Monthly Archives: June 2013

What Does The Supreme Court’s Striking Down Of The Defense Of Marriage Act Mean For Your Social Security Disability Benefits?

The United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated the Fifth Amendment and is therefore unconstitutional. While DOMA was in effect, the federal government did not recognize same-sex marriages that were performed in states where they are legal, such as New York.  This meant that the Social Security Administration was unable to pay certain benefits to individuals who would have otherwise been entitled to them if they were married to someone of the opposite sex. As this part of the law has been struck down, validly married same-sex couples should be treated identically to opposite-sex couples by the Social Security Administration. 

There are several Social Security benefits that married individuals are entitled to that unmarried individuals are not.  The two largest programs are survivor benefits and disabled widow(er)s benefits. A surviving spouse can now be entitled to benefits on a deceased spouse’s earnings record once they attain age 60 or are disabled and age 50. These benefits, once only available to opposite-sex couples, should now be extended to same-sex couples as well. Stepchildren may now also be entitled to benefits on a worker’s earnings record, if the worker is either deceased or receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits. 

The Social Security Administration relies on state law to determine if a person was legally married. Social Security looks at the law of the state where a person was living at the time of their death to determine if their marriage was valid. It’s possible that a same-sex couple could be married in New York (or another state where same-sex marriage is legal) and then move to a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage.  According to Social Security’s current rules, the Administration would look to the rules of the state where the person lived at the time of their death to determine if the marriage was valid. 

At first glance, this seems to mean that validly married same-sex couples could be denied benefits they would have been entitled to if they didn’t move. However, Social Security also recognizes a “deemed marriage” provision. In simple terms, if both partners believed themselves to be married, and acted like a married couple, and the only reason they are not validly married is “a legal impediment not known to the applicant” at the time of the marriage ceremony, Social Security will consider the marriage to be valid for benefit purposes.

We don’t know yet how Social Security will enact these provisions or what the end result will be. However, it appears clear to us that many people who were being denied benefits because of who they love will now be entitled to them. 

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Hazards exist in the surface refinishing business

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

University of Iowa, College of Public health, recently reported the death of a bathtub refinishing technician who died from the inhalation of paint stripper vapors.

The apartment manager and first responders reported a strong chemical odor in the second story apartment.

In 2012, a 37-year-old female technician employed by a surface-refinishing business died from inhalation exposure to methylene chloride and methanol vapors while she used a chemical stripper to prep the surface of a bathtub for refinishing. The technician was working alone without respiratory protection or ventilation controls in a small bathroom of a rental apartment. When the technician did not pick up her children at the end of the day, her parents contacted her employer, who then called the apartment complex manager after determining the victim’s personal vehicle was still at the refinishing company’s parking lot. The apartment complex manager went to the apartment unit where the employee had been working and called 911 upon finding the employee unresponsive, slumped over the bathtub. City Fire Department responders arrived within 4 minutes of the 911 call. The apartment manager and first responders reported a strong chemical odor in the second story apartment. There was an uncapped gallon can of Continue reading

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Chemical Exposure: Devastating Consequences

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

Chemical exposure in the workplace can have an insidious–yet devasating–effect on a worker.  In a wide-ranging article, the New York Times presented an in-depth view of chemical exposure at furniture factories in North Carolina: “As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester” The article focused on the questionable ability of OSHA to regulate workplace chemicals, as well as the personal (and neurological) toll caused by such exposure.

Somewhat absent from the discussion was a focus on workers’ compensation benefits for these workers.  Occupational exposure is not limited to repetitive back injuries or other orthopedic conditions.  While soemtimes more difficult to detect or pinpoint, exposure to serious chemicals in the workplace can result in health consequences for the exposed worker.  In Wisconsin, for example, an injured worker can bring a claim for the medical effects caused by exposure to workplace chemicals.  These occupational exposure claims ,if supported by a medical physician, entitle the injured worker to benefits under the Wisconsin worker’s compensation act.  Pinpointing the precise chemcial causing the exposure can be difficult, but a worker can attempt to obtain the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) from the employer that identifies chemicals/toxins being used.  Presenting that information to a qualified physician can assist in determining causation.  

In many cases, a worker can experience a permanent sensitization to certain chemicals–precluding the ability to continue working at the same employer or facility.  In these scenarios, a worker may have the right to bring a claim for a loss of earning capacity or even be retrained into a new field that avoids the exposure.


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Why Is The Social Security Administration Trying To Take My Money Away?

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

I wrote the attached article, When Did I Get My Windfall and Why Is the Social Security Administration Trying to Take It Away? (link is to a PDF) for the January edition of Social Security Forum, a publication of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives. I thought this information would be valuable to a broader audience than just other Social Security Disability lawyers, so I am republishing it on our blog. The Social Security Administration has been reducing benefits to former National Guard members based on an obscure provision, and lately the courts have been overturning these benefit reductions. If you or someone you know has received a notice from the Social Security Administration indicating that the “Windfall Elimination Provision” applies to them, you should read the attached article immediately or contact us for more information. We want to make sure that you receive the maximum benefits that you are entitled to under the law. You can read the article by clicking here: When Did I Get My Windfall and Why Is the Social Security Administration Trying to Take It Away?

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Does the Media Comprehend the Tragedy of Mass Worker Death?

Shadows on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Memorial

Today’s post comes from guest author Jay Causey from Causey Law Firm.

On March 25, 1911 a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City.  In 18 minutes 146 garment workers, mostly young women, were dead.  The hideous circumstances of the tragedy – widely depicted by the media with front-page pictures of the corpses of women who had jumped from the building windows to avoid being burned to death – incited a wave of public revulsion that contributed to New York’s enactment of one of the nation’s first workers’ compensation statutes.  This occurred in the so-called “Progressive” era of American political history – now largely a distant memory – when within the next decade the majority of states followed suit.

One hundred years later, similar tragedies in the world-wide garment industry, which feeds U.S. corporations like WalMart, H&M, and Gap, occur with scant media attention other than the possible effect of such disasters on corporate business operations.  In November of 2012, 112 garment workers died in a fire at a Bangladeshi factory producing WalMart clothing. (A manager had reportedly closed an exit gate after the fire alarm sounded, telling workers nothing was wrong and to just keep working.)  In another Bangladeshi factory on January 26, 2013, a fire killed seven garment workers who could not escape due to a blocked exit.

Rather than expressing outrage over these circumstances, U.S. media, including the New York Times, characterized these incidents not as human tragedies, inexcusably occurring in the 21st century industrial world, but as “blows to the Bangladeshi garment industry.”  The fact is that with the globalization of that industry, these Bangladeshi workers are essentially “our” workers, making the clothes Americans wear, sold to us by U.S. corporate behemoths competing to do this at the lowest price possible they think will be acceptable to the American consumer.  The media is complicit in disconnecting these tragedies from our consciousness as intolerable – just as was the sense of our citizenry after Triangle – by focusing it’s reporting on the economic impact to the garment business and blandly parroting the boilerplate disclaimers of responsibility given them by the industry.

The garment corporations could easily afford to ensure their foreign contractors increase workers’ wages and institute workers’ safety measures with a minimal impact on the final price and their bottom line.

These incidents are almost never reported in a way that puts the question to the American consumer as to whether we’d pay a bit more per unit of clothing to ensure the safety of these workers rather than participate in the race to the lowest possible price.  Labor cost as a component of garment retail price is miniscule – one to two percent.  The garment corporations could easily afford to ensure their foreign contractors increase workers’ wages and institute workers’ safety measures with a minimal impact on the final price and their bottom line.

As it turns out, however, when plans were being developed in 2011 to improve fire safety at Bangladeshi factories, those efforts were quashed by WalMart and Gap, who determined that preventing worker deaths from fire would cost too much: “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investment.”

Don’t expect to hear much more about all this from the corporate media.


Photo credit: Photo credit: Madison Guy / / CC BY-NC-SA

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Social Security Disability: Get the evidence you need

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

Social Security Disability applicants sometimes have trouble getting the evidence needed to demonstrate that they have a disability. PROBLEM 1: You haven’t had regular medical care because you don’t have health insurance. Without regular medical care, it’s difficult to develop a relationship with a doctor that is strong enough that the doctor can complete a report on your health. Even if your disability is very real, proving it in Court can still be a hard thing to do. However, without medical insurance, most doctors won’t see a patient. SOLUTION: In Nebraska there are some free clinics where you can be seen by a doctor even if you cannot afford to pay. To find a free clinic near you, contact your local health department. Anyone planning on applying for Social Security Disability should try to develop a relationship with a doctor by seeking regular medical care as often as possible. PROBLEM 2: Many applicants don’t have the right kinds of conversations with their doctors about their disabilities. Doctors are mainly concerned with your symptoms and how they can help you get well. They aren’t necessarily focused on the kinds of things they’ll need to know to help you with your Social Security Disability claim. To fill out a report for your claim, they’ll need to know exactly how much you can and cannot do. Continue reading

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Partner Matthew Funk To Be On The New York State Trial Lawyers Association Board Of Directors

Partner Matthew Funk

We congratulate Partner Matthew Funk on his selection as a member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA). He will be installed to the board at a ceremony on Wednesday, June 26th. Matt has been practicing law since 1999 and became a partner at the firm in 2007. He is currently a member of the NYSTLA’s Legislative Committee, writes for the NYSTLA Decisions program and has lectured on numerous occasions focusing on workers compensation law.

Click here for more information on the installation ceremony and reception and to register to attend.

About The New York State Trial Lawyers Association
The NYSTLA was founded in 1953 by a group of trial lawyers who were concerned that New York had no forum for plaintiffs’ lawyers. Today, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association is a 4,000-member trade association.
NYSTLA assures that the wrongfully injured have full access to the civil justice system. The organization is dedicated to the preservation of the federal and state constitution rights to trial by jury. They fight to see that:
  • injured people are not barred from the civil justice system;
  • wrongdoers are not immunized from liability;
  • juries are free to determine the proper amount of compensation without arbitrary legislative interference; and
  • obstacles are not placed in the way of litigating all meritorious actions.

NYSTLA also supports proposals to increase available insurance. When needed, NYSTLA works at the federal level to assure that our clients’ rights are not limited by Congress. NYSTLA does not hesitate to use the courts to advocate on behalf of consumers. 

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