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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Firm News: Edgar Romano Named Managing Partner; Matthew Funk Named Senior Partner

It is with great pleasure that we announce the promotions of two of our colleagues. They have, over decades, demonstrated hard work and dedication to injured workers, to their communities, to the practice of law, and to our firm.

Managing Partner Edgar N. Romano

Edgar Romano, formerly a Senior Partner, has been named the Managing Partner of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. Mr. Romano litigates workers compensation claims, including cases involving occupational exposure, asbestos and industrial irritants.

His community involvement is extensive – he has lectured extensively to labor unions and medical providers, is a Past President of the Workers Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is on the Board of Directors of the New York State Workers Compensation Bar Association.

Among is many passions, Mr. Romano is dedicated to helping those injured on September 11th and to help in this cause he serves on the Advisory Committee of the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program at Mt. Sinai Hospital and on the Advisory Board of the I.J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

 

Senior Partner Matthew Funk

Matthew Funk has been elevated from Partner to Senior Partner. He handles workers compensation cases for the firm. Mr. Funk is the current President of the  New York Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA) and the Co-Chair of the NYSTLA Workers’ Compensation Committee, a member of the Legislative Committee, No-Fault Committee and Labor Law Committee. Since 1999, he has written for the NYSTLA Decisions program and has lectured at the Decisions program on the topic of Workers’ Compensation.

Matthew serves on the Executive Board of the Injured Workers Bar Association, participating in online round table discussions regarding the rights of injured workers. He is a Workers Compensation Committee member of the New York Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH). Matthew regularly lectures on the workers compensation law to various labor organizations. In 2017, Matthew was honored with a City & State Corporate Social Responsibility Award in the Law sector.

 

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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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Dangerous Toys Remain Serious Concern, CPSC Under Attack

Dangerous toys remain serious concern, especially with CPSC under attack. New York personal injury attorney Matt Funk explains.

Dangerous toys remain a serious problem, even though the Consumer Product Safety Commission has focused on banning unsafe toys since the CPSC was created 45 years ago, thanks to repeated warnings by attorneys focused on consumer safety.

But the CPSC and its power to recall dangerous toys are now under attack, according to New York attorney Matt Funk, president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and a partner at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP.

Last year, 240,000 people were hurt by dangerous toys, according to CPSC statistics. The CPSC also issued 28 voluntary recalls for dangerous toys, according to the CPSC.  But since the recalls are voluntary, many dangerous toys remain in households throughout the country.

That’s why attorneys play such a vital role in removing dangerous toys from the marketplace. Examples of dangerous toys that attorneys have pressured the CPSC to recall include:

“With the prospect of the federal government reducing its already inadequate consumer protection activities, the task of defending the public will once again fall on consumers. And their lawyers,” Funk wrote in the New York Law Journal.

The power of the CPSC is under attack in two major ways. First, President Trump has proposed cutting the CPSC’s budget by 17 percent, according to The New York Times. Second, Trump has nominated attorney Dana Baiocco to run the CPSC, according to the New York Daily News. Baiocco has reportedly “represented companies accused of selling dangerous and defective products—including toy manufacturer Mattel when it was facing lawsuits because of lead in its products… Can consumers be sure that she will be looking out for them the next time a company is accused of selling a dangerous product,” Funk wrote.

“As lawyers, we have a special opportunity to make sure the toys and other products on the store shelves are safe,” Funk added. 

Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton and Romano LLP

 

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Outrage Over Proposed Benefit Cuts Dominates Public Comment Period – How To Keep Pressure On Lawmakers

As you may recall, the issue of Workers’ Compensation benefits for injured workers was used as a bargaining chip in Albany during this year’s budget negotiations. A compromise was reached that would update the current medical treatment guidelines to reduce costs to employers while still protecting the rights of injured workers. October 23, 2017, was the final day interested parties could comment regarding the proposed changes. 

In order to reach this goal, the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board was directed to put together a task force with input from labor, the insurance industry, medical providers, and the Business Council to revise the impairment guidelines to reflect “advances in modern medicine that enhance healing and result in better outcomes.” On the Friday of a holiday weekend, in order to diminish media coverage of the results, the final draft was released. This was not a revision, but rather a full-scale re-write of the guidelines. Labor groups, injured workers’ advocates, and member s of the State Legislature were justifiably outraged.

One of the provisions would allow insurance company doctors to question injured workers without their lawyer present, which could negatively impact future legal proceedings. If an injured worker refused to answer a question, the insurance company doctor could deem the injured worker as “uncooperative,” which could result in a suspension of benefits. Even worse, the end results of these proposed guidelines would slash benefits in some cases up to 97%, and for others, there would be none. 

As a result of the controversy, the New York State Assembly Labor Committee held a public hearing at which representatives of the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board testified first about the procedure used to formulate their revisions. They testified that they had a number of meetings with the Orthopedic Society, as well as discussions with the AFL-CIO and the insurance industry.  A number of additional witnesses testified, including members of the task force, and it became abundantly clear that the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board started their own re-write to these guidelines more than two years prior to any direction to do so. It was also clear that the end result had little resemblance to the recommendations made by the AFL-CIO or the Orthopedic Society.

It is now more than 45 days since the proposed re-write was put out for public comment, and the list of those who are opposed is tremendous. On October 18, worker advocates showed up at a number of Workers’ Compensation Board locations across the state for Days of Action including at Hauppauge, Brooklyn, and Buffalo. More than 100,000 postcards objecting to the proposed changes were delivered.  Members of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, the AFL-CIO, NYCOSH, New York City District Council of Carpenters, DC37, and countless more have all publicly railed against these changes.  Members of the Legislature have called out the Workers’ Compensation Board for overstepping their authority and for proposing changes that would vastly favor the Business Council over the injured worker. 

While the comment period is finished, you can still voice your outrage by contacting your State Senator and Assembly member and telling them that injured workers don’t deserve to lose any more benefits.  Sometimes after an injury, Workers’ Compensation is what prevents a worker from losing everything.

 

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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Broken Trust – Breaking The “Grand Bargain” Of Workers’ Compensation

More than 100 years ago, Workers’ Compensation was established as a “grand bargain” between workers and employers. The state legislature enacted laws where injured workers gave up their right to sue if they were hurt on the job as a result of their employers’ negligence in exchange for a no fault system of medical and wage loss benefits. 

Included in this bargain was the right of the injured worker to obtain financial compensation for a permanent injury to an extremity, such as arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers and toes. Unfortunately, this “grand bargain” – at least as it pertains to injured workers – has been under attack for the last 10 years in New York under the guise of rising costs to employers.

During the New York State budget negotiations, the Business Council created a false narrative that injured workers’ benefits for extremity injuries were archaic and didn’t account for modern medicine. They claimed that benefits paid were creating a crisis in New York and forcing businesses to flee the state. As a result of their lobbying, the New York State Legislature directed the Workers’ Compensation Board in April 2017 to create a task force consisting of labor, medical providers, and insurance groups to issue proposed revisions that account for advances in modern medicine that enhance healing and result in better outcomes. What we have subsequently found out is that the Workers’ Compensation Board, without direction or authority, has been secretly working for the last couple of years to not only revise the current guidelines, but to scrap them altogether. These provisions would essentially eliminate most schedule loss of use extremity benefits to injured workers. As an attempt to not fuel the fire, they released their proposed revisions at 11:00 p.m. on the Friday of Labor Day weekend.

The Workers’ Compensation Board has been heavily criticized for their Anti Injured Worker Proposals by a number of labor unions, NYCOSH, physician groups, Workers’ Compensation practitioners, and injured workers themselves. As a result of the outrage, the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Labor held hearings at which a number of people from the taskforce testified. When representatives from the Board were asked why there were secret meetings years before the Legislature directed them to review the issue, their weak response was that “they” couldn’t understand some of the large discrepancies between the findings of the treating doctors and the insurance doctors. However, that argument holds little weight because the scenario they cited was the exception rather than the norm. They also pointed out that they relied heavily on the New York State Orthopedic Group for input.  Yet, when the Chair of the task force, Dr. Jeffrey Lozman, an orthopedist, and Dr. John M. Olsewsky, President of the NYS Society of Orthopedic Surgeons, testified, it became clear that their recommendations were largely disregarded in a way that would negatively impact injured workers.

It is clear that the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board is pushing the Business Council’s agenda. What is unclear is why the Board seems to be taking sides when their mission statement is to “protect the rights of employees and employers by ensuring the proper delivery of benefits to those who are injured or ill, and by promoting compliance with the law.”

Injured workers don’t have the means to fight, and but there are still steps you can take to defeat these harmful proposals. There is a 45-day comment period set to expire on October 23, 2017. You can contact your state legislator and the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board to voice your opposition. For additional information please go to:  www.nyworkerscompensationalliance.org/protectinjuredworkers

Workers’ Compensation was set up to help you if you are ever injured on the job. These benefits are your right. They are your protection. Just because you might not need the benefits now, doesn’t mean you or a loved one won’t need them down the road. Only by working together can we fight to make sure that these benefits as we know them remain in place. While a single voice might not make a difference, a loud collective voice stands a better chance. Go to the link and voice your disapproval. Have your family and friends do the same.

 

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 State Workers’ Compensation Board Proposes Broad Anti-Worker Changes

There is a phrase in politics known as Friday News Dump or Take out the Trash Day. In other words, the act of releasing certain news items at the end of the work week in an attempt to avoid media scrutiny. In the case of the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, the public servants that they are, the News Dump occurred at 11:00 pm on the Friday of Labor Day Weekend. As you may recall in April as part of the horse trade known as the New York State Budget, injured workers’ benefits were used as  bargaining chips. The Business Counsel had argued that schedule loss of use awards which are given to workers’ for permanent injuries to the extremities were suddenly unfair to the employer. The original guidelines they argue were outdated and did not take into consideration new advances in medicine. One of the Budget provisions directed the Board to “consult” with a group stacked with pro-business and insurance interests to re evaluate the current guidelines. Well at 11:00 before the holiday weekend they issued their proposed changes and like the impact of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, no one could have foreseen the complete and utter destruction these proposals would have on injured workers benefits. Rather than addressing how advances in modern medicine enhances healing or create better outcomes, the Board totally disregarded the legislation’s directive and instead simply rewrote the entirety of the guidelines to create a new evaluation process which would destroy previously awarded benefits for permanent injuries.

These changes are arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion. The legislature had previously established a fixed period of compensation based upon a specific injury but the board has taken it upon themselves to reduce or eliminate many of the benefits previously awarded for an injury. Additionally the Board has proposed provisions which are punitive in nature against the injured worker, bordering on being downright insulting, which only provide more opportunities for insurance companies to deny benefits.

One of the amendments submitted allows the insurance carrier to go on a fishing expedition to obtain information that is privileged, irrelevant or against the injured workers’ interest and penalizes them for failing to comply. These “questionnaires” if not completed to the satisfaction of the insurance carrier can be negatively inferred against the injured worker. The carrier can deny benefits simply by stating that the injured worker was uncooperative. This new amendment seems to be in direct violation of HIPPA privacy laws. 

There are many who will be affected. Anyone who has been injured or knows someone who has been injured on the job should be appalled that their family and friends, when they are at their most vulnerable, would be attacked by the same State Agency that was established to protect them. Shocking as it is, these guidelines are being proposed by the Workers’ Compensation Board. The name itself implies it is for the benefit and protection of the Worker. Perhaps the name should be changed to the Business Council and Insurance Defense Agency as it appears their agenda has changed. Unions, particularly those that have workers who engage in any type of physical or hazardous activity should be outraged that their members will again be attacked financially when they are injured. The New York Daily News recently spoke to Mario Cilento, the President of the NY AFL-CIO, who commented that “the plan is an insult to all working men and women. Benefit cuts for injured workers are wholly unjustifiable.” 

Legislators, in particular should be infuriated knowing that a governmental agency has usurped their authority in an attempt to dismantle a system that has been statutorily in place for over 100 years.     

When will these attacks end if ever?  Who is the driving force behind these attacks? One of the unfortunate consequences of a typical day is that some people go to work healthy one day and leave as a casualty of a work place injury the next. Some of us will be permanently injured or even killed. Regulating away benefits will not prevent injuries but will only result in someone else paying for benefits -usually tax payers.  The slashing and burning must end.  All of us must take a stand to protect those of our society who did nothing wrong except be one of the unfortunate victims of a workplace injury. How ironic that this bomb was dropped upon the working men and women of New York State on a holiday weekend dedicated to honoring the working people of this country.  

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Groundwater Contamination In Bethpage A Possible Source Of Disability Claims

N.Y. Assemblyman Anthony Saladino (left) and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) display a map of the spread of a plume of toxic chemicals from Bethpage to Massapequa.

Last year news broke that New York was going to test water on Long Island for contamination from toxic groundwater near the old Grumman site in Bethpage, which previously housed the U.S. Navy. Decades ago it was determined that the site was toxic and the Navy and Grumman had spent millions of dollars to clean it up, but despite this, fears remained that there was some contamination that may have seeped from the site into the groundwater.

Governor Cuomo subsequently announced that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was going to seek financial compensation for damages to groundwater resources related to that contamination. As a transplanted Queens’s native who now lives in Bethpage, the news was troubling to say the least, but it is just one of many examples of a contaminated water supply. The City of Flint, Michigan, made headlines during the last couple of years after dangerous levels of lead were found in the water. The resulting cover-up resulted in a number of lawsuits and criminal indictments.

If these types of examples are startling, then this one will really get to you. We are in the midst of a heartbreaking contamination event involving our service men and women and their families at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. From the 1950s through the 1980s, people living or working at the U.S. Marine Corps base there were potentially exposed to drinking water contaminated with industrial solvents, benzene, and other chemicals. It is estimated that almost one million people were exposed to contaminated water during this time.

The Veterans Administration (VA) has established a presumptive service connection for veterans, reservists, and National Guard members exposed to contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune from August 1, 1953 through December 31, 1987, who later developed one of the following eight diseases:  adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or Parkinson’s disease. These conditions are the only ones for which there is sufficient scientific and medical evidence to support the creation of presumptions. However, the VA will continue to review relevant information as it becomes available.  The presumptive service connection means that all Lejeune veterans with one of the eight conditions listed above will not have to provide documentation proving their conditions were caused by the tainted water.

President Barack Obama approved a $2.2 billion compensation program to pay disability compensation benefits. Disability Compensation is a tax free monetary benefit paid to veterans with disabilities that are the result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. Compensation also may be paid for post-service disabilities that are considered related or secondary to disabilities occurring in service, and for disabilities presumed to be related to circumstances of military service, even though they may arise after service. As many of these conditions develop over time, the veteran may no longer be on active duty. This will not disqualify a claim for compensation. If you or a family member were at Camp Lejeune, it is imperative that you know your rights. They are complicated and often misunderstood, thereby leading our veterans to miss out on benefits they are more than entitled to and definitely deserve. We are awed by our veterans’ commitment to this country and we thank them for their service.

 

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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