Following the investigations by ProPublica and NPR, (see our previous post for more information) U.S. lawmakers are pushing for more federal oversight of State Workers' Compensation systems. According to ProPublica, "Ten prominent Democratic lawmakers, including presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, are urging the U.S. secretary of labor to come up with a plan to ensure that state workers’ compensation programs are properly caring for injured workers."
The push is in response to the findings of the investigation showing US taxpayers are the ones left footing the bill when an individual is injured at work. Due to the strong influence of special interest groups, specifically those in favor of workers' compensation insurance carriers, State Workers' Compensation laws have continually cut benefits available to injured workers.
This is no more evident than in our home state of Florida where benefits available for injured workers continue to be cut in favor of lowering workers compensation premiums for employers. The removal of these benefits forces injured workers to turn to Medicaid or federal disability programs because they are not able to receive the necessary medical care under Florida's workers' compensation laws.
The Workers' Compensation law in Florida was created to provide the necessary care to those who have been injured at work so they may recover and return to work in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, the purpose of the law has given way to the interests of employers in reducing premiums and increasing profits. Hopefully, the push by these 10 Democratic lawmakers is a sign of a positive trend in ensuring the laws return to their original purpose, protecting and providing care to injured workers.
For the majority of the past decade traffic deaths have been in a steady decline. However, over the first half of this year traffic deaths spiked 8%. According to the Associated Press, Officials claim the large increase is due to lower gas prices and an improving economy that is encouraging more individuals to travel.
The administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Mark Rosenkind, believes that the increase could be do to texting and other distracted driving. Mr. Rosekind told the Associated Press that these numbers are, "a wake-up call," and the NHTSA will be holding meetings to ask for input on how to reduce the number of traffic deaths around the country.
Attorney David Wieland recently received another fully favorable decision in favor of his client in a Social Security Disability Case. The decision awarded Supplemental Security Income benefits to our client who previously worked as a screen writer and video camera operator in California.
Our client filed for Supplemental Security Income benefits, in April of 2013, due to his inability to continue working based on his disabling conditions of lumbago, embolism, thrombosis, gout, and degenerative changes of his foot. The Administrative Law Judge agreed with our allegations and found those conditions to be severe impairments.
The Judge found our client was able to work the full range of sedentary work. However, our client was found to be of advanced age (55 years or older) and as such the Judge had to find if a successful adjustment to other work could be made. Of significance, the Judge stated in the hearing the only year our client earned what Social Security considers Substantial Gainful Activity (over $1,000 a month take home pay) was the year in which he successfully sold a screen play. The Judge asked for a memorandum to be filed, following the hearing, explaining which position was to be considered his past relevant work, either his occupation as a cameraman or a screen writer.
This distinction, while seeming minute, was extremely significant as the Judge had to look to the client's past relevant work to determine if he would be able to make a successful adjustment to other work. If the Judge found the past relevant work was his occupation as a screen writer then our client would have been found NOT disabled as he would be able to successfully adjust from one sedentary position (screen writer) to other sedentary positions found in the national economy.
However, Mr. Wieland was able to avoid this unfavorable decision for our client by successfully arguing the client's past relevant work should not be determined based the amount of his earnings. Attorney Wieland argued past relevant work should be determined based on the value of his work had he been an employee rather than self-employed and based on the hours/skills/energy output expended in his position as a cameraman.
Based on this successful argument our client was awarded Supplemental Security Income benefits. Most importantly, this award also entitles the client to Medicaid benefits, allowing him to receive continued medical treatment to help alleviate his symptoms of his disabling conditions.
One of the requirements for an injured worker to qualify for workers' compensation benefits depends upon the employment relationship between the injured worker and the employer. This means an injured worker must prove he was an employee of the employer at the time of the accident. While this seems like a simple requirement to satisfy, in reality it is a difficult process in certain situations.
Workers' compensation insurance carriers focus their efforts on defending claims by injured workers. One of the popular defenses most carriers employ is to argue the injured worker was not an employee at all, but rather an independent contractor. This defense is significant because if the carrier is able to prove that the injured worker is not an employee, or the injured worker does not have the ability to defeat this allegation on their own, it can result in the injured worker receiving a complete denial of benefits across the board.
Recently, attorneys in California have initiated claims against food delivery employers, companies which hire contract workers to deliver food from restaurants which do not offer their own delivery. These claims focus on proving these contracted workers are in fact employees, and are not independent contractors as claimed by those companies. These cases are significant because, if successful, employees who are injured while working for such companies would then be entitled to workers compensation benefits for their injuries. But if these claims are unsuccessful, those employers will still be able to avoid paying benefits to injured workers by simply claiming such workers are independent contractors.
Arguments by employers and workers' compensation carriers as to the injured workers status, as in employee or independent contractor, can be defeated with the help of an experienced workers compensation attorney.
If you or your loved ones have experienced these issues with your employer or their workers' compensation carrier, contact the experienced attorneys at Lancaster & Eure today.