It’s been a little more than a year since gunfire ripped through an office building in San Bernardino, California, where workers at the local health department had just finished hosting a holiday party. The terrorist attack, carried out by a former employee and his wife, happened on Dec. 2, 2015, and it resulted in 14 deaths and 22 serious injuries. The assailants escaped in a sport utility vehicle but were later shot and killed by police.
Today, neither the physical nor the emotional trauma has greatly subsided. Victims say it is further compounded by the fact that they are having to fight for full and continued workers’ compensation benefits. One woman says she has had numerous surgeries and subsequent infections. Her left hand is paralyzed. She has bullet fragments in her pelvis. She has suffered permanent tissue damage and scarring. The psychological trauma is intense. She needs more surgeries. A home health aid helps her with basic tasks. She can’t put on a bra. She can’t type. She can’t drive. She can’t do laundry. She can’t cut her own food. She can’t put on her socks and shoes.
Yet her visits from the home health aid have dwindled, and she is told they will likely end soon altogether. According to the Seattle Times, her requests for continued occupational and physical therapy have been denied. She was also denied continued use of her antidepressant medications. These are reportedly not the result of a conflict with her health insurer but instead with her employer. That’s because this incident was considered a form of workplace violence, and thus it falls under the umbrella of workers’ compensation.
Although terrorist attacks are not an everyday occurrence, workplace violence is. The U.S. Department of Labor considers workplace violence to be any threat or act of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening and disruptive behavior that occurs at work. The department estimates that of 4,700 fatal work injuries annually, more than 400 are homicides. That’s probably an underestimate because not all cases are reported. And of course, that doesn’t include the victims who survive these attacks.
In fact, it’s believed that more than two million American workers are victims of workplace violence annually. Some of the factors that may increase the risk of workplace violence include:
- Exchange of money with the public;
- Working with volatile, unstable people;
- Working alone or in isolated areas;
- Working in an establishment where alcohol is served;
- Providing care or services;
- Working at night; or
- Working in high crime areas.
Although not every instance of workplace violence is predictable, employers that take appropriate precautions can minimize workers’ risk of danger.
Unfortunately, when these workers are injured, they sometimes find themselves in an uphill battle for the workers’ compensation benefits to which they are entitled.
In this case, officials with the county conceded that treatment and approval for care for these victims had been “balky,” but they insisted the county didn’t want to deny anyone proper care. The county says it’s the insurance carrier that is creating difficulties, and county leaders are “very frustrated” with the system. The county says it’s hiring a workers’ compensation liaison just to help these workers.
Part of the problem, say both the insurance company and the county, is that the state workers’ compensation law was intended to help workers who suffered injuries like, say, a slip-and-fall – rather than a terrorist attack. Although such incidents are not outright excluded, decisions about coverage are often less straightforward. Of course, it doesn’t help that California, like so many other states, has changed workers’ compensation laws in the last several years in ways that slash benefits to workers and save employers money.
That’s why, in situations involving workplace violence, the assistance of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney is imperative.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
San Bernardino victims fight California workers’ compensation, Dec. 1, 2016, By Richard Perez-Pena, The New York Times
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Fatal Construction Accident in North Carolina Prompts Injury Lawsuit, Dec. 14, 2016, Winston-Salem Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog