would prohibit the agency from enforcing any standards or other parts of the law.

Meanwhile, the Mine Safety and Health Administration would see relatively small changes in funding for fiscal year 2018, but NIOSH might experience a sizable reduction in its budget, and the Chemical Safety Board still is scheduled for elimination.

New videos and infographics provide facts on falls

Falls are the leading cause of death for construction workers, accounting for 367 of the 985 construction fatalities recorded in 2015. Two videos have been posted on the Stand-Down homepage and a series of infographics can be downloaded.

Enforcement notes

Illinois

Demolition company faces $152,000 in fines following death of worker

Omega Demolition Corp. was working on the demolition of an I-90 bridge when a falling beam injured several workers and killed one. An investigation found that the company overstressed the beam, resulting in the beam’s failure and $152,000 in fines was levied. A commission has been set up to review the findings and determine whether the fines and citations will stand and what additional measures the Illinois Tollway will take.

Massachusetts, Maine

Railroad company violated whistleblower’s right and ordered to pay $260,000

A federal appeals court has affirmed that Pan Am Railways, Inc. must pay $260,000 in punitive and compensatory damages and take corrective action on behalf of an employee who was subjected to retaliation for filing a Federal Railroad Safety Act whistleblower complaint. The court found the North Billerica-based commercial railroad retaliated against the employee, who works in a rail yard in Waterville, Maine, when it charged him with dishonesty in connection with his FRSA complaint. The employee had tried to report an injury.

Michigan

Landscaping company hit with $222,000 in safety fines, stop-work order

Failure to abate safety hazards, including not using traffic control devices when employees were working near the road, not training workers on tree-trimming operations and safeguards, and not using a chipping machine in a safe manner led to a cease-operation order against Sunset Tree Service & Landscaping LLC. The company has a history of violations.

Auto insulation manufacturer faces fines of $569,463

An Ohio-based employee of Michigan, Farmington Hills-based Autoneum North America suffered an amputation of his right hand, wrist and part of his forearm when his arm got caught in a shredding machine at the auto insulation manufacturer plant in Oregon, Ohio. The company faces $569,463 in proposed penalties for failure to equip the machine with adequate safety guards.

Ohio

Automotive steel manufacturer faces $279,578 in penalties

Canton-based Republic Steel, an automotive steel manufacturer, is facing $279,578 in proposed penalties after investigators found workers at its plant exposed to machine hazards and lead.

South Dakota

Sioux Falls-based Hultgren Construction L.L.C. faces two willful citations and a proposed penalty of $101,400 for failing to properly train and instruct employees, for exposing employees to struck-by and crushing hazards, and not performing an engineering survey prior to beginning demolition. The company was renovating a historic building in downtown Sioux Falls when the building collapsed, killing one of its employees.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Four troubling trends threaten worker safety

Despite the remarkable strides that employers have made in reducing workplace injuries, there are several persistent issues that threaten worker safety. Here are four of them:

  1. Disconnect between employer and employee perception of value of productivity over workplace safetyIn a recent survey, Employee Perceptions in Workplace Safety, by the National Safety Council (NSC), over one-third of the employees surveyed claimed that workplace safety is secondary to performing tasks. This perception was even much higher in certain industries: 68% in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; 58% in construction; and 45% in manufacturing or industrial facilities.

    The report also found that 32% of respondents agreed that employees “are afraid to report safety issues,” and 30% agreed “employees are resistant to working safely.” Of those surveyed, 39% agreed that management does only the “minimum required by law” when it comes to employee safety. 32% feel management ignores an employee’s safety performance when determining promotions.

    On the other hand, 71% stated that safety training is part of orientation, and 68% of those surveyed agreed that employees are well trained in emergency practices. 62% say everyone is involved in solving job safety issues. 63% of employees feel they work in areas or at stations that are ergonomically correct.

    Takeaway: Even in companies that have a safety strategy aligned with their organizational goals, there can be a safety-vs.-production dichotomy. This can come from unrealistic deadlines, poor supervision, inadequate communication, lack of accountability, workers’ perception that personal productivity solely drives raises, or a high tolerance for risk among some employees. Find out how your employees view safety and productivity. Are there conflicts, if so, what are they and how do they resolve them? Many successful companies have demonstrated that high value on safety and productivity can co-exist and help achieve long-term profitability.

  2. Motor vehicle crashes are leading cause of workplace fatalities and roadways are getting more dangerousIt’s not falls, fires, explosions, or chemical exposure that kills workers the most on the job; it’s motor vehicle crashes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2015 (latest data available), roadway incident fatalities were up 9 percent from 2014 totals, accounting for over one-quarter of the fatal occupational injuries in 2015.

    Drivers are often lulled into a false sense of security with hands-free and in-vehicle technology. An NSC survey found that 47% of motorists are comfortable texting while driving. There’s also a false sense that summer is a safer time to drive with better weather and road conditions. However more auto accidents occur during the summer time than any other time of the year.

    According to the NSC, the increased serious injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle crashes continue a troubling multiyear surge that experts believe is being fueled, in part, by more people driving while distracted by cellphones, infotainment screens, and other devices. Other factors include an improving economy, lower gas prices, and younger, more inexperienced drivers.

    And then there are the challenges that face the trucking industry. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers incurred 745 fatal work injuries in 2015, the most of any occupation.Truck drivers also had more nonfatal injuries than workers in any other occupation. Half of the nonfatal injuries were serious sprains and strains; this may be attributed to the fact that many truck drivers must unload the goods they transport. A driver shortage, a rapidly aging driver population, as well as issues with driver fatigue, obesity, and other co-morbidities challenge the industry. And in many delivery zones, there has been an increase in pedestrian strikes, not caused by drivers but by distracted pedestrians.

    Takeaway: Any company utilizing vehicles for business purposes – even if those vehicles are employees’ personal cars – can feel the impact of rising accidents. The average work-related motor vehicle injury claim costs $72,540, which is twice as much as other work-related injuries. Those who have not instituted policies to minimize distracted driving need to do so. Random checks on compliance with the policy and discipline for non-compliance are key. Employers can also strengthen hiring practices and use fleet telematics, when appropriate.

    These policies should be regularly communicated to help reinforce the message. There are good public awareness campaigns, including an informative website, distraction.gov, in which employers can download forms to use in obtaining a pledge to not engage in distracting activities while driving. Recently, the NSC created a webinar offering recommendations not only on eliminating distractions in vehicles, but also on how to be alert and react to the actions of other distracted drivers on the road.

  3. Fatalities in construction outpace employment growthThe number of fatalities among construction workers climbed to 985 in 2015 after dipping to 781 in 2011, an increase of 26% compared to employment growth of 16%. Fall-related fatalities increased at a faster pace – rising 36% to 367 in 2015, according to the report by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR).

    Data presented in the report comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other findings:

    • 55 percent of fatal falls came from heights of 20 feet or less.
    • 33 percent of fatal falls involved falls from roofs, 24 percent involved ladders, and scaffolds and staging accounted for 15 percent.
    • Fatal falls in residential construction rose to 61 in 2015 from 26 in 2011.
    • Roofers continue to experience the highest rate of fatal falls to a lower level: 31.5 per 100,000 full-time workers, although this represents a decrease from 39.9 in 2014.
    • Workers at an increased risk of fatal falls include Hispanic workers, foreign-born workers, and workers 55 years and older.

    Takeaway: The findings in this report emphasize the need to reduce falls and the importance of ongoing vigilance. CPWR, OSHA and NIOSH have a variety of resources available and the Campaign to Prevent falls in construction website includes Eleven Ways to keep your fall prevention program alive all year long.

  4. Impaired workforce: drug use at 12-year highCocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine use continues to climb among workers, though opioid use is down, according to a May 2017 study by New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics Inc. Cocaine positivity increased 12 percent in 2016, reaching a seven-year high of 0.28 percent, compared to 0.25 percent in 2015, and seven percent among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers to 0.28 percent, compared to 0.26 percent in 2015. Marijuana positivity increased dramatically over the last three years with increases in Colorado and Washington double the national average. In oral fluid testing, which detects recent drug use, marijuana positivity increased nearly 75 percent, from 5.1 percent in 2013 to 8.9 percent in 2016.

    Amphetamines (which includes amphetamine and methamphetamine) positivity continued its year-over-year upward trend, increasing more than eight percent in urine testing compared to 2015. Throughout the last decade, this rise has been driven primarily by amphetamine use, which includes certain prescription drugs such as Adderall.

    On a positive note, heroin detection remained flat, while prescription opiate detection declined.

    Takeaway: The efforts to control opiate prescribing in workers’ comp have produced promising results. However, the answer to the problem of drugs in the workplace remains elusive. The regulations governing drug testing are more restrictive, there is no established standard of what constitutes impairment when it comes to marijuana, alternatives to chronic pain treatment are still emerging, and employees often do not understand the perils of some prescription medications. In addition to a carefully crafted drug-free workplace policy, training supervisory staff to identify and know what to do if they suspect an employee has a problem and educating employees on their role in keeping the workplace safe are key.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

 

Things you should know

Attention motor carriers: “Roadcheck” annual event – June 6 – 8

Nearly three times more roadside inspections take place during the 72 hours on June 6 – 8 than on any other time of the year. Sponsored by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), the intensive annual “Roadcheck” is a good opportunity for those in the motor carrier industry to improve their Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores. In 2016, 62,796 truck and bus inspections were completed throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Top construction risks: geopolitical instability, workforce management issues

In a survey of executives in the construction sector, Willis Towers Watson P.L.C. found geopolitical instability and workforce management issues as the biggest challenges facing the industry. Geopolitical issues included uncertainty of government support and financing, postponement and delays, changes in strategy, and commitment to project pipelines. Workforce management issues include increasing need for digital skills, a global employee network, disparate labor laws, difficulty to attract talent, and an aging population. The Construction Risk Index report can be downloaded here.

New pamphlet spotlights Hypothenar Hammer Syndrome

Scientific research organization IRSST has released a pamphlet intended to help workers recognize Hypothenar Hammer Syndrome. Aimed at workers who use vibrating tools or frequently strike, press or twist objects with the palms of their hands, the free pamphlet outlines syndrome warning signs and prevention methods.

Mayo Clinic study: second opinion leads to new or refined diagnosis for 88% of patients

Many patients come to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion or diagnosis confirmation before treatment for a complex condition. In a new study, Mayo Clinic reports that as many as 88 percent of those patients go home with a new or refined diagnosis – changing their care plan and potentially their lives. Conversely, only 12 percent receive confirmation that the original diagnosis was complete and correct.

These findings were published online in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice.

Study links participation in weight-loss programs to reduced absenteeism

Obese workers who took part in a structured weight-loss program reported fewer hours missed on the job after six months, a recent University of Michigan study shows.

Researchers surveyed 92 people who had an average body mass index of 40 and worked in various occupations. Before entering the program, participants stated in a self-evaluation that they worked an average of 5.2 fewer hours a month than their employers expected. After six months and an average of 41 pounds shed, participants reported working 6.4 more hours a month than expected.

WCRI’s CompScope™ Benchmark 2017

The 17th edition of CompScope™ Benchmarks Report is available from the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI). The report looks at the impact of state workers’ compensation reforms on things like claim costs, rate of litigation, and disability duration and included 18 states: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. In California and North Carolina, the total costs per claim have been steady between 2010 and 2013. Illinois saw total costs per claim decrease by 6.4 percent since 2010, which researchers attribute to a 30 percent reduction in fee schedule rates for their medical services. Indiana’s total costs per claim decreased by 4 percent from 2014 to 2015, a product of a 10 percent decrease in medical payments, but a 5 percent increase in indemnity benefits per claim. In Florida, total costs per claim increased between 2010 and 2015, but there were decisions last year from the Florida Supreme Court that may slow or stop those increases in costs.

Rising pedestrian death toll

The latest report on U.S. pedestrian deaths, from the Governors Highway Safety Association, estimates that last year’s total rose 11.6 percent to nearly 6,000, or more than 16 fatalities a day. If that projection proves accurate – it is based on fatality records from only the first half of 2016 – it would mark the sharpest yearlong increase since records have been kept.

Analysts are putting much of the blame on drivers and walkers who are looking at their smartphones instead of watching where they are going. Tipsy walking also is part of the problem, with one in three victims legally drunk when they were struck and killed.

Workplace death rate hits a 10-year high in Massachusetts

Seventy Massachusetts workers lost their lives last year, marking a 10-year high in the rate of workplace-related fatalities, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, known as MassCOSH. Sixty-two of those workers were killed on the job, many in construction; the rest were firefighters who died from occupational illnesses, such as lung cancer and heart disease.

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Legal Corner

ADA
EEOC settles first direct challenge to employer wellness program

The EEOC’s first lawsuit directly challenging an employer’s wellness program-filed in 2014- was against Orion Energy Systems. The company had switched to a self-insured plan and, to save costs, initiated a wellness plan that revolved around three incentives: the employee did not smoke, would exercise 16 times a month, and have a health risk assessment (HRA). There were surcharges for non-compliance, including paying the entire monthly premium if they did not have a HRA, which was $413.43 for single, $744.16 for limited family, and $1,130.83 for family coverage.

One employee raised concerns about the wellness initiative and HRA, questioning confidentiality and how the premium was calculated believing it excessive in light of the service fee Orion paid its third-party administrator (she knew the amount because she paid invoices). She opted out of the program and agreed to pay the premium. However, her supervisor and the HR director spoke to her about comments she made to coworkers about the premium, telling her such negativity was not welcome, and to keep her opinions to herself and eventually she was terminated.

While the court found that Orion’s wellness plan was lawful under the regulations at the time, there were issues of fact as to whether the employee was fired because of her opposition to the wellness plan. Under the consent decree settling the suit, Orion agreed to pay $100,000 to the employee and agreed that it won’t maintain any wellness program in the future that poses disability-related inquiries or seeks a medical examination that is not voluntary within the meaning of the ADA and its regulations as well as other provisions.

FMLA
Inadvisable email negates defense to FMLA retaliation claim

An employee at Wells Fargo received an informal and then a formal warning about underperformance and her failure to meet sales goals. One week prior to receiving the formal warning, she was diagnosed with myelopathy, scheduled for surgery, and received FMLA leave. When she returned to work on limited duty, her supervisor warned her that she was still near termination. After her return to full duty, her supervisor determined she had not made sufficient improvement and he documented the problems in an email to the HR department and recommended termination. In this email, he also noted, “Debby submits a request for a leave of absence.”

The employee sued for retaliatory discharge under the FMLA and the federal court found that the email comment about the request for a leave of absence as part of the email justifying discharge was direct evidence of unlawful retaliation. Although Wells Fargo could document the underperformance and warnings, the court concluded for summary judgment motions in cases involving direct evidence of discrimination, an employer’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory business reason for an adverse employment action is irrelevant.

Takeaway: Electronic communications have permanency. Be sure supervisors and managers understand the importance of their choice of words and know what should and should not be included in recommendations for termination.

Temporary work counts as a factor when determining FMLA eligibility

In Meky v. Jetson Specialty Mktg. Servs. Inc., a temporary employee was hired through a staffing agency for about six months and then was hired to work full-time. She requested FMLA, but was told she was not eligible and was terminated a few months later for leaving work early. She sued and one question the court had to decide was the start date of her employment. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the correct date was the date on which she started working as a temporary employee, since the staffing agency and the Jetson were joint employers.

Workers’ Compensation
Finding of compensable injuries to knee and shoulder does not bar later additional claim related to back – California

In Iniguez v. WCAB (Blue Rose Concrete Contractors), a worker was compensated in 2012 for injuries to his knee and shoulder stemming from an accident in 2010. In November 2014, he filed another claim seeking additional benefits for injuries to the neck and back. The WCAB found that compensation should be limited to the knee and shoulder in accordance with the 2012 litigation, but the 2nd District Court of Appeals annulled the board’s decision by saying there was no finding that these were the only industrial injuries sustained and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Vacation and sick time not earned income when calculating impairment benefits – Florida

In Eckert v. Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the employer reduced the injured worker’s benefits by 50% for the 23 weeks he used his sick leave and vacation time, arguing that this was allowed as “earned income” under state law. However, the 1st District Court of Appeal said use of sick leave and vacation time could not count toward his average weekly pay for the 23 weeks in question, since sick leave and vacation time were not accrued during the weeks that he drew upon so it was not “earned income.”

“Heart attack waiting to happen” leads to denial of claim – Illinois

A firefighter described, as “a heart attack waiting to happen” should not receive benefits for a heart attack sustained while cleaning his firehouse parking spot of snow ruled an appellate court. The firefighter was a heavy smoker, obese, and had so many risk factors for a heart attack that the cardiac event could have occurred “anytime and anywhere,” said the arbitrator. Those risk factors were enough to overcome the statutory presumption that heart attacks suffered by firefighters are a compensable injury.

Fired for misconduct, employee can still collect benefits – Indiana

In Masterbrand Cabinets v. Waid, a worker who injured his back disagreed with his doctor and supervisor about his level of pain and work capacity. An incident with the supervisor escalated to an altercation. He was suspended and then terminated. He continued to see the doctor and the Workers’ Compensation Board found he was unable to perform work of the same kind he was performing when injured and that he was due TTD payments. The company appealed, arguing the worker was not entitled to TTD benefits because he was terminated for misconduct. However, the Court held that the inability to work was related to his injury and, therefore, he was entitled to benefits.

Statute of limitations not valid defense when injured employee was promised action – Mississippi

An employer and its carrier cannot argue the statute of limitations as a defense when the carrier had assured the injured employee that it would “take care of everything” and there was no need for her to hire an attorney. Moreover, the carrier had paid for medical expenses three days after the expiration. Dietz v. South Miss. Reg’l Ctr.

Long history of medical problems does not preclude PTD for shoulder injury – Missouri

In Maryville R-II School District v. Payton, a school groundskeeper with a history of ailments and multiple surgeries went to the emergency room when he started to have serious shoulder pain after assembling a soccer goal. An X-ray did not reveal any acute fracture or dislocation, and an emergency room doctor tentatively diagnosed him with osteoarthritis. He then saw the school district’s physician who opined that the activity was unlikely to be the prevailing cause of the pain. He then sought treatment from his own physician and an MRI revealed a rotator cuff tear. Surgery was performed but the rotator cuff tore again and he was unable to return to work because the school district could not accommodate his lifting restrictions.

A judge, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, and the Court of Appeals all concurred that the injury was permanent and totally disabling.

Tort suit for worker’s heat-related death revived – Missouri

In Channel v. Cintas Corp., a 52-year-old delivery driver died of heat stroke and his widow filed a wrongful death action against the supervisor and the company. She argued that the supervisor ignored the company’s heat safety protocols by placing her husband in a truck without air conditioning on a day when temperatures were over 100 degrees. While a circuit judge ruled that workers’ comp was the only remedy, the Court of Appeals ruled that the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission had not yet ruled on the workers’ comp case and it was improper for the judge to determine that the death was an accident. The suit was reinstated and placed on hold.

Symptoms of heart attack at work not sufficient for death benefits – New York

In the Matter of Bordonaro v Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, a deputy sheriff died at home in his sleep and his widow sought workers’ comp death benefits, contending his initial symptoms occurred at work. Noting the employee had completed his shift and had not sought medical treatment, the appellate court supported the Board’s finding that the death was not casually connected to work.

Benefits denied in two stress related cases – New York

In Matter of Novak v St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hosp., a New York appellate court affirmed a Board finding that a nurse’s work-related stress did not exceed what could be expected in her normal work environment. It was determined that her stress stemmed from her involvement in a disciplinary proceeding, wrongful termination, and subsequent reinstatement after a six-month suspension. She complained about her treatment by co-workers when she returned to work, eventually quit her job, and filed a comp claim asserting the events caused insomnia, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and a severe social phobia. The claim was disallowed and the appellate court noted claims for mental injuries based on work-related stress are precluded “if such mental injury is a direct consequence of a lawful personnel decision involving a disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, demotion or termination taken in good faith by the employer.”

In Burke v. New York City Transit Authority, a subway train operator was denied a psyche claim for harassment from his supervisors. The employee wears glasses, has a sensitivity to light, and has tinted lenses he can flip down over his glasses. Train operators are prohibited from wearing sunglasses for safety reasons, and the employee was being monitored to ensure that he was not wearing his tinted lenses while operating a train. He claimed his supervisors harassed and intimidated him about the lenses, causing him to develop disabling anxiety and panic attacks. The courts determined that the stress created by the investigation was not greater than that which other similarly situated workers experienced in normal work and, therefore, it was not compensable.

Benefits granted for ‘reasonable effort’ for employment – North Carolina

For a worker to receive benefits in the state, it must be shown that the worker was not capable of earning the same money as before the injury due to the injury. In Snyder v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., a tire builder suffered a back injury and returned to work with lifting restrictions. However, the employer was not able to accommodate the restrictions and sent him home. He filed for workers’ comp and the commission found that he met the burden for temporary total disability by proving he could not return to his pre-injury job and had made unsuccessful attempts to obtain employment.

While the company appealed, arguing that the employee had not made reasonable efforts for employment, the appeals court disagreed. The court did note that an employer’s failure to provide light duty work in and of itself is not proof that an injured employee made a reasonable but unsuccessful effort to find employment.

Decision in Heart and Lung claim not binding on workers’ comp – Pennsylvania

A prison guard trainee hurt his knee and filed for benefits under the Heart and Lung Act (H & L Act), which allows certain police officers and other public safety employees to collect full salary and medical benefits for temporary injuries. An arbitrator determined he was eligible for benefits. He later filed a claim for workers’ comp, but the judge found he was entitled to medical benefits, but not disability benefits because he failed to prove a loss of wages.

The guard appealed arguing his disability was established under the H & L Act, but the court noted the laws were quite different and the Workers’ Comp Act could provide significantly greater medical and indemnity benefits, including those for permanent impairment. Therefore, a decision by an arbitrator in an H & L claim filed by a corrections officer was not binding on the workers’ compensation judge. Merrell v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd. Commonwealth Dep’t of Corr.

Non-payment of PT benefits leads to penalties in spite of billing dispute – Pennsylvania

An employee of Derry Township Supervisors received PT for a back and neck injury at a facility owned by The pt Group. The bills, however, came from the Physical Therapy Institute (PTI), which had a contractual arrangement with The pt Group. The Derry Township argued this arrangement was a way to charge higher fees.

As of Jan. 1, 1995, providers are able to bill comp carriers at 113% of the rate established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services fee schedule, but the Supervisors alleged that providers in business before that date can use a “cost-plus” formula that generally means a higher payment. The pt Group was subject to the 113% cap, but PTI was not.

The Commonwealth Court upheld lower court decisions that there was nothing illegal in this arrangement and ordered an award of $83,400 in attorney fees, and reimbursement of $3,328.32 for litigation costs.

Opioid overdose after injury not compensable – Tennessee

A carpenter was involved in an employment-related motor vehicle accident that caused fractures to the vertebrae in his neck and disc herniation in his lower back. He underwent surgery, but continued to have back pain and further surgeries were denied, as were epidural steroid injections. He was referred to a pain management clinic and restricted from returning to work.

He told the pain management specialist that he began taking extra opioid tablets and consumed alcohol because he felt the medications were no longer effective. Shortly after agreeing to a program to wean off the drugs, his wife found him unresponsive in bed. The medical examiner ruled his death an accident caused by acute oxycodone toxicity with contributory causes of hypertension and alcohol and tobacco use.

His wife filed with workers’ comp benefits and the case went through appeals and ultimately was heard by the state Supreme Court. In Judy Kilburn vs. Granite State Insurance Company, et al., the Supreme Court noted that a worker’s conduct can limit compensability of subsequent injuries that are a direct and natural result of a compensable primary injury and ruled his death not compensable because he failed to take his medications in compliance with physician’s orders.

Disagreement over diagnosis not sufficient to rebut correctness of impairment rating – Tennessee

In Williams v. Ajax Turner Co., an employee was assigned a 21.3% impairment rating from his doctor following surgery of his foot after a forklift accident. The employer requested a second opinion from an orthopedic surgeon who assigned a 5% impairment rating, and a third opinion through the medical impairment registry (MIR) program, which also resulted in a 5% rating. A trial judge accepted the treating doctor’s rating and applied a multiplier of 4.

The Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel said an MIR physician’s rating is presumed to be accurate, unless this can be overcome by clear and convincing evidence giving rise to a “serious and substantial doubt” about the accuracy of the rating. A disagreement about the rating, however, is not clear and convincing evidence; therefore, the MIR rating should have been accepted. It also agreed to the multiplier of 4, given considerations of education, job skills, work history, and medical limitations so the award of permanent disability benefits had to be modified to 20%.

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OSHA watch

Lawsuit over OSHA electronic records rule delayed

A Texas court granted a request from the Trump administration for a 60-day delay in litigation of the electronic record-keeping rule and stayed the case until June 5, 2017. The deadline to submit a proposed summary judgment briefing schedule and for the administration’s response to motions to intervene in the case was extended to July 5.

Deputy assistant secretary of labor creates blog on large enforcement cases

Since the Trump administration took office, there have been very few press releases announcing health/safety violators. For years, the agency has routinely issued press releases about companies receiving citations of $40,000 or more and some workplace safety professionals have criticized the current administration for staying quiet on the issue. Taking matters into his own hands, Jordan Barab, the deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA for the past eight years created a blog of the large violations from January 18, 2017 to February 14, 2017.

Guidance documents on Process Safety Management Standard issued

Three guidance documents intended to help chemical facilities comply with the agency’s Process Safety Management Standard have been released.

 

Volks Rule overturned

As expected, President Trump signed the disapproval resolution of the controversial “Volks” rule, which increased the threshold for citing employer violations from six months to up to five years.

New online tool to help healthcare facilities address bloodborne pathogens and other hazards

NIOSH has established a web-based injury and exposure monitoring system available at no cost to healthcare facilities. There are two electronic modules for tracking “sharps” injuries, as well as blood and body fluid exposures among health care workers.

Legal case addressing scope of federal safety inspections proceeds to US Court of Appeals

This case centers on an investigation of a workplace accident at Mar-Jac Poultry Inc., a poultry processor in Georgia, and OSHA’s attempt to expand it on numerous potential hazards, beyond the site of the accident and the tools involved. The company refused. OSHA obtained an administrative warrant but it was disallowed by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in response to a motion from Mar-Jac. It is now headed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

Safe + Sound week

To help employers participate and plan events for Safe + Sound week, June 12-18, OSHA has updated its webpage with sample activities, social media resources, and tools. The page also features an interactive map of events occurring across the country. Employers are encouraged to host events and activities that showcase the core elements of an effective safety and health program – management leadership, worker participation, and finding and fixing workplace hazards.

Enforcement notes

California

Building supply company fined for fatal forklift accident

A 60-year-old forklift operator was transferring building supplies from San Francisco-based Good View Roofing & Building Supply Corp.’s warehouse to a customer vehicle when the forklift he was driving tipped over the edge of a ramp and the worker was fatally crushed. The company was cited for three serious accident-related violations for failure to ensure proper use of a forklift seatbelt, failure to ensure the forklift operator was certified to safely operate the vehicle, and failure to ensure industrial ramps have at least an 8-inch curb along open edges to prevent the wheels of industrial trucks from running off the ramp. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined the company $62,320.

Appeals board upholds citations for carbon monoxide poisoning

Workers contracted by Barrett Business Services to package fruits and nuts in L&L Foods’ warehouse in Anaheim had complained to their supervisor that they were experiencing headaches, nausea and other health issues caused by forklifts operating in an enclosed area with poor ventilation. In 2012, citations were issued to both Barrett Business Services and L&L Foods for numerous safety violations, including willful violations for failing to take action on known hazards and the companies filed appeals. L&L Foods settled its case, but an administrative law judge denied Barrett’s appeal and imposed civil penalties of $80,050 and Barrett petitioned for reconsideration with the Appeals Board. The Board agreed the employer did not properly train its employees, disregarded workers’ reports of health hazards, and failed to monitor the worksite.

Georgia

Cleaning service cited for slip hazards that led to worker injury

Cleaning contractor Healthcare Services Group Inc. was cited for eight violations of workplace safety and health standards after a worker fell and broke her hip while cleaning a room at a regional hospital. Violations included not providing dry standing places or mats for workers cleaning and waxing floors, and not providing personal protective equipment to prevent exposure to hazardous chemicals. Proposed fines are $143,410.

Illinois

Employee complaints lead to citations for exposing workers to chemical hazards

An inspection of Orion Industries Ltd. in Chicago, in response to two employee complaints, identified workers in the spray painting operation being exposed to hexavalent chromium at levels approximately 40 times the permissible exposure limit. Inspectors cited the company for lacking sufficient engineering controls, work practices and protective gear to safeguard workers against exposure to hexavalent chromium. Orion was prompt in addressing the worker overexposures and achieved significant reductions in the fines by the time of its closing conference.

Massachusetts

Drain company faces $1.5M in fines following fatal trench collapse

Following the death of two employees in a Boston trench collapse, Atlantic Drain has been issued 18 citations and is facing $1,475,813 in penalties. The company was cited in two previous years and did not provide safety training and basic safeguards for employees. In February, a Suffolk County grand jury indicted Atlantic Drain and company owner, Kevin Otto, on two counts each of manslaughter and other charges in connection with the deaths.

General contractor must pay fines

An administrative law judge with the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has ruled that two Massachusetts contractors – A.C. Castle Construction Co. Inc. and Daryl Provencher, doing business as Provencher Home Improvements – were operating as a single employer at a Wenham worksite when three employees were injured in October 2014. A.C. Castle contended that, as general contractor, it was not responsible for the safety of the workers on the jobsite, asserting that they were employed by Provencher. Based on a number of factors, the judge upheld the citation as a single employer.

New York

Driller’s death leads to $360,000 in fines

Catskill-based North American Quarry and Construction Services L.L.C, has agreed to pay $360,000 in penalties related to the 2012 death of a 30-year-old driller. The employee became entangled in the rotating drill steel and suffered fatal injuries when he tried to manually load a threaded drill steel into the mast of a drilling machine at the pit. The Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration determined that, before the accident, the company intentionally removed an emergency-stop switch from the drill and that the driller was assigned to work alone under hazardous conditions.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

The challenges of heat-related illnesses and how technology can help

Steamy summer weather combined with intense physical labor can be a recipe for disaster. It can threaten the health of workers, impair their work capacity and productivity, and lead to OSHA fines and even intentional tort cases, when not properly managed. While educational campaigns and accessible resources have aided employers in combating the issue, OSHA notes in 2014 alone, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job.

As a result, OSHA has stepped up its focus on and enforcement of heat-related hazards, citing employers for failing to properly protect workers from heat illnesses, including issuing willful citations with a proposed penalty of $70,000 in some cases. While it does not have a heat illness prevention standard, OSHA issues citations under the General Duty Clause, which requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm, including heat stroke and other serious heat-related illness. Fines have also been levied under other standards such as Medical Services and First Aid, Safety Training and Education, Personal Protective Equipment, and Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting.

California has made heat prevention a top priority under its State OSHA plan and has a robust standard. According to a 2016 news release, Cal/OSHA Urges Employers to Protect Outdoor Workers from Record-Breaking Heat Wave, the most frequent violation that Cal/OSHA cites during targeted heat inspections is for failure to have a proper written heat illness prevention plan specific to the worksite. Serious violations are often related to inadequate access to water and shade, and to a lack of supervisor and employee training. It’s a good idea for employers and supervisors to review the applicable websites for compliance guidance for OSHA and for Cal/OSHA.

Although there are a number of precautions employers can and must take to ensure the safety of their worksite such as providing an adequate water supply, ready access to shade, periodic rest breaks, acclimatizing workers, adjusting work operations for the level of heat, providing first aid, and monitoring workers, heat illness poses significant challenges for employers. There are many factors that influence the likelihood of a worker developing a heat related illness, including age, fitness, experience, weight, medications, heart disease, high blood pressure and so on. In addition, minor heat illness symptoms can quickly progress to heat exhaustion and stroke.

Here are some apps and online resources that can help:

OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool
With OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool, available for download on iOS and Android devices in English and Spanish, workers can calculate the heat index at their worksite and determine heat illness risk levels. The app includes information for workers to monitor themselves and others for heat illness signs and symptoms. The app, which is only designed for outdoor use, is constantly updated in collaboration with NIOSH.

National Weather Service (NWS)
This is not a smartphone app, but an easily accessed website that is a helpful planning tool. The Maximum Heat Index Forecasts page from NWS shows the heat forecast three to seven days from the current date. There is also an hour-by-hour heat index forecast from the local NWS forecast page.

NIOSH web pages
The NIOSH web pages offer a host of fact sheets, blogs, and podcasts related to protecting workers from heat illness.

Wireless emergency alerts
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are text messages from federal and state public safety agencies. These are not just warnings about heat emergencies, but include other extreme weather warnings (e.g., tornadoes, floods), local emergencies requiring evacuation or immediate action, AMBER alerts, and presidential alerts during a national emergency.

USDA App to protect cattle from heat stress
A USDA smartphone application that provides forecasts of weather conditions that can trigger heat stress in cattle. It is primarily geared to livestock producers, but can be used by others. The app issues forecasts one to seven days in advance of extreme heat conditions, along with recommended actions that can protect animals before and during a heat-stress event.

When used as components of a comprehensive program, the apps and web resources can be valuable tools in combating heat-related illnesses.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Legal Corner

Workers’ Compensation
Worker has right to obtain medical report from doctor of his choice – California

In Davis v. WCAB (City of Modesto), Davis filed two workers’ compensation claims stating his prostate cancer developed because of his exposure to carcinogens while working as a firefighter. A qualified medical examiner (QME) issued opinions that the cancer was not work-related and Davis then hired a doctor to review the reports, which were sent to the QME for review. The city protested that this violated the discovery process and the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) rescinded a judge’s order that had allowed the review.

Upon appeal, however, the WCAB filed a letter brief to the Court of Appeals, asking for review to be granted and for its decision to be vacated, since the decision had not addressed Labor Code Section 4605. Section 4605 says there is no limitation on the right of a worker to obtain a medical report, at his own expense, from the doctor of his choice. While the report cannot be “the sole basis of an award of compensation,” Section 4605 specifically allows a QME to address the report and respond to its contents.

Traveling worker denied benefits for fall in motel parking lot – Georgia

In Avrett Plumbing Co. v. Castillo, an hourly employee lived in Atlanta, but his job required him to work in Augusta. The company paid a weekly rate to provide him a hotel room and allowed him to use it on weekends at no cost. On a Sunday evening when returning from grocery shopping he tripped and fell in the parking lot, breaking his ankle. When he filed for workers’ comp, the company argued that the accident had not occurred during the course of employment, since it happened outside of normal work hours and the employee was engaged in activities unrelated to his job.

An administrative law judge disagreed and found the injury compensable under the “continuous employment” doctrine, because the employee was “required by his employment to live away from home while working.” The case went through several more appeals, and benefits were ultimately denied with the court finding the employee was there “merely as a personal convenience” (lack of money and transportation prevented travel to Atlanta) and that the errand was for the sole benefit of the employee.

Willful misconduct may bar comp benefits – Georgia

An employee who disobeys an employer’s instructions and acts in a dangerous fashion may not be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, the Supreme Court ruled. Chandler Telecom v. Burdette revolved around the question of willful misconduct. A cellphone tower employee sustained serious injuries attempting a “controlled descent” from a tower, even though a supervisor ordered him not to attempt the descent and to climb down and the crew’s lead tower repeatedly protested his actions.

The Board of Workers’ Compensation concluded the employee could not receive comp benefits because he engaged in willful misconduct by defying his supervisor’s instructions, a decision that was affirmed by a Superior Court. However, the Court of Appeals reversed, saying his actions did not constitute willful misconduct because his actions were not of a “quasi criminal nature…”

The Supreme Court found that the appellate court erred in its ruling, noting the proper interpretation of a 1993 decision defining willful misconduct is “an intentional and deliberate action done either with the knowledge that it is likely to result in serious injury, or with a wanton and reckless disregard of its probable consequences.” The Supreme Court said it did not have enough information to make a determination about whether willful misconduct had occurred. It remanded the case to the Board of Workers’ Compensation for further fact-finding.

Worker killed by exploding shell can only claim comp – Illinois

An employee was killed by the explosion of a live mortar shell that had been transferred from the U.S. Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California to the Totall Metal Recycling’s (TMR) facility in Granite City. The lawsuit alleged the employer acted intentionally in transporting dangerous materials, but not that the company acted intentionally in injuring the employee. As such, the judge noted any allegation of TMR’s intent to injure the employee would fly in the face of the complaint, which alleges a claim of negligence. Thus, the exclusive remedy of workers’ comp barred the wrongful death claim. Muenstermann v. United States

Exclusive remedy bars negligence suit for borrowed worker – Illinois

An employee of a temporary staffing agency was assigned to work for Lindoo Installations Inc. and suffered a partial amputation of his right index finger when it was trapped between a bundle of shelving and a forklift. He filed for workers’ comp with the staffing agency and filed a negligence claim against Lindoo. While the trial court granted Lindoo’s motion for summary judgment under the exclusive remedy provision, the employee appealed arguing that the staffing agency’s branch manager periodically checked in.

The appeals court affirmed the decision, noting Lindoo met several factors that determine a borrowed employee relationship and qualified as a borrowing employer because it had the right to direct and control the employee’s work. TerranceFalge v. Lindoo Installations Inc.

Undocumented worker due benefits – Kansas

In Mera-Hernandez v. U.S.D. 233, the court found the injuries suffered by an undocumented school custodian were compensable even though she used a false name and submitted falsified documents to the school district when she was hired. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals ruling that her immigration status does not dispute the work she performed for the school district and she fits the broad definition of employee under the law.

Clarifying Schoemehl window, court awards widow comp benefits – Missouri

For a very brief time, Missouri espoused a rule, known as the “Schoemehl doctrine,” that allowed for a permanently and totally disabled worker’s weekly benefits to be passed on to his dependents upon his death. The doctrine is limited to claims that were in existence as of January 2007, the date of the Supreme Court’s decision in Schoemehl v. Treasurer, and had not yet been fully resolved by June 2008, when the legislature then abrogated the doctrine.

In Ogden v. Conagra Foods, Ogden suffered serious injuries to his skull and spine in a 2001 motor vehicle accident and collected more than $2.4 million in benefits until his death in 2014. In 2009, the Ogden’s attorney filed a Form 21 Claim for Compensation for the employee and his wife. After Ogden died, his wife demanded payment on her claim for Schoemehl benefits.

The Industrial Commission determined she was entitled to payment, and Conagra appealed. The Court of Appeals approved benefits, explaining it didn’t matter that the wife’s claim for Schoemehl benefits wasn’t filed within the window of January 2007 to June 2008 because the claim was open and active during this time.

 

Credibility of doctors’ conflicting testimony weighed in appeal – Nebraska

In Hintz v. Farmers Cooperative Association, a worker was injured when a tire exploded, but he did not seek medical care and returned to work after a day-and-a-half absence. About three weeks after the accident, he tripped on the stairs at home and sought medical attention, which revealed a labral tear and other problems with his hip. His physician took him off work and performed surgery, and Farmers’ Cooperative terminated him after several months’ absence.

The worker filed a workers’ comp claim, and his physician testified although the worker had given inconsistent accounts about whether the hip injury was caused by the explosion at work or the trip down the stairs, when he performed surgery he observed a serious labral tear that seemed more likely to have been caused by the workplace explosion. An IME disagreed, testifying the injury was more likely caused by the fall down the stairs.

The Workers’ Compensation Court denied the claim, finding the IME’s testimony to be more reliable, but the Court of Appeals overturned, noting the treating physician had personally seen the extent of the injury during surgery.

Country club worker can proceed with lawsuit after general manager struck him in the groin with a golf club – New York

A country club employee whose left testicle was surgically removed after the club’s general manager struck him in the groin with a golf club is entitled to sue for damages beyond workers’ compensation benefits ruled an appellate court. The locker-room attendant was observing the assembly of golf clubs in the pro shop when the general manager entered and picked up a golf club shaft and struck him in the testicle, then left the room laughing.

The employee and his wife sued the general manager, who sought dismissal of the case based on workers’ comp exclusive remedy. The Court concluded that questions of fact existed as to whether the general manager acted in a ‘grossly negligent and/or reckless’ manner when he swung the golf club shaft and struck the employee and whether the country club condoned the action, thus the civil case can proceed. Montgomery v. Hackenburg.

Blackout caused by non-work conditions does not prohibit benefits – New York

In Nuclear Diagnostic Products, 116 NYWCLR 211, the New York Workers’ Compensation Board awarded benefits to a driver, who crashed his work vehicle after losing consciousness. The driver reported that he started coughing due to an asthmatic reaction to a new air freshener in his house and lost control of the car. The Board explained that since the driver’s accident occurred in the course of his employment he was entitled to a presumption that the accident arose out of his employment and that the driving of the employer’s vehicle was an added risk of employment.

Severe disability from Legionnaires’ Disease compensable – Pennsylvania

An employee of Nestle’s New Jersey office did most of his work in Pennsylvania performing maintenance on beverage machines. He fell ill, was hospitalized, lapsed into a coma, and was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ Disease. The illness left him wheelchair-bound, affected his speech, and the treatment he received may have caused brain damage. Nestle denied the allegations that he contracted the disease while working on fountain and soda drink machines that contained contaminated water, and argued the disease was not a result of work-related exposure. After testimony from a number of personal witnesses and medical experts, a workers’ comp judge determined that the employee was temporarily totally disabled and entitled to workers’ comp benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board and the Commonwealth Court affirmed. Nestle USA Inc./Vitality vs. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board

Seasonal worker difficult to prove – Pennsylvania

Two recent decisions of the Commonwealth Court illustrate how difficult it is for an employer to establish that a worker is a seasonal employee. While there is a specific formula for calculating the average wage when a worker is engaged in an “exclusively seasonal” occupation, the law does not provide a definition for the term. The controlling standard comes from a 1927 Supreme Court case which declared seasonal occupations are “those vocations which cannot, from their very nature, be continuous or carried on throughout the year, but only during fixed portions of it.”

In Toigo Orchards v. WCAB (Gaffney), a tractor driver who was hired for a single apple harvest doesn’t fall within the “exclusively seasonal” category. The argument was that the injured employee was “itinerant agricultural labor,” a tractor driver, and that short-term employment is not synonymous with seasonal work. Had he been treated as a seasonal employee his weekly benefits would have been only $31.99, compared to $315.90 weekly, which he was awarded.

In Lidey v. WCAB (Tropical Amusements), a carnival ride fabricator wasn’t an “exclusively seasonal” employee, even though his employer did business only during the summer months. He was awarded $917 per week, based on his weekly wage of $2,000.

Philadelphia Eagles must pay workers’ comp and a penalty for failing to report player’s injury – Pennsylvania

A defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles ruptured his right Achilles tendon during the team’s training camp and underwent surgery and PT until he became a free agent. The team paid for his treatment and surgery and paid his regular salary until his contract expired, but failed to file workers’ comp documents. As a free agent, he rehabilitated at a private facility, which the team paid for, and ruptured his left Achilles tendon and the team paid for the surgery, but he paid for the rehabilitation. He filed for disability benefits and the team argued it should not be responsible for the second injury because it was not work related.

A workers’ compensation judge, and on appeal the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, ruled that the Eagles violated regulations by failing to report his first injury and awarded the claim petition as well as a 50 percent penalty to be paid by his employer on past-due compensation. The Eagles argued it was “not practically possible” to report every injury that occurs as a workers’ compensation claim as they see between 800 to 1,000 injuries during the season and practice. They file workers’ compensation claims only when players need treatment beyond what can be treated in the training facility, and they file NCPs on request.

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Legal Corner

ADA

Case to watch: Do employers have to offer disabled employees reassignment to another job if there are more qualified candidates?

In December, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Florida, Georgia, and Alabama) ruled in EEOC v. St. Joseph’s Hospital Inc. that the ADA “does not automatically mandate reassignment without competition.” The ruling conflicts with other appellate court decisions, and legal experts speculate that it is an issue likely to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

St. Elizabeth’s Hospital had a best-qualified applicant policy in place and the court found the ADA only requires that an employer allow the disabled employee to compete equally for a vacant position. The EEOC argued that the hospital violated the ADA by requiring the nurse to compete for a vacant position she was qualified to perform. The court stated, “[p]assing over the best-qualified applicants in favor of less-qualified ones is not a reasonable way to promote efficient or good performance.” Further “‘the ADA was never intended to turn nondiscrimination into discrimination’ against the non-disabled.”

The conflicting appellate court rulings on the issue means employers’ obligations will vary depending on the circuit in which they operate.

Broken arm can be considered disability

A U.S. District Court refused to dismiss a discrimination charge filed by a worker who was terminated after she continued to need accommodations for her broken arm, a work-related injury. She worked for Kingsport, Tennessee-based Eastman Chemical and tripped and fell and broke her arm, requiring two surgeries. The company put her on light-duty assignment but eventually terminated her arguing it could not accommodate her temporary activity restrictions on an ongoing basis because there were several essential job duties she could not perform. The worker filed suit under the ADA.

The court refused to dismiss her case noting, “pertinent inquiry is not whether plaintiff’s restrictions were labeled ‘temporary’ or ‘permanent’ or the precise length of time she was under restrictions, but whether she was essentially limited in a major life activity.”

 

FMLA

Failure to provide a fragrance-free work environment does not equate to a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation

In Alanis v. Metra, an employee began suffering from a variety of fragrance-sensitivity symptoms such as difficulty breathing and speaking after ten years on the job. She was seen by her employer’s medical provider who concluded that she could return to work but gave her 30 days to obtain a psychological clearance exam. A week later, she again experienced symptoms and claimed that she was unable to speak and could only communicate through text messages, in writing or by whispering and was determined to be “medically disqualified” from working.

She took FMLA leave and a few months later her treating physician released her to work. However, she had not had the psychological clearance exam and when she did she was diagnosed as having a fragrance sensitivity, but was allowed to return to work a few months later.

The company made every effort to accommodate her requests for accommodation, which included flexible work hours, a modified dress code, limitation on extended talking, periodic rest breaks, self-paced work-load, and efforts to create a fragrance-free workplace. But she was not satisfied and filed suit, alleging discrimination based on the fact that she was Hispanic and retaliated against because of her disability.

The District Court for the Northern District of Illinois found that there was no evidence of discrimination or retaliation because no adverse employment action was taken. Furthermore, the Court found that the company had gone above and beyond to grant her requests for accommodation, specifically noting the changes made to reduce the existence of odors in the workplace.

Workers’ Compensation

Court supports DWC action suspending providers linked to fraudulent activities from workers’ comp system – California

Chiropractor Michael Barri, his company, Tri-Star Medical Group, and a newly formed nonprofit called the Coalition for Sensible Workers’ Compensation Reforms, filed a constitutional challenge seeking a peremptory or alternative writ of mandate blocking the state from suspending providers from the workers’ comp system and staying their medical liens when the providers are linked to fraudulent activities. Barri pled guilty to receiving illegal kickbacks to refer patients to Pacific Hospital during the spinal surgery kickback scheme.

The First District Court of Appeal took only two days in rejecting the request. The Division of Workers’ Compensation is moving to suspend providers and stay liens under new authority granted to it by the passage last year of SB 1160 and AB 1244.

EMA’s opinion that goes beyond the scope of the issues should be considered – Florida

In Hillsborough County School Board v. Kubik, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that a Judge of Compensation Claims erred in refusing to consider the opinion of an expert medical advisor (EMA) as to the cause of a worker’s need for medical treatment, and in denying the worker temporary total disability benefits. While the EMA had not been asked to evaluate the major contribution cause of the need for ongoing treatment, the court noted an EMA’s opinion that goes beyond the scope of the issues is admissible but not afforded a presumption of correctness.

Former Congressman collecting $100,000 annually in workers’ comp for bipolar disorder – Illinois

According to the Chicago Tribune, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who was convicted of looting thousands of dollars from his campaign fund, is receiving a little more than $100,000 in worker’s compensation payments. Quoting Chicago attorney Barry Schatz, who is representing Jackson in a divorce proceeding, the article notes that the benefits are temporary total disability for bipolar disorder and depression.

The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act gives workers’ compensation benefits for disability “due to personal injury or disease sustained while in the performance of duty,” the Labor Department said. An employment lawyer speculated that Congressman Jackson’s attorneys convinced the government that his bipolar disorder was created by the rigors of being a member of Congress,

Inadequate urine sample did not constitute drug test refusal – Kansas

An employee who was struck in the left arm by an object while grinding a piece of metal was treated at an emergency room and returned to his employer to submit a post-injury urine sample. However, he did not provide enough urine to complete the test and the test administrator threw it away.

Lower courts found that the employee forfeited his benefits by failing to complete the drug test, however the appeals court disagreed. Kansas workers’ comp law says that “refusal to submit to a chemical test at the request of the employer shall result in the forfeiture of” workers’ comp benefits if the employer “had sufficient cause to suspect the use of alcohol or drugs by the claimant or if the employer’s policy clearly authorizes post-injury testing.” The court found no evidence that the employee had been under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident and had volunteered to take a drug test while he was at the hospital. Kelley v. Aldine Indep. Sch. Dist., 2017 Tex. App. LEXIS 829 (Jan. 31, 2017)

Psychologist’s testimony valid in workers’ comp denial – Minnesota

In Gianotti v. I.S.D. 152, A16-0629, the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned a decision of the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) that the opinion of a psychologist was inadequate to support the denial of a worker’s claim for mental conditions allegedly caused by a concussion and post-concussive syndrome. The employee worked as a school bus monitor and fell and hit her head when the bus stopped short unexpectedly. Medical tests did not reveal a concussion, but she continued to complain of headaches, confusion, and memory problems and eventually sought psychiatric treatment.

While a judge denied the claim for a variety of emotional and psychological conditions, the WCCA questioned the competence of the psychologist as an expert witness, an issue that was not raised on appeal, and awarded benefits. The Supreme Court overturned this ruling noting the scope of the jurisdiction of the WCCA is limited to the issues raised by parties in their notices of appeal and that the psychologist’s opinion had as solid a factual foundation as any other expert in this case.

 

Failure to find work does not mean unemployable – Mississippi

The employee was a grinder and injured his right hand. Following an operation, he was released to work with restrictions, which did not allow him to work as a grinder. He performed largely janitorial and maintenance duties, but at one point was asked to operate a forklift. This irritated the hand and his physician advised him not to do so. When he was asked again, he refused to do so, and was placed on leave and given three days to obtain a written work restriction.

When he did not produce the work restriction, he was fired for insubordination. He filed a petition seeking a higher permanent medical impairment and eventually received a 50% loss rating, which he argued was too low given his permanent work restrictions. However, the Court of Appeals found that he was able to do other substantial job duties and had worked for almost a year after he was declared to have reached maximum medical improvement. Although he had been unsuccessful in finding another job after he was let go, this did not mean that he was unemployable. Harold Hathorn v. ESCO Corporation

Worker fired for failing to report medical only claim can collect unemployment – Mississippi

Although most states protect workers once they are hired from being fired if they file a comp claim, Mississippi does not. In Bedford Care Center of Marion v. Nicholson, the question for the Court of Appeals was whether unemployment benefits are available to a worker who was fired for having misrepresented her claims history. In a previous job, the worker received medical care for her injury in the hospital emergency room, but no indemnity benefits and she argued she did not realize medical benefits were workers’ comp.

While lower courts found she was fired for misconduct and not entitled to unemployment benefits, the Court of Appeals concluded that her inaccurate answers did not rise to the level of “willful and wanton” misconduct necessary to forfeit her entitlement to unemployment benefits.

Employee may sue colleague for work accident – Missouri

A restaurant worker climbed an A-frame ladder into a lofted space at the restaurant and while she was working there, a coworker removed the ladder. The coworker returned the ladder, but did not fully open and lock it. The ladder collapsed and the worker fell and injured her hand, elbow, and shoulder.

While the St. Louis County Circuit Court dismissed a negligence lawsuit, a three-judge panel of the appellate court disagreed, noting that a 2005 amendment to Missouri’s workers comp law “only gives employers immunity against tort claims for work-related injuries and does not afford such immunity to co-employees.”

Suicide bars survivor benefits – Nebraska

A woman who overdosed on drugs prescribed in connection with a workplace injury is not eligible for workers’ compensation survivor benefits, a state appeals court ruled. For five years, she was taking the opioids oxycodone and methadone, along with the sedative Xanax. Shortly before her death, she was told she would lose custody of her daughter and she no longer could live with relatives. She was overheard saying, “I just as well end it all.”

The trial court ruled that the overdose constituted “willful negligence and thus barred any recovery of benefits,” and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Michael B. v. Northfield Retirement Communities

Medical marijuana reimbursement required for comp claim – New Jersey

In Watson v. 84 Lumber, a New Jersey administrative law judge ordered Beaumont, California-based 84 Lumber Co. to reimburse one of its injured workers for medical marijuana prescribed for neuropathic pain in his left hand after an injury suffered while using a power saw at a lumber plant. The medical marijuana was being used to help wean the worker off of opioids. This is a division level case, so this decision is not binding on other New Jersey courts.

Other states that have allowed comp payments for medical marijuana include New Mexico, Maine, Connecticut and Minnesota. In most of these cases, physicians only recommended marijuana after other treatment regimens for chronic pain were attempted without success.

Cautious language of medical expert dooms claim for stress-related stroke – New York

In Matter of Qualls v Bronx Dist. Attorney’s Office, 2017 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 409, a state appellate court affirmed the Workers’ Compensation Board’s determination that a worker did not sustain a causally related disability resulting from his stroke because his physician repeatedly used cautious and indeterminate language, such as stress “may have been” or “could’ve been a contributory factor.” While the court acknowledged that the law did not require that medical opinions be expressed with absolute or reasonable medical certainty, the expert must signify a probability as to the cause and his or her opinion must be supported by a rational basis.

“Last act” in employment contract key in determining workers’ comp jurisdiction – North Carolina

An Oklahoma-based union hall of a welder who lived in North Carolina sent her a notification to report to an assignment in Texas, where she was to undergo a drug test and complete forms when she arrived. The North Carolina Industrial Commission ruled it did not have jurisdiction to hear her injury claim since her injury occurred outside North Carolina and under North Carolina’s “last act” test, her employment contract was made in Texas, and not in North Carolina. Submission to the drug test was more than an administrative formality, had she not passed, she would not have been hired. Holmes v. Associated Pipe Line Contrs., 2017 N.C. App. LEXIS 52

Off-duty convenience store clerk due comp benefits – Pennsylvania

The Commonwealth Court panel has ruled that a convenience store clerk who is permanently disabled is eligible for workers’ compensation after being shot several times while sitting in his supervisor’s parked car outside of the store after the pair had just closed up shop. Earlier in the week, he had called the police on a shoplifter, whose relatives threatened retaliation, so his supervisor had been driving him home.

The Commonwealth Court panel upheld the decision of the workers’ compensation judge, saying that the shooting was retaliation-related. The court also said that the spot he was parked in constituted the employer’s property, at a location that was a reasonable means of access and egress to employer’s store, and he was within the course and scope of employment while he was in the car.

Exception to going and coming rule applies for sick employee – Pennsylvania

In Lutheran Senior Services Management Company v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Miller), the Director of Maintenance for a nursing home had a serious motor vehicle accident while going into work. At times he was called in for emergencies and received “comp time.” On this particular day, he was sick and planned to call in, but his employer called that a security camera had malfunctioned and needed to be fixed and no one else was available to do so.

While the carrier denied the claim arguing that he was commuting, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the Claim Petition, noting “Claimant was sick on March 13, 2014, and except for the special need of the Employer to assure [that the] surveillance cameras became operative . . . Claimant would not have gone to work.” This would represent an exception to the “coming and going rule.” Upon appeal the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB), affirmed the decision of the WCJ but felt the facts represented more “special circumstances” than a “special mission,” but, still met an exception to the “coming and going rule.” The Commonwealth Court affirmed.

Third party recovery limited to injuries caused by negligence – Pennsylvania

In Serrao v. WCAB (Ametek Inc.), the Commonwealth Court ruled that an employer is not entitled to recovery of the full amount of its comp lien from a worker’s settlement unless the employer can prove the third party was responsible for all of the worker’s compensable injuries. An employee, wearing protective overalls, suffered burns when a can of powder ignited and caused a flash fire. The employee filed a third party suit against the manufacturer of the coveralls and received a $2.7 million settlement, and the employer asserted a lien against the recovery for all of its costs related to the injury.

There was a dispute if the costs related to burns to his hands and head caused by the melting of his gloves, face shield and hood should be included. The case made its way to the Commonwealth Court that concluded an employer has the burden of proving its obligation to pay comp benefits was caused by the negligence of the third-party tortfeasor and that the tortfeasor’s payment of damages are for the same injuries for which the employer paid benefits.

How a carrier can exercise its subrogation rights – Pennsylvania

In The Hartford Insurance Group on behalf of Chunli Chen vs. Kafumba Kamara, Thrifty Car Rental, and Rental Car Finance Group, the court considered how a carrier could go after a culpable third party. A carrier wanting to exercise its subrogation rights cannot force the issue by bringing a third party action on its own. Chen was waiting to rent a car in the Thrifty Car rental parking lot when Kamara accidentally hit her with one of Thrifty’s rental vehicles. Through her employer’s workers’ comp, Hartford paid almost $60,000 in medical and wage benefits. The Hartford filed a tort action against Kamara and Thrifty, asserting their negligence was responsible for Chen’s injuries, but Chen had not assigned her cause of action to Hartford and was not a party to the lawsuit.

Although a judge dismissed Hartford’s complaint, the Superior Court ruled that the case could proceed. The court noted that the Hartford was not pursuing a subrogation claim on its own behalf – it was seeking to establish the defendants’ liability to Chen. Because the carrier also was not limiting its requested recovery to the value of its subrogation claim, the court reasoned that it was not impermissibly “splitting” the cause of action Chen would have had. It’s important for carriers to use the right language in the complaint to make it clear that it is bringing the employee’s suit.

In this case, Chen is cooperating with Hartford’s effort to obtain recovery, but did not want to pursue the claim on her own. Such action could be more difficult in cases where a recalcitrant employee does not want to cooperate.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com