Governor Cuomo’s Proposal Benefits Big Businesses, Hurts Working People

As an attorney practicing in the field of Workers’ Compensation for more than 25 years, I have represented thousands of injured workers. My job as their advocate has been extremely rewarding.   Most of my clients are honest, hardworking people who got up one day, went to work, and suffered an unforeseen accident. Not every case was easy, but in the end, the injured worker would usually prevail in getting adequate wage replacement and prompt medical treatment because the system was reasonable and the fight was fair. 

Unfortunately, the last 10 years have not been kind to injured workers. I have seen a shift in attitude in some of my clients. Many feel the need to explain that they are truly hurt as if there was any doubt in my mind. I realized that this was happening as a result of the propaganda perpetrated against the injured – that somehow they were faking their accident, or didn’t really deserve the benefits they were receiving. It dawned on me that this attitude has been influenced by a large-budget marketing strategy aimed at making the general public believe that those who get hurt are perpetrating a fraud against the system or filing frivolous lawsuits in order to obtain benefits they don’t deserve.

Big business has made the injured worker the scapegoat for the failing economy and the cost of doing business not only in New York but across the country. In fact, Governor Cuomo even seems committed to the Pro-Business Agenda to reduce costs and increase profits. A couple of weeks ago I outlined the Governor’s budget proposals that were not a part of his public address, as well as the Business Council’s wish list that would ensure cost savings at the expense of the injured worker. Some of these proposals included a reduction in the amount of wage replacement injured workers receive, as well as a limit on their medical treatment and choice of treating doctor. It also would limit worker access to the Workers’ Compensation system by limiting – or even eliminating – hearings before a judge, or giving the Board the ability to handpick judges to listen to certain types of cases. These limitations are designed to “save money” at the expense of the injured worker. The Governor has said that one of his motivations for adding these “reforms” to the budget was based on increasing costs to employers. The Business Council has lobbied for changes saying that costs to employers have gone up, not down. However, this directly contradicts Governor Cuomo’s statement in 2014 announcing that the 2013 Business Relief Act had cut Workers’ Compensation employer costs by 30%.   

The line in the sand has been drawn. The average worker in this country works paycheck to paycheck and does not have the funds for a big budget marketing strategy to counter this position. However, as a result of the attacks on workers in this state, a number of groups have indicated their opposition to the Business Council’s proposals. The New York Workers Compensation Alliance points out that after the 2007 reforms, Workers’ Compensation has replaced less than 10% of the lost wages of permanently disabled workers, and the current proposals made by the Business Council would render Workers’ Compensation virtually meaningless as a source of wage replacement benefits.  

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH) slammed the Business Council for putting profits over safety. The NYS AFL-CIO is opposed to the changes noting that they would “alter the system to such an extent that many injured workers could never expect to maintain a decent standard of living”.  Let your voice be heard. Call your State Legislators. Let them know while no one goes to work expecting to be injured, it can happen to any of us at anytime and everyone deserves to be treated fairly.

 

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

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“Reform” Warning – Governor Cuomo’s Proposed Budget Reduces Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Recently Governor Cuomo delivered his State of the State address for 2016. I heard the live telecast and noticed that many of the proposals in the budget are positive and beneficial to working class people, including allocating an additional $2.1 billion in school funding; rebuilding the infrastructure to improve roads and mass transportation; increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour; and bolstering public safety. In reviewing the actual budget proposal itself, however, there appears to be amendments to the Workers’ Compensation system that will not benefit injured workers and their families.

In order to understand the so-called “reforms” on workers, you need the historical perspective. Prior to the enacting of state Workers’ Compensation statutes, simply put, workers were allowed to sue their employers for negligence. In the early 20th century, spurred on by social reformers and the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that killed almost 150 women and girls, laws were enacted to protect workers. Known as the “great compromise,” workers gave up the right to sue their employers in exchange for timely payment of medical and indemnity benefits. For much of that century, Workers’ Compensation laws were expansive and assisted injured workers in getting treatment so they could eventually return to work or receive ongoing benefits in the event they could not.

Today most states have seen changes where the concept of medical treatment and wage replacement for injured workers is being substantially eroded. This agenda to reduce benefits to the injured worker has been part of a nationwide effort starting more than 20 years ago by the Business Council (aka the Insurance Industry). Their agenda was put into effect almost nine years ago here in New York when workers gave up many benefits under the guise of “reform.” These included a reduction in the amount of wage replacement injured workers receive and a limitation on medical treatment in exchange for increasing the weekly benefits more in line with the state average.

Now the Business Council is back to further chip away at injured worker benefits. It has put together a wish list in hopes of further reducing medical benefits and monetary benefits to injured workers who should be able to rely on their treating doctors to determine the best course of treatment. However, one of their proposals is that treatment would be determined by a “panel” for the first 90 days of treatment. This panel, of course, would not include a doctor of the injured workers’ choice, but would be determined by the insurance company for the employer.

Additionally, the Council is proposing a cap on benefits based upon a fixed timeframe as opposed to when injured workers finish their treatment and/or surgical procedures. These measures are being proposed strictly based upon the cost savings realized by the insurance industry and have nothing to do with compensating injured workers or ensuring them of the best treatment available for their particular injury. What this will do, in essence, is shift the cost of medical treatment and wage replacement to other sources such as federal programs and state programs that are paid for by the tax payer instead of the employer’s insurance company. This will ensure continued growth in profits for the insurance industry at the expense of injured workers and their families.

Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal contains some of the Business Council’s “wish list,” but thankfully not everything – at least not yet. Please contact the Governor, your State Senator or Assembly Person and tell them that our rights and benefits should never be negotiated away. Workers are the backbone of this country. They have built this nation and rebuilt New York. We must ensure they are taken care of when they get hurt.

 

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

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Improving Construction Safety – A Path Reducing Unnecessary Injuries And Deaths

Partner Chris Latham Supports Construction Site Safety At City Hall Rally

As an attorney who has represented thousands of injured workers in my career, I have seen first hand some of the serious and deadly injuries that occur in the construction trade. Last year I wrote a blog on the construction trades and discussed a report issued by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) claiming that while the construction industry employs less than 4 percent of New York’s workers, it claims nearly one-fifth of work-related deaths – making it the deadliest industry in the state. The report went on to mention that half of the fatalities were immigrant workers who did not have the protection of unions. Unfortunately, the past year has not seen any major improvements.    Injuries at construction sites are up 78 percent this year alone and there have been 16 deaths, mostly immigrant, non-union workers.  

The New York Times published an investigation on construction fatalities and noted that an increase in construction and the urgency to finish projects quickly has resulted in shortcuts and inadequate training for workers. Many of these workers have not been properly instructed or lack adequate supervision and are more likely to be injured or killed. The unions maintain that if these job sites were staffed with union trades, there would be a noticeable decrease in injuries and death. Those who are new to the union, called apprentices, work under the supervision of those who are senior and more experienced. While union projects may cost more than non-union jobs, unions point to the increase in accidents and deaths as a direct result of non-union contractors putting profits ahead of safety. 

If you work in downtown Manhattan you probably saw or heard about the Rally for Workplace Safety held on December 10. Thousands of construction workers united in a massive protest outside City Hall calling for safer work sites, better working conditions for construction workers, and union protection.  So many different trades were on site, all with the purpose of calling attention to unsafe workplace issues. My brother in law, a steam fitter who was present during the rally, noted that there was a procession with 17 coffins that represented the 16 who have already died, and one for the next unlucky worker. Before the protest, a hard hat was placed at the site of where each one of these workers perished.

Fortunately, there are some positive steps being taken. Councilman Rory I. Lancman of Queens has introduced a bill to compel the Buildings Department to report safety violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Additionally, Councilman Corey Johnson of Manhattan, on his website noted that he is supporting legislation that would require workers at buildings taller than 10 stories to pass mandatory apprentice training overseen by unions.  

While construction trades will never be 100 percent safe, they most definitely can be safer.  These protests and legislation are a small but positive step in trying to decrease the likelihood of unnecessary injuries and death.

 

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

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Partner Chris Latham Supports Construction Site Safety At City Hall Rally

Partner Chris Latham recently joined thousands of building trades workers, Councilman Corey Johnson, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer outside City Hall to protest the deaths of workers on construction sites in 2015. 14 of the 16 workers who died on construction sites in 2015 were non-union workers.
 
The rally coincided with the announcement of a new bill, sponsored by Brewer and Johnson, that would obligate all workers on buildings taller than 10 stories to go through state-approved apprenticeships.
 
In her remarks, Brewer said “We have to raise safety standards and put in place measures that will ensure every worker on any sized building has safety equipment, proper training and proper quality supervision,” she said. “We have to set the bar higher.”
 
For more information about how you can help ensure that both union and non-union construction workers earn middle class wages, receive fair benefits, are properly trained and work on safe worksites go to http://www.middleclassstrong.com/.

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Action Needed To Ensure Sick 9/11 First Responders Receive Benefits

Animal Control Officer Diane DiGiacomo

A couple weeks ago, the Workers’ Compensation community was stunned over the outcome of the case of Animal Control Officer Diane DiGiacomo who developed cancer from exposure to toxins in the air after 9/11. Diane’s job was to search for and rescue pets near Ground Zero when many of the buildings surrounding the area were either evacuated or abandoned for weeks after the terrorist attack. 

Diane had filed a Workers’ Compensation claim after being diagnosed with breast cancer that had metastasized to her brain. The judge ruled that she was not entitled to New York State Workers’ Compensation benefits because she had not filed a timely claim. At the time of the ruling, Diane was bedridden and weighed a mere 60 pounds. Tragically, four days after the decision, she died as a result of her cancer. While my firm did not represent her, Diane’s tragic story touched many of us in the industry, whether as advocates for the injured worker or as defense counsel. What makes this case particularly sad is that the judge noted it was clear from the medical evidence that the cancer developed at least in part due to her exposure to the toxins in the air. Unfortunately, Diane was not entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits because the deadline to register had passed.   

In order to be able to obtain Workers’ Compensation benefits for exposure after the 9/11 attacks, those who participated in the rescue, recovery, and clean up operations had to file a TWC-12 registration form prior to the current deadline of September 11, 2014. You did not have to actually be sick to file this form, but it preserved your rights if you worked in the area to file a claim later if you were found to be sick. It should be noted that the deadline has been extended twice because many of the illnesses such as cancer are slow starting and do not manifest themselves until many years after final exposure to toxins. The New York State Legislature has not extended this deadline again, at least as of this date.  

Officer DiGiacomo did not file her claim until sometime after September 11, 2014, because she was not actually diagnosed with cancer until after this date. According to the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board website, as of September 11, 2011, there were close to 49,000 WTC- 12 forms filed; however, hundreds or even thousands more may have been at the site doing rescue, recovery, and clean up and have not registered precisely because they were not sick as of the deadline or they didn’t know they had 9/11-related medical conditions. Perhaps it was based on their lack of understanding of the law or the opinion of some that they did not want to register because they somehow felt they would be taking benefits away from those who were already ill. Whatever the reason, it is imperative that the deadline once again be extended so that those who are currently ill, or become ill, have the full protection of the law.  

A bill introduced in the New York State Assembly by Assemblyman Peter J. Abbate, Jr., and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder to extend the deadline to September 11, 2017, is still sitting in Committee. While Officer DiGiacomo did not live long enough to see the deadline extended, it is not too late to compensate her son and the rest of her family. Let’s make sure that those who helped get our city back on its feet are not forgotten.

 

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

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Congratulations to Partner Michael Gruber, New President-Elect of WILG

Partner Mike Gruber being sworn in with the WILG Executive Committee.

Partner Michael Gruber is the new President-Elect of WILG, the Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group. He joins a long list of partners at our firm who have served on WILG’s leadership team, including past presidents Edgar Romano and Catherine Stanton, who currently serve on the WILG board alongside Victor Pasternack.

Michael Gruber has been a workers’ compensation lawyer since 1996. In addition to litigating workers compensation claims, he oversees the Workers Compensation Appellate Division practice at the firm and has been successful in numerous appeals to the New York State Appellate Division, Third Department. In 2012, Mr. Gruber was named as the chairman of the Workers Compensation Committee of the Brooklyn Bar Association. He is also a member of the Injured Workers Bar Association and the Workers Compensation Alliance, organizations focusing on workers compensation issues in New York. He regularly lectures on workers compensation law to various labor organizations.

WILG is the national non-profit membership organization dedicated to representing the interests of millions of workers and their families who, each year, suffer the consequences of work-related  injuries or occupational illnesses and who need expert legal assistance to obtain medical care and other relief under workers’ compensation programs. To learn more, visit www.WILG.org

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Closed Period of Disability: Money You May Be Missing Out On

If you have been out of work for 12 months or more, you may meet the requirements for a “closed period of disability” and may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. It is likely that you are eligible for benefits if the following statements apply to you:

  • You have been out of work for at least 12 months
  • You were out of work due to medical reasons
  • You received medical treatment during the time you were out of work

To receive benefits, you must also meet the minimum requirements for having a disability, which include having a medically determinable impairment that meets certain legal standards. A physician who can attest to your condition and treatment can help provide evidence to substantiate your claim. Your attorney can help you avoid roadblocks.

There is a mandatory 5-month waiting period from the date of being found disabled before a claimant is entitled to their first monthly benefit for a closed period of disability. Therefore, if you are out of work for exactly 12 months, you will be entitled to monthly benefit payments for 7 of those months.

To file for a closed period of disability, contact an attorney who can help you win your case and get paid.

If you have any questions about the material in this post or any questions at all about Social Security Disability, feel free to reach out to me at wmorrison@workerslaw.com.

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Are Concussions Worth the Risk for Hockey Players?

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Professional hockey, much like football, is considered to be a dangerous, high contact sport. With recent news of San Francisco 49er’s linebacker Chris Borland’s decision to retire at age 24 due to concussions, a lot of NHL players are feeling pressure to step-back and reevaluate if game-related concussions are worth the risk to their long-term health.

Carolina Hurricane’s 22 year-old forward Jeff Skinner has been side-lined three times for concussions since his first season in 2010-2011. Skinner’s teammate Brad Malone, a 25 year-old forward, considers his multiple concussions to be just “situations” and has made the decision to keep playing despite the risk of acquiring a long-term brain injury. According to the News & Observer, Malone stated, “If that situation was affecting my life at home and the people around me, then I think that’s when I sit down and sort of reevaluate.”

The danger of having too many concussions is that they can cause players to develop Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain that is caused by repetitive brain injuries, and according to Sportsmd.com CTE can cause symptoms and behaviors similar to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. CTE is considered to be the only preventable form of dementia. Hockey players are faced with a serious issue: continue to play professionally or quit the sport for the sake of future quality of life.

Original post in the News and Observer by Chip Alexander 3/31/15

Read more about CTE here: http://www.sportsmd.com/concussions-head-injuries/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy-cte-2/

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