Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Lawyer Blog
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According to a ruling by a state Supreme Court, an employer is not allowed to get credited for the full amount of a lump sum workers’ compensation settlement that it already paid in a case that was later re-opened after the employee’s occupational disability worsened. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the employer Gardens Glen Farm did not have a right to receive dollar-for-dollar credit for payments made previously to the claimant.

The employee, Bethany Balderas, was seriously injured while working as an exercise trainer for Gardens Glen in 2006. The horse she was riding fell and rolled over her, causing her to fracture two vertebrae. She underwent fusion surgery before going back to work. For her harm suffered, Balderas negotiated a $100K lump sum payment based in part on a 29% disability impairment rating.

However, according to court filings, she petitioned to have her workers’ compensation claim re-opened because her occupational disability had worsened. An administrative law judge ruled two years later that Balderas had demonstrated that with a decreased range of spinal motion and other impairment issues, her impairment had increased by 30%. She also was no longer able to work as an exercise trainer.
The judge awarded her 425 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits at a rate of $275/week. That amount was determined in part by Balderas’s eligbility of $456.25 in benefits a week, with $180.42/week credited to offset her claim when she had settled earlier with Gardens Glen.

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Across many professions and industries, employees are routinely exposed to hazardous chemicals at work.  Everyone from scientists, dealing with chemicals in labs, to janitors who use chemicals for cleaning purposes, is exposed to these substances in various settings.  Unfortunately, many chemicals commonly used in workplace settings are extremely hazardous, and cause workers serious and long-lasting eye injuries.

According to Prevent Blindness America, an organization dedicated to promoting eye safety in the workplace, over 2,000 workers injure their eyes in work-related incidents every day, and of these incidents, 10-20% result in temporary or permanent blindness.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) estimates that eye injuries cost over $300 million each year in lost production time, medical expenses, and workers compensation benefits.  The high prevalence and cost of workplace eye injuries has resulted in a nationwide education campaign, started by OSHA, to seek better eye protection practices and minimize eye injury risks in workplaces around the country.  In particular, OSHA is focusing on the craft industries – including mechanics, carpenters, plumbers, and general repairers, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that over 40% of workplace eye injuries occur in these industries. Continue reading

A circuit judge has turned down Walt Disney Parks and Resorts’ motion to dismiss a complaint submitted by a woman whose husband died while testing a ride. Terrie Roscoe sued the company in 2012, the year after her husband, attractions mechanic Russell Roscoe, was struck by a ride vehicle at the Animal Kingdom.

At the time of the work accident, Roscoe and other workers were “wet testing” the Primeval Whirl ride. This involved workers spraying water at the top of the lift platform during inspections.

According to the family’s lawyer, the accident happened while Russell was in the ride envelope, where he wasn’t supposed to be. The attorney said there was sufficient evidence indicating that managers knew where Russell was and that the worker had reasonable grounds to think that a car was not going to be launched while he was in the ride envelope.

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A jury has awarded Robert Matthews $64.5 million for catastrophic injuries he sustained in a 2009 construction accident. Matthews, then 25, was crushed by an 11,000-pound prefab building.

At the time, he had been underneath the building. The structure fell when a train passed by the site, causing the ground to vibrate and the building to move.

He suffered crush injuries to his legs and pelvis as well as his organs. Last month, a jury said that three companies were responsible for the construction accident: fertilizer maker Mosaic, Semco Construction, and Mark Rice. Semco prepped the construction site and the third company was paid to install the prefab building. At the time of the work accident, Matthew was working for Mark Rice.

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As part of commemorating Workers’ Memorial Day on Friday, labor leaders in Springfield read the names of the 62 people killed in Massachusetts work accidents in the last 16 months—that’s a little over one death a week. National Council for Occupational Safety and Heath director Mary Vogel said that most of the worker injury deaths could have been prevented if only there had been the necessary safety-minded precautions and procedures in place.

Workers’ Memorial Day—April 28—marks the annual anniversary of when the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970. Last year, there were 4,500 workplace fatalities in the U.S.—a figure that has stayed pretty consistent in the last few years. Many more workers sustained injuries or work-related diseases because of their jobs.

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In the state Senate, a bill was introduced this year that could enhance the benefits allowed for injuries involving permanent disfigurement under the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act. Currently, workers here who sustain disfigurement on their legs, arms, and torsos are not entitled to work injury compensation for those injuries, although they may still receive other benefits for income loss, medical care, and non-scar based disfigurements.

Massachusetts workers’ compensation for permanent scarring is only provided for disfigurement that occurs to the neck, face, or hands. State workers’ compensation law awards a lump-sum payment to these permanently scarred or disfigured workers. If the injury is purely scar-based, the amount of the award will depend on the size of the scar and whether discoloration occurred.

The bill would allow workers disfigured on the lower areas of their body to get compensation too.

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According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s blogs, many workers in the social services and health care industry are at risk of physical assault on the job. As a matter of fact, the 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that over 23,000 workers sustained serious injuries from assault, with over 70% of these incidents occurring in either one of those industries. Many of these assaults could have been prevented.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a section on its website dedicated to workplace violence that discusses such hazards and offers violence prevention plans. Workplace violence is defined as any threat or act of physical violence, intimidation, sexual assault, rape, harassment, or other threatening disruptive behavior, and may include verbal abuse and threats too. Homicide is reportedly the number four leading cause of worker deaths in the U.S. and the number one cause of death of female workers. Many incidents of worker violence go unreported.

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It may be months before investigators conclude their probe into the construction accident that killed three workers on Monday. The deadly incident happened when a piece of scaffolding—known as the mast climber scaffold—fell to the ground, causing construction workers who were on it to fall 200 feet. A fourth worker was taken to the hospital with injuries. The incident occurred in North Carolina.

The scaffolding had been attached to a new building. One of its tracks snapped off, causing the equipment to fall onto the ground.

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In a recent Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog post, we wrote about an NPR and ProPublica probe that found that recent workers’ compensation reforms are hurting more than helping injured workers. Now, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued its report that reflects similar findings.

According to OSHA’s report, statistics show that over three million workers are hurt every year, with thousands killed while doing their job. These figures do not include incidents that go unreported and chronic illnesses that continue even after exposure on the job to hazardous substances has stopped.

Many workers who were seriously hurt find it hard to keep working—especially as modifications to workers comp. insurance programs have made it harder for someone who was hurt on the job to get full benefits. Employers are now taking care of just a small portion of overall workplace injury and illness costs through their work injury compensation programs.

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An appeals court has reversed an earlier ruling allowing General Motors to decrease the work injury benefits it was giving to a retiree who was hurt while on the job. The Michigan Court of Appeals said that UAW, the union for America’s autoworkers, lacked the authority to vote to modify collective bargaining for workers who had already retired. The court noted that there was no evidence showing that the plaintiff gave the union the authority to represent him to change the agreement that he retired under.

Some 1800 GM retirees saw a reduction in their benefits in 2010 because of a law, passed in the 90’s, which let companies reduce workers’ compensation checks by how much they were getting in their disability pension. For a long time GM and UAW agreed they would not reduce the checks until workers had turned at least 65. However, in the wake of GM’s financial problems, a deal was struck in 2009 between the union and the automaker to make cuts to workers’ compensation benefits.

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