The South Carolina Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in favor of a school district worker who suffered a repetitive motion injury. Previously, the workers’ compensation commission ruled the statute of limitations had run out on his case, but the appellate court reversed.acfan

In Rhame v. Charleston County School District, plaintiff had worked as a heating and air conditioning technician for the district for more than 20 years, from 1987 to 2009. His work often required that he lift equipment that weighed as much as 100 pounds.

Starting in 1994, he began to experience on-and-off back pain. He also developed problems with his neck and had to undergo cervical fusion surgery. After talking about his health issues with someone at the district, he was told the district would not provide benefits for these problems – even though they were work related. The district later sent a formal denial letter for neck injury benefits.  Continue reading

Non-profit news organization ProPublica has been doggedly covering the issue of eroding workers’ compensation benefits throughout the country in recent years.party

Now, in a recent report, an investigation sheds light on the explosive growth of an industry that is thriving off “cost-cutting” workers’ compensation benefits. These companies, billing themselves as “cost containment” entities, offer services ranging from negotiation of medical bills to claim management to arrangement of medical providers, defense lawyers and expert witnesses in workers’ compensation cases. All promise to lower costs for companies by “getting workers working again more quickly.” But the reality is, these companies are raking in enormous profits and wield tremendous influence on the outcome of workers’ compensation cases – often to the detriment of workers.

As evidence of this cottage industry’s success, ProPublica detailed one of the 150 or so national conferences the industry holds annually – about one every other day. The scene: Las Vegas. Acrobats dangling from the ceiling. Neon lights. Techno music. Scantily-clad female dancers on poles. Open bars and free chocolate truffles. Designer handbag giveaways. Free Hummer limousine rides. Photo-ops with Olympians and celebrities. Rock star performances. And a live alligator. Continue reading

When someone suffers a work-related injury, the first -but often not only – option is workers’ compensation. This is available to employees whose employers have secured the legally-required insurance coverage and who can show the injury occurred in the course and scope of employment – regardless of fault. scaffold

Another type of compensation that can be pursued by injured workers in some cases is third party liability lawsuits. We see this a lot in construction worker injuries, where the entity that owns the property is different from the general contractor who is separate from the subcontractors doing the work who are separate from others who may be on the site.

This is what was alleged in Blackwell v. Vasilas, recently before the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One.  Continue reading

A North Carolina teen was killed recently Gastonia on his first day on the job at a tree and stump grinding service. treecut

According to ABC-7 News, the 19-year-old was loading limbs of a tree into the wood chipper outside of a job site when the owner of the business and several other workers heard the machine start to get bogged down. Apparently, the youth was trying to kick a tree branch into the machine when his leg got caught and he was pulled in, resulting in fatal injuries. The business owner rushed over, hit the kill switch and put the machine into reverse gear. However, it was too late. Reports are that workers on site were so traumatized, they began ripping off their hats and gloves, while the owner immediately suffered a heart attack and had to be transported to a local hospital.

The tragic case is illustrative of the fact that young workers – especially those new to the job – are at heightened risk of serious injury and death, particularly when they don’t receive proper training and supervision from employers.

A worker advocacy group, youngworkers.org, reports every 7 minutes in the U.S., a worker is injured severely enough to require treatment in a hospital emergency room. There are an estimated 1.5 million teen workers in the U.S., with most of them employed in restaurants or other food service jobs. Annually, about 70 teens die in the U.S. as a result of work-related injuries. Another 795,000 are seriously injured. A total of 360 workers under age 24 were killed at work in 2009. Continue reading

Worker classification is central to the validity of a workers’ compensation claim. While those designated “employees” are protected by workers’ compensation law, those who are independent contractors are not. Independent contractors can sue the employer for negligence, but employees can’t. Similarly, certain companies may clearly be “employers” while others may simply be general contractors. boiler

However, in contract situations, there may be circumstances in which workers can be “employees” and companies “statutory employers” – even if that label was never affixed. That’s because courts consider many variables in determining whether a worker was an employee. The analysis considers much more than simply how the company labeled the relationship. It considers the level of control the company had over the work and the schedule, the way workers were paid and whether the worker performed this type of work exclusively for this one company.

In the recent case of Wright v. Excel Paralubes, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was asked to determine whether a defendant company was a “statutory employer,” even though a master service agreement in a joint venture never expressly uses that terminology. The court ruled that in fact the company was an employer, as is the presumption. Continue reading

Tyson Foods is one of the largest corporations in America, and has the poultry processing field on lock. In North Carolina, the company has 26 locations, from administrative support to poultry breeders and hatcheries. South Carolina has a single office, in Columbia.poultry1

According to a new investigation by ProPublica, a non-profit journalism outlet, the company wields a disturbing level of influence over policymakers across the country, and has been a key player in the systemic effort to whittle away workers’ compensation protection for injured workers.

Take for example its recent approach in Iowa, as outlined by ProPublica. Roughly five years ago, the company homed in on the state after the workers’ compensation commissioner, who acted as chief judge of the courts in deciding work injury disputes, had issued a number of decisions that irked Tyson executives. From the company’s perspective, these rulings expanded liability which increased the number of claims they would have to pay which in turn impacted the company’s bottom line. The company took action. Continue reading

A ruling by the state supreme court in Missouri has broadened protections for workers in that state. forklift

In Greer v. Sysco Foods, justices affirmed a decision by the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission to allow employees to receive workers’ compensation benefits years after certain injury claims are already settled.

Expressing dismay with the decision, the president and CEO of the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry vowed to take the issue up with the legislature at the next session. The chamber, though not a party to the case, had filed an amicus brief in support of the employer in the case. Continue reading

As it now stands, there are two types of workers: Employees and independent contractors. Now, a number of technology firms, like Uber and others, are seeking the creation of a third category of worker, somewhere in between.iphone1

In workers’ compensation law, the categorization of an worker is critical. Employees, by-and-large, are covered by workers’ compensation insurance if they are injured or become ill on-the-job or in the course and scope of employment. Independent contractors, meanwhile, cannot expect these protections.

The former should receive relatively quick response from the company on coverage of medical bills and a portion of lost wages and/or death benefits. For them, negligence is generally not a factor that precludes them from benefits, though they are generally less than what one might receive prevailing in court. Independent contractors can take the companies for which they work to court for injuries or illness, and they can even receive compensation for losses like pain-and-suffering (not available to workers’ compensation recipients) – but they have to prove negligence. Continue reading

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s estimated that 720,000 people in this country suffer a heart attack each year, which works out to about one every 34 seconds.heart

The question of whether a heart attack is compensable under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act is a complicated one. Under Section 42-11-10, in order for a heart attack to be compensable, the claimant needs to show:

  • Extraordinary or unusual physical exertion, strain or unusual condition occurring in the course of employment;
  • A causal connection between the exertion, unusual condition or strain and the heart attack.

Claimants aren’t necessarily going to be able to succeed in a case simply because a heart attack occurred at work. However, if there is evidence of exceptional circumstances relating to the job that caused or significantly contributed to the heart attack, the claim could be successful. Continue reading

Lumber mills and saw mills are among the most dangerous occupations for North Carolina workers. There are a number of saw mill and lumber sale locations in Greensboro and throughout the state. woodpile

Recently, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) reported that in Region 4 – which covers North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky – there have been a series of violations at lumber mills that jeopardize worker safety. The agency has levied fines against employers that fail to ensure employees have a safe work environment – something to which they are entitled.

The first involves a lumber mill in Alabama, which despite repeated warnings, OSHA says continues to expose workers to the risk of amputations, falls and other fatal workplace accidents. Following an inspection in October, the agency cited the mill for two repeated and seven serious safety and health violations. An inspection of the facility was initiated after a worker was injured and had to be hospitalized in an incident that was unrelated. Continue reading

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