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Workers who suffer successive work injuries also tend to have a tougher time securing benefits, particularly if the injuries occurred under the watch of different employers. medicaldoctor.jpg

In these cases, benefits must be apportioned based on what percentage of worker’s ailments were caused by which injury. This can result in a complicated process that will involve extensive review of medical records, numerous independent exams and testimony from expert witnesses.

The case of Warren Props. v. Stewart is illustrative, having ping-ponged through various courts trying to sort out the appropriate course of action for successive injuries at separate employers. Most recently, the case was before the Iowa Supreme Court. That court held an employer who is liable to compensate a worker for a work-related injury does not have to pay for pre-existing disability that arose from employment with a different firm, or from causes unrelated to employment when the worker’s earning capacity wasn’t re-evaluated in the competitive job market prior to the successive injury and after.
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Workplace injury can happen almost anywhere. From fast food restaurants to corporate headquarters, the potential is always there. However, certain industries and jobs pose a greater vulnerability to work-related injury.
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The American Society of Safety Engineers and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health recently released a report identifying a group of workers with multiple, overlapping vulnerabilities. These are employees who:

  • Work in construction
  • Are young
  • Are immigrants
  • Are Hispanic (minority)
  • Work for smaller companies

Each of these characteristics poses a higher risk of injury. However, workers who possess these traits are more likely to get hurt or sickened and more likely to have poor health outcomes as a result.
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It’s not uncommon for employers to switch workers’ compensation insurance carriers periodically. However, this action caused a headache for the courts when it came to a worker who suffered two compensable work-related injuries while working for the same employer, but covered by two different insurance carriers.
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The case, Gill v. Brescome Barton, Inc., wound its way recently all the way to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

According to court records, worker suffered a compensable, work-related injury to his left knee back in 1997. At the time of that injury, his employer was insured for workers’ compensation benefits by Company 1.
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The U.S. Department of Labor reports nearly 2 million people are victims of workplace violence annually. Workplace violence is defined as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs on-the-job.
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Most of the time, workers injured in these cases are eligible to collect workers’ compensation or, if the attack proves fatal, their families can collect workers’ compensation death benefits. However, it’s not enough that the attack occurs on-site. It must somehow be job-related.

In some cases, depending on the circumstances, there may also be justification for a personal injury lawsuit. Generally, workers are barred from bringing such action against an employer – even if employer negligence was a factor.
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The Occupational Safety & Health Administration, the federal government agency that sets safety standards and regulations for U.S. employers and workers, is clear there must be protocol in place to protect workers in permit-required confined spaces.
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Per 29 C.F.R. §1910.146(d)(9), this includes the requirement to have a plan in place to summon rescue and emergency services in case someone is trapped in one of these situations. Employers also owe a duty to prevent unauthorized personnel from attempting a rescue.

There are also requirements to have signs posted at the entrance of these spaces, indicating the danger and warning not to enter. There also has to be railing or barriers around these locations.
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Work-related hearing loss is one of the most common occupational injuries in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report an estimated 22 million workers are routinely exposed to hazardous noise levels on-the-job, and an additional 9 million are exposed to chemicals that might negatively impact hearing.
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On average, more than $240 million is spent each year on workers’ compensation claims stemming from loss of hearing.

The question recently before the Louisiana Supreme Court in Arrant v. Graphic Packaging International, Inc. was whether gradual hearing loss sustained at work is an occupational disease or a personal injury tort.
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Usually, it is the workers who seek workers’ compensation benefits from the employer. However, due to the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation statutes, sometimes it’s the company that seeks to prove a work injury claim is subject to remedy per workers’ compensation statutes, rather than through civil courts.
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Exclusive remedy is a trade-off. The worker is supposed to receive fast, accessible benefits to cover medical expenses and a portion of lost wages for on-the-job injuries and illnesses without having to prove employer negligence. In turn, workers forfeit their right to sue the employer for what would likely be a higher payout. The company is thus immune to most litigation in this regard. However, other responsible third parties may still be held accountable without breaching this immunity.

Usually, this arrangement is beneficial to both parties. However, there are some employment hierarchies in which the labels “employee” and “employer” may come into question. Workers’ compensation exclusive remedy and immunity isn’t applicable where the claimant wasn’t an “employee” and the defendant not an “employer.” That leaves the worker free to sue for damages, although he or she will have to prove negligence.
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As with any civil proceeding, workers’ compensation claims are subject to a specified statute of limitations, which is determined by the state.
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A statute of limitations is a time period during which claims must be filed to be considered valid. The idea is courts want to limit the possibility of becoming backlogged with years-old cases for which evidence may have eroded or be non-existent. So for example in Georgia, the general rule is claims for workers’ compensation benefits have to be filed within one year of the accident date, or else the right to compensation is barred. This is different from the time limit for other types of personal injury claims, which is two years. That’s why injured workers must act quickly to secure benefits.

However, the statute of limitations can be “tolled” or postponed in certain cases. Those include situations in which income or medical benefits have been paid voluntarily by an employer to or on behalf of the injured worker. Claims involving a death have to be filed within one year of the date of death. There are also exceptions made when workers were not aware injuries were work-related.
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While workers who have been injured on-the-job need not prove their employers were negligent, they do need to show their injuries arose out of and in the course of their employment. lungs2.jpg

In some instances, this is straightforward. A carpenter who falls from a ladder on a job site and twists his ankle should receive compensation. Where matters can get complex is when there is dispute about whether injuries or illnesses were in fact caused by work, or if not, whether they were exacerbated to any great degree by a work accident.

A perfect case-in-point on this is Vandre v. State ex rel. Dep’t of Workforce Servs., a matter that was recently weighed by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
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Lawmakers from two separate Georgia state committees recently met to discuss a proposal that would slash the amount of time injured workers have to pursue a claim with the state board of workers’ compensation.
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Currently, workers have up to five years to file a work injury claim with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. House Bill 536 would significantly cut that by more than half, down to 2 years.

The intent, say Republican backers, is to shorten the amount of time an employee can leave an employer and then file a workers’ compensation claim. Proponents of the measure say companies are burdening unfairly because insurance premiums are set higher in this state to cover for the extended risk of a claim. They argue that’s money that could be going to hire more workers or give additional raises.
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