An article recently published by National Public Radio (NPR) and ProPublica highlights the issues undocumented workers face following on the job injuries. (En Español) The article shows how insurance companies use a Florida law to get undocumented workers arrested and deported when they get injured on the job.
Florida’s Workers’ Compensation law provides the right to undocumented workers to receive medical care and lost wages for on the job injuries. However, in 2003 Florida’s legislature modified the law to make it a crime to file a workers’ compensation claim using false identification. Additionally, under the law it is a crime to knowingly make false statements, oral or written, for the purpose of obtaining workers’ compensation benefits. If a false social security number is used in the claim such as writing it on an intake form at a doctor’s office, or while speaking with the insurance carrier (especially if it’s recorded), the injured worker can be denied workers’ compensation benefits and prosecuted for fraud. However, there is nothing in the law to require providing a social security number to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. See our tips for undocumented workers below for more advice on how to avoid pitfalls while pursuing a workers’ compensation claim.
For the article, ProPublica and NPR analyzed 14 years of state insurance fraud data and thousands of pages of court records. They found close to 800 cases statewide in which employees were arrested under the law, including at least 130 injured workers. Among the findings:
While most employers in Florida require applicants to complete forms to verify their identity, the majority of those employers fail verify the information at the time of hiring. Yet, those same employers will only attempt to verify the employee’s information AFTER a workplace injury and attempt to use that to deny the claim, no matter how significant the injury. In fact, as the article points out, a large private investigation firm (hired by insurance carriers to investigate injured workers) posts the arrests it has been involved in on their website which is unsurprisingly full of undocumented workers who provided false information (likely a fake social security number) in their workers’ compensation case.
The issue is injured workers don’t provide this false information to defraud the insurance company. Rather, they are usually told by their employer or the insurance carrier that they have to provide that information, such as a social security number on intake forms at doctors’ offices or when speaking to the carrier. It is clear that the insurance carriers have used these changes in the law to avoid their financial and ethical obligations to provide care for undocumented workers’ on the job injuries. Luckily, Republican State Senator Anitere Flores has pledged a legislative review of the law. Hopefully this is a sign that more protections will be added for undocumented workers but those who have suffered on the job injuries should remain vigilant as they are still vulnerable under the current law.
If you have been instructed to provide information in your workers’ compensation claim that you know is fraudulent, make sure to read our tips below and to consult with an attorney regarding your rights under the law.
Tips for Undocumented Workers
If you or your loved ones have sustained a work-related trauma, contact the attorneys at Lancaster & Eure today to ensure you will have an advocate who will fight for the benefits you truly deserve.
Rosemary B. Eure Elected to Executive Council of the Workers' Compensation Section of the Florida Bar
We are proud to announce that our founding partner, Rosemary B. Eure, was recently elected to the Executive Council of the Florida Bar's Workers' Compensation Section. She is seen pictured here with Chair Paul Anderson and Chair-Elect Leopoldo Garcia.
For more information on the Workers' Compensation Section of the Florida Bar please visit http://www.flworkerscomp.org
As discussed in our prior post, Bill Introduced to Help First Responders with PTSD, Florida's Workers' Compensation law does not cover psychiatric injuries without an accompanying physical injury. The law currently forbids, "payment of benefits under [the workers' compensation law] for mental or nervous injuries without an accompanying physical injury requiring medical treatment." Section 440.093(1), Florida Statutes (2015). Mr. Gerry Realin was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after he was assigned to carry bodies out of Pulse nightclub but he was denied workers' compensation and retirement benefits due to the bar on psychiatric only injuries.
It seems that the State has taken a step in the right direction following the unanimous approval Mr. Realin's disability pension. Currently, Florida law only allows payment of early pension for physical injuries. However, the board unanimously agreed that Mr. Realin should receive the disability pension based on his diagnosis of PTSD and their findings that the PTSD was a permanent and total disability that was attributed to his response to the shooting at the Pulse nightclub.
Hopefully this is a step in the right direction for Florida's legislature to amend the Workers' Compensation law to include psychiatric only injuries so that individuals such as Mr. Realin aren't forced to suffer with no support.
For Social Security Disability claimants in Florida, the average processing time from the date of the application until the hearing decision is approximately 627 days. While the Social Security Administration has implemented initiatives to decrease the wait times for hearings by attacking the back log, the delays seem to be ever increasing. According to a recent study, the average wait time for post-hearing decisions has increased since the end of 2015 and as many as 11% of all claimants are forced to wait anywhere from 120-180 days to receive their decision following their hearing.
This past week the attorneys of L&E attended the annual Florida Workers’ Advocates (FWA) conference in Orlando. FWA is an organization committed to protecting and defending the rights of injured workers throughout Florida, and it has truly become an invaluable platform for many civil justice attorneys throughout our state. We are proud of the work put in by FWA and its many members who spend a significant amount of time in Tallahassee and away from their loved ones.
Unsurprisingly, our members continue to step up to the fight as all members of FWA battle not only for their clients, but for the rights of all injured workers. FWA is one of the few organizations who stands between special interest groups and lawmakers to put the rights of Florida's injured workers first. FWA members are there to provide insight and remind the powers at be that it is ultimately Floridians, namely injured workers, who suffer at the hands of business friendly agendas. Thankfully, the citizens in Florida are blessed with an organization like FWA who fights for the rights of injured workers and reminds lawmakers of the impact of their "talking points" and ultimately decisions on the real people in Florida.
Our attorneys are extremely proud to be members of such a powerful and dedicated organization. Surrounded by the best minds in workers’ compensation, our firm is able to expand and strengthen their expertise under the law in order to continue fighting for the rights of their clients.
For More information on Florida's Workers' Advocates please click on the following link: Florida Workers Advocates.
“The World will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch & do nothing.”-Albert Einstein
Twenty-six years ago, in May of 1991, Debbie joined Lancaster & Eure and she has been an integral part of our firm ever since. In 1990 Debbie graduated from Manatee Junior College with an Associate of Science degree and went on to complete the Certified Legal Assistant’s exam in 1991. In addition, she regularly attends legal seminars and other conferences specializing in Workers’ Compensation to maintain her CLA status. She currently resides in Venice, FL.
At Lancaster & Eure, we are lucky to have someone as focused on the clients and passionate about assisting our team as Debbie and we thank her for her service!
Today we focus our Employee Spotlight questions on Debbie to learn more about her accomplishments and what motivates her to excel:
What do you like most about your job?
Lancaster & Eure has always been very supportive to their employees in the office and with their personal lives. They encourage continued education and provide their employees the opportunity to grow. I feel fortunate to have found a position with L&E.
What would you say have been your major contributions to the firm this year in your job?
I have been able to assist our new employees in learning how to do different aspects of their positions.
What aspect of your position at Lancaster & Eure gives you the most personal satisfaction?
When I am assisting clients with their settlements and they finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and they get a feeling of relief that they will no longer have to deal with the WC insurance companies in their lives.
Tell us something that might surprise us about you?
I love to fish. I caught a 300 pound blue marlin while fishing off the coast of Hawaii. Also, I was a rowing coxswain and I competed in many regattas where our crew was very successful. I am currently a US Rowing referee. I work at many regattas each year.
How do you define success?
I define success as being reliable. Reliable to my employer, husband, and family.
What is the best place you’ve traveled and why?
For our wedding anniversary my husband and I took a cruise to French Polynesia. We traveled to Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahaha, and Rhiatea. It is so beautiful there. The diving was phenomenal and the people were very friendly.
What is your favorite thing to do?
I love being with my husband and I love to cook.
In the event of a car crash, there are several important steps to follow that will ultimately protect yourself and your interests. With over six million car accidents reported each year in the United States, it is better to be safe than sorry. As a helpful tool, here is a Top 10 List of things to do after a car accident:
When you hear the term "black box" it typically evokes thoughts of plane crashes authorities working to determine what went wrong to cause the crash. The "black box" is an event data recorder (EDR) that automatically captures information during the flight including recording cockpit conversations and flight data.
An interesting topic has come to the forefront recently and continues to garner attention throughout the state of FL. Recently, a little know feature called the Event Data Recorder (EDR) has been added to later model vehicles. The EDR is the "black box" of your vehicle automatically recording crash-related data and vehicle performance statistics. The EDR is typically utilized by repair shops to capture information used to ensure optimal performance or detect any issues. However, the EDR also captures crash-related data such as speed and breaking, factors that can be very important to determine fault in an accident.
The addition of the EDR has given rise to a debate as to whether information recorded from this device, and gathered by police without a warrant, should be allowed as evidence in court to prove the other party’s negligence. Does collecting data from the EDR without a warrant violate a person’s 4th amendment right to privacy? According to a recent ruling by the Court in State v. Worsham, No. 4D14-2733 at 1 (Fla. 4th DCA Mar. 29, 2017), the answer, at least for now, is yes.
However, there is a possibility that the 4th DCA's holding does not remain as the law of the land for long. The 4th DCA is the first appellate court to consider this issue and
For more information please see the article written by Simone Marstiller, Esq. who previously served an appellate judge with the First Disctrict Court of Appeal for Florida: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/little-black-box-simone-marstiller.
Self-driving, autonomous cars are a hot topic these days, and quite possibly the wave of the near future. With society headed in that direction, who would you turn to if you were injured by a self-driving vehicle?
This article explores the issue of government regulations concerning self-driving cars and if the companies who own these vehicles should ultimately be held liable.
Click here to read the full article: http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20170328/self-driving-car-crash-comes-amid-debate-about-regulations
We are proud to share the Winter Edition of the News & 440 Report, featuring one of our very own attorneys as guest editor: David Wieland, along with his esteemed family members. 50 Years, 3 Generations. Click here, http://www.flworkerscomp.org/…/2-ne…/72-news-440-winter-2017, to read the articles.
Currently, psychiatric only injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not covered under Florida's Workers' Compensation law. The law currently forbids, "payment of benefits under [the workers' compensation law] for mental or nervous injuries without an accompanying physical injury requiring medical treatment." Section 440.093(1), Florida Statutes (2015).
Following the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL first responder Gerry Realin was diagnosed with PTSD after having to carry almost 50 bodies out of the club. However Mr. Realin was denied workers' compensation benefits because he did not sustain a physical injury that required medical treatment. While this might seem like an arbitrary distinction to most, the effect is a total denial of benefits and forcing Mr. Realin to go entirely without compensation while trying to recover from the trauma he sustained.
Senator Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) recently introduced a bill that seeks to extend protections for psychiatric only injuries to first responders like Mr. Realin. While the introduction of the bill is by no means a victory for injured workers, it is a step in the right direction to provide protection to those who put their own lives on the line on a daily basis to protect all others.
Following the unprecedented rise in popularity of the ride-sharing service Uber, lawsuits were filed across the country challenging Uber's designation of their drivers as independent contractors. Up until recently, Uber's sister company UberEats, a delivery service for local restaurants available in cities across the nation, was spared from these type of labor challenges. However, a lawsuit was recently filed in Tampa challenging the designation of the delivery drivers as independent contractors. The lawsuit contends that the drivers are employees of UberEats and are being deprived of benefits ranging from minimum wage protections to workers' compensation insurance. Currently the attorneys representing the plaintiff are seeking class action status indicating that the class could include over 1,000 drivers.
Unfortunately, misclassifying workers as independent contractors is a problem that has existed for years in Florida and can have a large impact on an injured worker's ability to obtain workers' compensation benefits. If you or your loved ones have experienced issues with employment classifications, contact our office to speak with one of our attorneys regarding your rights. Each attorney gives every client unique and personal attention. Call us for a free consultation (941) 365-7575, or, feel free to contact us online.
Recently, one of our fellow members in Florida’s Workers’ Advocates (FWA) an advocacy group of workers’ compensation claimant attorneys which fights for the rights of all injured workers in Florida, wrote a guest column for Florida Politics providing some ideas on how to reform the workers' compensation law. The ideas center around balancing the interests of injured workers and employers to create a fair policy that will work for both parties.
Some of the ideas include: Creating a competition based system for setting workers' compensation insurance rates, allowing some direction of control by the injured worker in their medical care, and ensuring that the injured worker has proper access to courts to fight for benefits that have been wrongfully denied.
As the debates begin to ramp up in the legislature over the effectiveness of red-light cameras, a new report reveals increased accidents at intersections with red-light cameras.
After reviewing 148 intersections in 28 cities across Florida, it was found that accidents increased by 10% compared to accidents before the red-light cameras were installed. The report does reveal some decreases in certain accidents, such as those involving non-motorists were down about 20%. However, the debate still continues over whether red-light cameras are helping to keep Floridians safe or are they merely acting as cash creators for the state.
The Florida Senate's Banking and Insurance Committee opened debates on Tuesday over the proposed 14.5% rate hike proposed by the group in charge of proposing insurance rates in Florida, NCCI (National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc.).
Luckily, Florida's lawmakers have not been influenced by the go-to soundbite from special interest groups claiming that the proposed increase can be blamed solely on attorney's fees. Senators Greg Steube and Gary Farmer, Jr. shifted the focus onto NCCI and the system in place for determining insurance rates in Florida. Rather than having a competitive marketplace between insurance carriers, which is the norm in a majority of states, the power lies solely within NCCI to propose increases in insurance rates on behalf of all insurance carriers. (And as we have seen, determine those increases behind closed doors).
Senators Steube and Farmer indicated their support for a system where the insurance carriers compete for business by proposing their own rates, rather than the current system where all carriers charge the "common rates" proposed by NCCI and accepted by the Office of Insurance Regulation.
As Henry Ford once said, "Competition is the keen cutting edge of business, always shaving away at costs."
A recent court case challenging the proposed rate hike for workers’ compensation premiums has resulted in a victory for Florida business owners thanks to the work of attorneys who represent Florida’s injured workers.
Florida’s system for setting workers’ compensation rates is an antiquated one where the insurance carriers all hire the same contractor to set rates on their behalf with regulators. Florida is one of the only few states left who uses this type of system as opposed to allowing market forces to determine pricing.
Unfortunately, this system leads to increased costs for Florida’s employers and tends to only benefit the insurance carriers. This was shown by the recent proposal by NCCI (National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc.) for an increase of 14.5% without providing any true data or analysis to support.
James Fee, an attorney who represents injured workers in Florida, filed suit challenging the proposed hike because of NCCI’s failure to abide by Florida’s open government laws, also known as the Sunshine law. The suit was filed against NCCI, Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation and insurance commissioner David Altmaier for failing to provide public records or comply with public meeting requirements as required under Florida’s Sunshine laws. NCCI has defended their actions by claiming they are not subject to Florida’s Sunshine laws.
Judge Karen Gievers, a Circuit Court Judge in Tallahassee, recently ruled in favor of the challenge finding that the regulator and NCCI had violated Florida’s Sunshine laws by not opening their process to the public. In fact, she noted a series of NCCI meetings involving NCCI actuary Jay Rosen, Altmaier and other regulatory staff, were never publicly noticed and no members of the public were present.
Unfortunately, Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation has appealed the Circuit Court ruling meaning that the rate hike will go into effect as planned while this appeal is pending. As the current president of Florida’s Workers’ Advocates stated, "Though a circuit court judge emphatically ruled last week that insurance special interests actively broke Florida law, they are being rewarded now by getting to line their pockets with unwarranted profits… We are confident that the judge’s thoughtful, well-reasoned ruling will be upheld on appeal. But in the meantime, Florida businesses will be forced to pay unnecessarily high premiums, while workers’ comp insurance companies enjoy this early – and undeserved – mammoth present.” –Mark Touby, president of Florida Workers’ Advocates.
As we are less than a day away from Thanksgiving we wanted to share a recipe from one of our newer members, Kimberly, who also shared the following message:
“I grew up not really celebrating holidays but last year was the first time that I made a dish for Thanksgiving dinner. Even though a Tatertot Casserole may not be a ‘traditional Thanksgiving dish’ it holds a special place in my heart as the first dish I made for a Holiday. Plus it was delicious too!”
Tatertot Casserole- ready in 40 min. (10 min. prep- 30 min. cook time)
While Thanksgiving is a holiday rightfully focused on giving thanks for all of the positives in our lives, it is also a time to experience the traditions and tastes unique to each and every family. In that sense, some of our members of the Lancaster & Eure family wanted to share some dishes that they will be enjoying with their families this Thanksgiving. Make sure to comment either here or on our Facebook page with which dish you enjoyed the most!
Dina shared the following Oyster Dressing recipe passed down by her mother:
Corn and Bacon Casserole
When it comes to professional athletes, most consider them to be exceptions to the rules. Whether it be a punishment for a particular crime, or backlash after an ill-advised statement, professional athletes seem to have their own set of special rules.
Unfortunately for those athletes, that is not the case when it comes to work related injuries. An article was recently published showing how a current NBA player has suffered the same fate as a large majority of injured workers. Lance Stephenson, most famous for antagonizing Lebron James in the 2014 playoffs, was recently cut by the New Orleans Pelicans following an injury to his groin that required surgery.
While instances like this tend to bring headlines and backlash from fellow players, the typical injured worker isn’t afforded the same type of coverage. Rather, they tend to be swept under the rug and offered empty condolences.
In Florida, there is a protection in the workers' compensation law to prevent an employer from retaliating against an injured worker for filing a workers’ compensation claim. However, as too many Floridians’ can attest to, the practical effect of that protection is minimal. Under Florida’s labor laws employers have the upper hand in the employment relationship as employees are “at-will,” meaning that either the worker or the employer can terminate the employment at any time and without any advance warning. This typically results in employers claiming the firing of the injured worker was for some business-related decision, despite it being clear that the true reason for the firing was the work related injury.
Navigating the workers’ compensation system can be an overwhelming and daunting task. Let the experienced attorneys at Lancaster & Eure help you through this difficult time. Each attorney gives every client unique and personal attention. Call us for a free consultation (941) 365-7575, or, feel free to contact us online.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) just released an update to their 1989 guidelines for Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs. The guidelines were created to encourage employers to create programs that prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace. According to OSHA, the key principles are, “leadership from the top to send a message that safety and health is critical to the business operations; worker participation in finding solutions; and a systematic approach to find and fix hazards.”It is important to note that these guidelines do not create any type of legal obligations for employers and are simply meant to advise employers on ways to improve the health and safety of their businesses and employees.The guidelines are an important factor in helping to protect our workers from suffering avoidable injuries and illnesses due to hazards in the workplace. However, in order to do so, it is still up to the employer to implement and follow OSHA's recommendations.
Recently, the Tampa Bay Times published an article giving a real world perspective on the current status of Florida’s workers’ compensation system. The article highlights the large amount of misinformation on what the recent Florida Supreme Court decisions, in Castellanos v. Next Door Co., and Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, really mean for the injured worker and the system as a whole.
There has been a lot of talk about how the recent decisions are simply a win for attorneys and how the premiums will rise for the employers and go directly into the pockets of attorneys. However, as this article makes clear, the true effect of the Florida Supreme Court decisions is that the insurance companies cannot continue to intimidate and attack injured workers over workers’ compensation benefits with no fear of the consequences. Rather, the decisions make insurance companies accountable for their actions, including needlessly denying an injured workers’ $800 in medical care.
The most thought provoking statement from the article comes from one of the insurance industry's own experts, “The insurance industry's own expert witness testified before the justices that he has never heard of a case of an individual prevailing in court without being represented by an attorney.”
Thankfully, the Castellanos and Westphal decisions by Florida's Supreme Court help to ensure no injured workers in Florida will have to navigate the system on their own. The only question we are left with is whether Florida's legislature will uphold the rights of injured workers and allow these changes to stand.
Lancaster & Eure Celebrates
1 Year of Going Green!
A little over a year ago, Lancaster & Eure proudly implemented a recycling initiative for our offices. The average office worker uses a staggering 10,000 sheets of copy paper every year. We at Lancaster & Eure wanted to do our part in making our world a greener and cleaner place. By recycling, we have cut down on the amount of waste that eventually ends up in local landfills.
Each staff member has a personal recycling bin at their desk to make sure all that can be recycled, will. Every Wednesday all of the paper in the personal bins are combined and taken to the street for pick-up.
Additionally, we have a shredding service come to our office every month to shred the large amount of confidential documents that we, as a law firm deal, with on a daily basis. After these documents are properly shredded, we make sure that all of that paper is also recycled, further reducing our contributions to the ever growing local landfills.
The impact of such a simple and minute change in office culture is astounding. We at Lancaster & Eure wish to continue our endeavor to keep our world healthy for future generations and hope that you will do the same.
The First Amendment Foundation is challenging the proposed workers' compensation rate hike of nearly 20% due to the lack of oversight on the process and the failure to abide by Florida's open government laws. The Foundation is challenging the 20% increase because the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) developed its proposal of the rate hike in secret violating Florida's open government laws. In fact, NCCI has even denied a public records request for information supporting the hike.
The Foundation has asked the Office of Insurance Regulation to deny the proposed rate increase and require NCCI to start the process over but this time forcing NCCI to follow Florida's open government laws.
Requiring NCCI to abide by the open government laws is the only way to make sure that this proposed increase of nearly 20% in workers' compensation premiums for employers is legitimate and based on actual data as opposed to emotional over-reactions lacking any type of support for the increase.
Florida's workers' compensation laws have long benefitted employers at the expense of employees. But with the recent decisions by Florida's Supreme Court the scales are rightfully being tipped back in the direction of the injured worker. The insurance carriers should not be allowed to propose such a large increase in rates by simply pointing to the recent Supreme Court decisions, without providing the necessary information to support their claims.
This past weekend, several members of the Lancaster & Eure family joined the Sarasota/Manatee Chapter of the Association of Legal Administration to assist in the Coastal Cleanup at Bayfront Park. The clean-up was part of Sarasota's continuing program of Keep Sarasota County Beautiful, an affiliate of the Keep America Beautiful Campaign.