Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Lawyer Blog
Disclaimer - By publishing this information on this Web site, the Boston, Massachusetts law firm of Altman & Altman LLP is not claiming to represent any clients or cases mentioned here. The content provided is designed to inform readers and is not intended as legal advice.

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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According to a National Public Radio and ProPublica investigation, in recent years states across the country have been taking apart the workers’ compensation system. This has proven financially disastrous for the many workers who are seriously hurt on the job.

The reforms have reportedly been so drastic that they practically guaranteed that a seriously injured worker would have to struggle financially. Also, many injured workers and their families are now spending years fighting with insurers for the prescriptions, surgeries, and medical help that they need.

That’s why it is so important that now, more than ever, a worker who is injured on the job speak to a Boston workers’ compensation lawyer right away. You have benefits and rights to which you are entitled and they should be protected.

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In the last few weeks, over 100 inches of snow have fallen on parts of Massachusetts. This has led to massive efforts to clear snow and ice off roofs and roads. The snow clearings have placed numerous workers and homeowners in high-risk situations.

There have been at least two workers that were involved in Canton, MA work accidents. One man fell some 40 feet through a skylight while evaluating snow removal operations. The skylight had been covered in snow when he stepped on it. The worker was later pronounced dead at a Brockton hospital.

Also injured in a Canton, MA roof fall was another worker, who was also clearing snow. In an Avon, MA roof collapse, another worker was hurt in roof fall from a skylight.

Earlier this week, our Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer blog reported on a teen worker who was hurt while shoveling snow off the roof of a department store. The 17-year-old also fell through a skylight and plunged almost 25 feet. The Westwood, MA worker accident took place at a clothing store.

Town employees are especially at risk of fall accidents when clearing snow from roofs. Public employees will often lack the experience needed to do such work.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that it has responded to seven fatal incidents where snow removal was involved. Meantime, the Massachusetts’ Department of Labor Standards has put out a bulletin to notify public employers about the safety requirements that must be met before snow clearing off roofs is allowed, including:

• If possible, use snow removal methods that don’t involve workers getting on the roof
• Provide fall protection equipment
• Guard skylights to protect workers from falls
• Make sure skylights, vents, and roof drains have been identified and marked so that workers don’t trip or fall because of them
• Keep away from electrical power lines to avoid electrocution injuries
• Make sure that the additional weight of having workers on the roof doesn’t overwhelm the structure
• Properly train workers so that they can work safely when clearing snow and ice from the roof.

As we’ve noted, it’s not just workers who are getting hurt while clearing snow off roofs. A Canton woman was taken to the hospital when she fell off the roof of her home. Another man in Wellesley sustained shoulder injuries after he was hit by ice and snow that fell on him while he was clearing accumulations from a trellis outside his residence.

There also have been reports of roof collapses involving snow and ice where no one was injured but there was property damage. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said that over just two weeks there were more than 130 reports of roof collapses.

The problem is that with temperatures seldom going over the freezing point lately, snow that lands on rooftops has kept accumulating without any of it melting. This has placed a strain on the roofs of many buildings, especially nonresidential ones, such as warehouses and commercial buildings that are flat-roofed.

In Massachusetts, please contact our Boston workers’ compensation law firm if you were injured on the job.

Removing Snow from Rooftops on Municipal and State Property, Department of Labor Standards (PDF)

Avon Roof Collapse Victim Remains Unidentified, The Enterprise, February 25, 2015

2 Canton deaths reinforce risks of snow removal from roofs, The Boston Globe, February 23, 2015

More Blog Posts:
Teen Worker Falls 25 Feet While Shoveling Roof in Westwood, MA, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, February 25, 2015

University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Sues Police for Assault, False Arrest, Boston Injury Lawyer Blog, February 27, 2015

Vehicle-to-Vehicle Technology May Be Coming Soon According to MIT Review, Boston Car Accident Lawyer Blog, February 27, 2015

A 17-year-old student, part of a work crew shoveling snow off of a department store roof, was injured after falling through a skylight.

Officials say the teen was helping to remove snow at Frugal Fannie’s clothing store in Westwood yesterday morning when he fell. Witnesses say he fell nearly 25 feet; his fall was broken by one of the store’s clothing racks. However the extent of the young man’s injuries remains unclear. The teen was flown to an area hospital by helicopter.

This unfortunate story is one of many that we’ve heard in Massachusetts and throughout the Northeast as our region continues to be blasted with heavy snowfall. Last week, two people in Canton were fatally injured due to roof falls and two horses died when the barn they were kept in collapsed.

According to The Patch, MEMA (Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency), there have been more than 130 reports of roof collapses in just two weeks in the state. Many of the injuries sustained were directly from roofs collapsing under weight of snow, or people falling while attempting to remove snow from their roofs.
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