Category Archives: Workplace Injury

Benefits Alert – Workers’ Compensation Rates Increased on July 1, 2018

Senior Partner Jordan A. Ziegler

Last year’s solar eclipse brought about fun and excitement for Americans of all ages, but did you know it also brought about several Workers’ Compensation claims?

The rare total solar eclipse was the first time it occurred in the United States since 1979. The August 21 eclipse was the most watched and photographed eclipse in history. With all the excitement surrounding the day, many employers planned solar eclipse office viewing parties. What they might not have known, however, was that in the case of a mandatory employer-sponsored event, safety precautions must be taken. In this case, employers were responsible for providing safety glasses. Employees who were injured while eclipse-viewing on the job were able to file Workers’ Compensation claims if their boss did not provide adequate eye protection.

In fact, an article about workplace safety concerns related to the eclipse was the third most read Workers’ Compensation story on Business Insurance’s website in 2017. This substantiates the proof that Workers’ Comp is a complicated matter and one that workers should not play guessing games with.

Jordan Ziegler, Esq. Senior Partner in the law firm Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano LLP, said the New York State Workers’ Compensation system is a no-fault system that was created to aid injured workers with wage replacement and medical benefits. However, navigating through the Workers’ Comp maze requires much more than chasing a dangling carrot. You need to know and understand the rules in order to follow the rules. And that’s no easy task.

The effects of even a small injury can last a lifetime, so make the most of each step toward healing and the compensation to which you are entitled. Effective July 1, 2018, the new maximum weekly benefit for Workers’ Compensation claims increased to $904.74 from the previous year’s $870.61.

If you are injured on the job, or think you might have a work-related injury, here are some important steps to follow:

  • Let your employer know the circumstances that resulted in your injury. You only have 30 days to report the incident. Next, inform the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) so everyone is on the same page. It may be difficult to contact them but don’t worry, you’ve got two years to let them know.
  • Even if you don’t lose time from work, you should still file a claim. Someone has to pay the medical bills and it’s typically the WCB’s insurance company’s responsibility.
  • Remember to document any phone records and emails that follow. Written communication is the best way to later prove your side of the story. In fact, the law requires you to give written notice of your injury to your employer. Make sure you note the supervisors and staff you communicate with and the date your notification took place. Make copies of everything! And save all emails.
  • When seeking medical attention, either in the nearest emergency room or a doctor’s office, ask for detailed records of your injury and prescribed treatment.

Ziegler said the path to benefits is highly detailed. You may not even realize that beside medical benefits, you might also qualify for indemnity benefits — money you receive each week that you’re unable to work. With a permanent injury, you might be eligible for such benefits even if you return to your job.

Just as employers have attorneys to represent the interests of their companies, YOU must gather the right team to navigate the detailed — and often confusing — laws of Workers’ Compensation.

“Workers’ Comp goes a long way toward helping ease the financial burden that comes with not being able to fully return to work,” Ziegler said. “There are so many complicated ins and outs of filing, however, that all too often injured workers will give up rather than fight for what they are entitled do. That’s where we are able to step in and help but we can’t do that if we don’t know about the injury.”

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Don’t Go It Alone

An injured worker walked through my door the other day frustrated beyond belief. He had been representing himself on his compensation claim for his back injury. He thought he did not need a lawyer and could handle it himself.

The insurance company accepted the claim and paid this worker only a fraction of what he was actually entitled to, though that was not the issue the client wanted to discuss. He did not even realize that he had been short changed.

What he wanted to discuss was getting back surgery. His doctor requested a laminectomy, but the insurance company told the doctor and the injured worker that they were not going to authorize it or pay for it. This man had been suffering terrible back pain for nearly six months and his surgery was never scheduled.

The injured worker was shocked when I told him that the insurance company did not have to give authorization — this surgery was already authorized under the Board’s Medical Treatment Guidelines. The insurance company knew this of course, but seemingly played ignorant to avoid paying for the needed surgery.

When I then told him that he could not only have his surgery, but also had been paid less than half of the indemnity payments to which he was entitled, the gentleman shook his head in frustration and said, “I shouldn’t have done this alone.”

How right he was. The New York Workers Compensation system is extremely complicated. Insurance companies know the system well and often do not tell unrepresented injured workers details that matter, often while telling the injured worker that they are acting in their best interest.

Do not go it alone.  At Pasternack, Tilker, Ziegler, Walsh, Stanton, and Romano, with more than eight decades of experience in defending the rights of New Yorkers, we help clients get the justice they deserve.

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Injured Volunteer Firefighters And Ambulance Workers May Be Eligible For Benefits

New York workers are generally covered by the Workers’ Compensation Law, but there are special laws which cover volunteer first responders – firefighters and ambulance workers.

Closely aligned with the Workers’ Compensation Law are the Volunteer Firefighter Benefits Law (VFBL) and the Volunteer Ambulance Workers Benefit Law (VAWBL). As their titles suggest, these two laws protect people who volunteer in the potentially hazardous duties of fighting fires, responding to motor vehicle accidents and tending to those injured in a variety of circumstances. While not all firefighters and ambulance workers are unpaid, many areas outside the five boroughs of New York City and other smaller cities maintain volunteer forces to provide these indispensable services. Given the inherent danger involved, volunteers often suffer injury when “on duty”.

In the event of an injury, both laws provide wage replacement benefits and medical coverage. Also, there is a “built in” presumption of an earning capacity for volunteers; therefore, even if a volunteer is not otherwise employed, she or he may be entitled to benefits. In addition to physical injury, the laws cover such events as exposure to noxious fumes, smoke or chemicals and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The list of what entails an “injury in the line of firematic or ambulance worker duty” is extensive. These events include maintaining vehicles and participation in certain department-sanctioned events. We take pride in representing those who volunteer their efforts in the service of others, especially when those efforts can be fraught with danger.

In order to best insure that your rights are protected, be sure to contact our office for a no-cost consultation. And thank you for volunteering!

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Saving Our Benefits – How Public Outcry Saved Workers’ Compensation in New York

Some of you may recall that injured workers and their families were used as political scapegoats by big business and insurance interests who blamed them for the high cost of doing business in New York.  Workers’ Compensation benefits became an easy target as those who needed these benefits were hardly in a position to fight against the deep pockets and political clout of these lobbying groups.  

As a result of political pressure during New York State budget negotiations, there was a direction to update the existing impairment guidelines under the guise of reducing costs to employers while still protecting injured workers. The final budget contained a provision directing the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) to put together a task force with input from labor, the insurance industry, medical providers, and the NYS Business Council to revise impairment guidelines to reflect “advances in modern medicine that enhance hearings and result in better outcomes”.  These impairment guidelines determine the amount of compensation payable to an injured worker for a permanent injury.

Unfortunately for injured workers, the WCB unilaterally revamped and rewrote the guidelines and released them during a holiday weekend with a 45-day public comment period. These proposed guidelines bore very little resemblance to the recommendations made by labor groups and the Orthopedic Society, and were an outrageous abuse of power. As a result of a very public outcry, the New York State Assembly Labor Committee held a public hearing during which it became very clear to labor groups, injured workers’ advocates, and members of the State Legislature that the Board’s egregious actions would result in a slashing of benefits to injured workers at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Public outcry led to action. Workers’ advocates showed up at a number of WCB locations across the state, including Hauppauge, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, for Days of Action. More than 100,000 postcards objecting to the proposed changes were delivered. Members of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the AFL-CIO, NYCOSH, New York City District Council of Carpenters, DC37, and countless others all publicly railed against these changes. Members of the Legislature called out the WCB for overstepping its authority and for proposing changes that would vastly favor the Business Council over the injured worker. 

The Worker’s Comp Board subsequently issued amended revisions, and while there are still some reductions, it was a significant improvement over the initial version. The final version was released last year on December 29. It is clear that grassroots efforts sometimes do work. Governor Cuomo and the WCB Chair clearly listened, and for that we are grateful. We are also grateful to those State legislators, union groups, and medical providers who submitted their insight on the impact the original proposals would have on injured workers.

Lastly, it is clear that those who may have been past or current recipients of Workers’ Compensation benefits – those who have known injured workers or those who just saw an injustice and wanted to help right a wrong – took the time to make a phone call, send a letter, or sign a petition. The outpouring of support took many by surprise, including those interests that were financed by big business groups.   One of my favorite quotes is from Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Truer words were never spoken.

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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The Road Ahead: Adjusting To Life After An Injury

As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 27 years, I see first hand what an injury can do to workers and their families. A number of years ago I represented an injured electrician, who as a result of an overextension injury sustained on the job, ended up having multiple surgeries. Almost immediately, this once athletic, high wage earner with a beautiful family and comfortable lifestyle saw an abrupt end to the life he knew.

My client faced a debilitating injury. He was no longer able to travel, his personal relationships suffered, and his once strong physique withered away. His financial situation was dire and he was unable to afford his home. Beside the extreme physical impairment, he ended up being treated for major depression. Both the insurance carrier’s medical providers, as well as the claimant’s treating doctors in this particular case, agreed that the claimant was totally disabled or incapable of performing any meaningful work activity – a standard not easy to meet.

Many of those injured on the job may not be able to return to their prior employment. Yet, according to the law, that does not mean they are totally disabled from any employment. If they are able to perform any work activity at all then they may be considered partially disabled. The amount of weekly payments an injured person receives and the length of time an injured worker receives these benefits is dependent upon a number of factors including degree of disability and loss of earning capacity. A partial disability can be considered mild, moderate, or marked.  These degrees are further broken down into when an injury is deemed permanent to a percentage loss of earning capacity. In some cases the difference of one percent loss of earning capacity can mean the difference of a full year of additional benefits. As you can imagine, much of my practice is consumed with litigation regarding the degree of disability and the loss of earning capacity.

The road for those who are partially disabled is not an easy one. Despite the Workers’ Compensation Board’s determination that an injured person has an ability to perform some work activity, it does not always translate into being able to obtain employment. In the case of serious injuries resulting in extensive lost time, the employer may have had to fill the position or the employer may not be able to accommodate the physical limitations. This puts injured workers in a position of having to look for alternate employment that they may not be trained for. The Board recommends a number of resources available to those seeking assistance, including one-stop career centers, as well as participating in vocational rehabilitation programs and continuing education such as SUNY Educational Opportunity centers adult career and continuing education. For more information go to www.wcb.ny.gov/labor-market-attachment

Many workers who are unable to obtain employment because of their injuries apply for Social Security Disability benefits. The standard for Social Security disability is different than Workers’ Compensation and relies more on the age and ability of the injured person to be retrained and to obtain relevant future employment. Social Security Disability benefits are payable for any illness or injury and do not have to be work related. All medical conditions are considered by the federal judge when making a determination as to eligibility, including physical or emotional impairments.

While an injury on the job can be life altering, there are resources available. You may never be able to return to your pre-injury status, but knowing your options allows you the ability to have some control over your future.

 

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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Protecting Yourself At Work: What To Do If There Is An Active Shooter

As an attorney who has been practicing before the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board representing injured workers for more than 27 years, I am drawn to organizations that assist workers. That’s why I am a member of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH), whose mission notes that every worker has the human right to a safe and healthy workplace and that workplaces injuries are often preventable. As a member, I receive many emails with various announcements regarding workplace safety, as well as statistics of injuries and deaths that occur on the job, many of which are preventable.

It is a sign of the times that on May 23, 2017, I received an email about educating workers on how to best respond in case of an active shooter. NYCOSH, along with the New York City Central Labor Council (NYCCLC), was sponsoring the event that was meant to educate participants on what actions to take to prevent and prepare for potential incidents, including what to do when an active shooter enters the workplace. Many of the cases that make front page news are mass shootings or those in the name of terrorism. Few of us can forget the Islamic extremist, who along with his wife fatally shot 14 of his co-workers at a Christmas party. Many of us go about our workday never anticipating a disgruntled employee, a client harboring a grudge, a terrorist, or a coworker intent on robbery, who may come to our workplaces with murder on their minds. When NYCOSH set out to sponsor their recent event trying to deal with a growing problem in this country, there was no way of knowing that workplace shootings would be in the national headlines three times in just two weeks. 

Last week we were shocked and appalled by the images of Republican Senators and their colleagues being shot at by a deranged person not happy with current politics. While many of our elected officials have heavy security when they are at work in the Capital’s office buildings, these members were on a ballfield early in the morning practicing for a charity baseball game taking place the next day. Despite the close proximity of the Capitol Police there to protect Steve Scalise, the current United States House of Representatives Majority Whip, five people were shot. Thankfully the sole fatality was the shooter himself.

In Orlando in early June, a disgruntled ex-employee systematically shot and killed five coworkers and then himself. A week later, a UPS employee in San Francisco walked into a UPS facility and killed three coworkers before killing himself.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2015 there were 354 homicides by shooting at the workplace. There were 307 in 2014, 322 in 2013, 381 in 2012, and 365 in 2011. Based on these statistics, it is clear that this is not an issue going away anytime soon. These are scary times and we all need to prepare for this new normal. 

While I was not able to attend the NYCOSH event, I did go to the website for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which offered these suggestions for responding when an active shooter is in your area.

  • Evacuate if you can.
  • Run as fast as you can and leave everything behind.
  • Just get out if possible.
  • If there is no accessible escape route, then hide somewhere and lock and blockade the door and silence any noise such as a radio or cell phone.
  • Lastly, if your life is in imminent danger, take action and try to incapacitate the shooter.
  • Throw things.
  • Use anything as a weapon.
  • Don’t go down without a fight.

It’s unfortunate that we even have to talk about protecting ourselves from active shooters. But in today’s day and age, we can never be too careful. As a mother, I worry for the safety of my children when they walk out the door as I’m sure many of you do as well. As a lawyer, I worry about the safety of workers every day on the job who are continually dealing with workplace injuries that could have been prevented.

 

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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New York’s Newest Budget Shortchanges Injured Workers

A couple of weeks ago Governor Cuomo signed the New York State Budget that contained some potentially detrimental provisions for injured workers. Big business interests are taking their victory laps as they continue with their campaign to dismantle the Workers’ Compensation system by further reducing benefits to injured workers.  See this for what it is- a relentless attack on the working men and women of this state.

If you believe that the majority of those on Workers’ Compensation are frauds, faking an injury, or taking advantage of taxpayers, then you are probably content with the changes in the law. That also probably means you were swayed by the alternative facts that the Business Council was promulgating, including the proposition that Workers’ Compensation benefits are to blame for the high cost of doing business in New York and that many injured workers are not deserving of the benefits they receive.   

My colleague Len Jernigan from North Carolina issues an annual report of the top 10 Workers’ Compensation fraud cases. In 2016, those top 10 fraud claims were against employers – not workers – and totaled more than $400 million! Much of the fraud involved misclassification of employees in order to circumvent payroll taxes and Workers’ Compensation insurance. In fact, very few workers would voluntarily subject themselves to a system that has become so bloated by bureaucracy and is more concerned about precluding medical treatment because a form is not filled out correctly or penalizing counsel for being too overzealous by submitting numerous requests for their client’s day in court. 

Injured workers do not have much political clout. They do not get rich off of Workers’ Compensation benefits. Their weekly benefits can be reduced if they are considered partially disabled without regard to their socio economic status, their educational level or whether or not they are still being treated for their injuries.   Many of them who were union workers now are no longer able to pay union dues; some cannot pay for medical insurance for themselves or their families as Workers’ Compensation insurance only covers the injured worker for the injuries sustained on the job.

Workers’ Memorial Day takes place annually on April 28.  It is a day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job. Each year there are symposiums, panel discussions, acknowledgements, and speeches paying tribute to the men and women who have lost their lives at work. Many of our politicians will issue statements or attend rallies to stand in solidarity with workers’ groups. We will hear how their deaths should not be in vain and how we must make our workplaces safer. We will be saddened to hear the list of names of those who went off to work never to return.

Many of the politicians giving these speeches are the same politicians who voted to reduce benefits to injured workers in order to appease big business interests. It is difficult to comprehend the hypocrisy involved, but we are told this is politics as usual. While it may be too late regarding the further limitation for lost wages, there is still an opportunity to let the Governor know that any further reduction for permanent injuries to limbs is just not acceptable. While honoring those who died on the job is laudable, properly compensating those who have suffered permanent injuries is equally important and ensures that we value both the dead and the living.

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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Cutting Corners Costs Lives: Non-Union Work Sites Twice As Dangerous As Union Sites

This large inflatable rat is a common sight at protests of non-union worksites in New York City.

As an attorney who practices in the metropolitan area, I often find myself traveling into New York City. I am amazed at the amount of construction that I see; the cityscape is changing and evolving rapidly. This construction boom means more business, a steady paycheck for workers, and more money for the city and state. Unfortunately, with the rise in construction also comes a rise in safety violations, injuries, and fatalities.

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) recently issued a report called Deadly Skyline regarding construction fatalities in New York State. A summary of their findings notes that from 2006 through the end of 2015, 464 construction workers died while on the job, with falls as the leading cause of death. When a fatality occurred, safety violations were inherent in more than 90 percent of the sites inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The report pointed out that non-union work sites had twice the safety violations of union sites, and in 2015, 74 percent of the fatalities occurred on non-union projects with the majority of the fatalities involving Latinos.       

It is painfully obvious that shortcuts and cost-saving measures result in injury and death. Many employers use misclassification as a means to save money. Misclassification occurs when an employee is labeled as an “independent contractor” so that a business owner doesn’t need to pay Workers’ Compensation insurance, Social Security, Medicare, or unemployment taxes. Some even resort to paying employees off the books as well in an effort to save money. This may not seem troublesome until you realize that this is a one-sided deal that really only benefits the employer. According to the NYCOSH report, misclassification of workers allows an employer to skirt the safe workplace requirement as OSHA does not cover independent contractors.

Employers must provide Workers’ Compensation insurance for their employees, and typically must notify their Workers’ Comp carrier as to the number of employees they have and the type of work they do. A risk analysis is performed and then employers are assigned a premium to pay in order to cover their workers in case of injuries. If injuries occur, premiums may be increased accordingly. Obviously employers in high-risk businesses must pay more for their premiums than those with employees involved in low-risk jobs. As injuries on misclassified workers do not add to an employer’s bottom line, there is less incentive to provide safety measures if it cuts into profits.

To make construction sites safe, NYCOSH recommends adequate education and training as well as legislation to punish those whose willful negligence causes a death. They also recommend passage of the NYS Elevator Safety bill that requires the licensing of persons engaged in the design, construction, operation, inspection, maintenance, alteration, and repair of elevators. It would also preserve Section 240 of the New York Labor Law, commonly referred to as the “scaffold law,” which governs the use of scaffolding and other devices for the use of employees. Weakening the Scaffold Law would shift safety responsibility from owners and general contractors who control the site, to workers who do not control the site and are in a subordinate position.

It is a true tragedy when someone is maimed or killed in an accident that could have been prevented. Not every employer engages in these tactics, and most workplaces are generally safe spaces for workers. However, even one death is too many. 

 

 

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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