June 2011 Archives

Increase in Worker Safety leads to Decline in Missouri Workers' Compensation Rates for Fifth Year in a Row

Missouri has seen steady improvements in workplace safety for the past five years, along with a drop in on the job accidents and their resulting injuries. In their annual review, Missouri's insurance regulators are predicting that the cost of workers' compensation claims in the state should decrease by 11% in 2011. This is good news for Missouri's economy for several reasons:

1209912_missouri_capital.jpg• Workers' comp insurance providers can lower the rates they charge accordingly.
• Employers who are considering re-locating can take advantage of Missouri's lowered insurance rates and bring their businesses and jobs here.
• Over the past two years, 37 new insurance companies have started covering workers' comp in our state, leading to some healthy competition. If you are an employer and your workers' comp insurance rates have not gone down, perhaps you should shop around for a better deal.

Advantages of Doing Business in Missouri

The lower cost of workers' compensation insurance is just one of the factors the Missouri government is counting on to bring in new business, create jobs and generally improve the state's economy. Here are some of the other factors that make Missouri a good bet if you are thinking of relocating from another state:

• The third-lowest business energy costs in the country
• The fifth-lowest cost of doing business in the country
• The seventh-best transportation network in America.
• Rank fifth in the Tax Foundation's Corporate Income Tax Index, which looks at the impact of each state's principal tax on business activities
• Recently eliminated the franchise tax on more than 16,000 businesses
• Created a competitive low-interest loan program for small businesses.
• One of eight states with a Triple-A bond rating from Moody's, Fitch and Standard & Poor's.

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Missouri Workers' Compensation in Jeopardy?

915305_construction_workers.jpgMissouri has had some form of workers' compensation policy since 1919. Between 1911 and 1920, most of the states passed workers' compensation laws. (The last state to adopt workers' comp laws was Mississippi in 1948.)

Worldwide, workers compensation began to appear in the late nineteenth century in several European countries. Out of the westernized, industrial nations, the U.S. was relatively slow to adopt these new protections for workers. Although the federal government saw all forms of social insurance and welfare to be the responsibility of individual states, they actually led the way by insuring their own workforce with legislation passed in 1908.

Workers' compensation laws are considered to be the first "social insurance programs" adopted throughout the nation. The purpose is an important one--to ensure that employers who are injured or made ill arising "out of or in the course of employment" receive the medical treatment they need, and receive payments ranging up to roughly two-thirds of their wages to replace lost income.

Missouri Workers' Compensation attorneys are watching various cases across the nation that might threaten this hundred year old workers' compensation tradition. In our neighboring state of Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn recently introduced major changes to the workers' compensation system, claiming they will save employers money and prevent employees from abusing the system, including:

• Slashing payments by 30 percent to medical providers who treat workplace injuries
• Requiring workers' comp claims arbitrators to be attorneys
• Limiting payments for carpal tunnel syndrome and similar injuries
• Increasing the state's investigative powers

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Missouri Work Accidents and the Second Injury Fund

There are approximately five instances in which the Second Injury Fund may be able to help those who have suffered a Missouri work accident. Again, these are often complex scenarios involving serious or fatal work injuries.

They are often best handled by a workers' compensation lawyer in Southeast Missouri or in your part of the state. Depending on the circumstance the Missouri Second Injury Fund may help with disability benefits, death benefits, rehabilitation benefits, second job wage loss benefits or medical expenses for injured workers of uninsured employers.
Disability Benefits: The fund may assist injured workers who are already partially disabled at the time of the work injury. When such injuries combine with a previous disability to render an employee totally disabled, the employer is only liable for damages in connection with the last injury. The Second Injury Fund may step in to make up the difference.

Death Benefits: If an employee dies as the result of a work accident for an uninsured employer, the Second Injury Fund may be liable for payment of death benefits, burial expenses and payments to a surviving spouse. Such benefits typically require the order of a judge.

Rehabilitative Benefits:
These benefits are meant to restore an injured worker to self-sufficiency to the greatest extent possible. Serious injuries that may qualify for rehabilitative benefits include quadriplegia, paraplegia, amputation or atrophy due to nerve injury.

Second job wage loss benefits: These benefits may be available to an employee who loses income at a second job because of a work injury at the first job.

Medical expenses for injured workers of uninsured employers:
In cases where an employer fails to cover employees with workers' compensation insurance as required by law, the Second Injury Fund and the uninsured employer may be liable for medical care and expenses. In such cases, the Second Injury Fund is entitled to seek reimbursement for such care from the uninsured employer. The Second Injury Fund is not required to pay temporary or permanent disability benefits -- an injured employee must file a claim of compensation against SIF in order to claim these benefits.

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Protecting your Rights in the Wake of a Missouri Work Accident

Our workers' compensation lawyers in Columbia have discussed many of the basics to filing a work injury claim in Missouri. As we launch our Missouri Workers' Compensation Lawyer Blog, it's also important to stress the need to protect your rights in the workplace while dealing with a work accident, injury or illness in Missouri.

The law prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for filing a work injury claim, for hiring an attorney, or for taking other lawful steps to protect their rights in the wake of a work accident. As we discussed previously, what began as a simple no-fault benefits system, has been complicated by decades of court decisions. Still, employers and their insurers often seek to evade responsibility in paying many accident and injury claims. Consulting an attorneys is not mandated but is often in your best interest when dealing with a serious work accident.
A lawyer is almost always needed when your case has not reached settlement and is set for an evidentiary hearing -- the equivalent of a trial. Or when you are advised by the insurance company or an administrative law judge that you should seek legal representation.

It may be in your best interest to hire a Missouri workers' compensation lawyer when:

-The insurance company denies your case.

-Medical tests or procedures are denied or cancelled.

-The insurance company does not respond to inquiry.

-You are not receiving the medical care you need and deserve.

-You are not receiving weekly benefit checks.

-The insurance company alleges that drugs or alcohol were involved.

-You are confused or intimidated by the process.

-You are fired, demoted or harassed at work because of your injury.

-You believe you have suffered a permanent disability.

-Your employer did not have workers' compensation coverage at the time of the accident.

-Your medical bills are not being paid.

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Missouri Workers' Compensation: Filing a Claim and Protecting Your Rights after a Work Accident

With the launch of our Missouri Workers' Compensation Lawyers Blog, we want to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about what to do in the event of a work injury in Missouri. We suggest speaking with a workers' compensation attorney in your area. While you may file a claim without an attorney, we don't recommend it. You may represent yourself in just about any court in the land -- we don't recommend that as the best course of action either.

Unfortunately, employees sometimes fail to understand the complex nature of filing a claim. They count on their employer to do the right thing. In reality, you and your employer are too often in an adversarial relationship after you file a claim. Botched claims can impact the financial well-being of you and your family for years to come. Often, an injured employee finally seeks experienced assistance after a claim is denied or once the claim is well under way. Properly filing a claim and protecting your rights should be done from the beginning. Correcting an injustice can be much more difficult.
Here are some commonly asked questions regarding workers' compensation rights in Missouri:

Do I have a workers' compensation case? In general, if you are an employee of a company with five or more employees, and you are injured on the job, then you are covered under the Missouri workers' compensation program. While there are some exceptions -- including domestic servants and farm laborers -- the vast majority of employees are covered in the event of an on-the-job accident, illness or injury.

However, the laws are complex and that is a deceptively simple explanation. Workers' compensation laws were formed to shield employers from civil liability in most cases. In other words, you accept benefits and agree not to sue for damages. In reality, state and federal laws have muddied the waters in some cases. And you can count on your employer and its insurance company to move to limit your claim whenever possible.

Seeking an attorney is the best course of action when it comes to fighting for the current and future financial well-being of you and your family.

What are my rights under the workers' compensation statute?
You have the right to medical care and proper treatment of your injury, payment for lost wages and compensation for any disability that may result from a work injury or illness.

Should I be paid for the time I am unable to work? Yes. You are entitled to lost wages under the law. Again, however, the actions of employers and their insurance companies have muddied the waters. What if you are offered a desk job at half the pay? Do you need to accept? What if the company orders you to report to work far from your normal location? Or tells you to accept a job which you have never done and are not trained for? Can you be laid off or downsized during a work injury claim? These are all complicating factors best left to your attorney.

How long do I have to file a workers' compensation claim? You must immediately report your injury to your employer. Failure to report an injury within 30 days may jeopardize your ability to collect benefits. Notify your employer in writing -- including the date, time and place of injury, as well as the nature of the injury and the name and address of the injured employee. Keep a copy of the notice for yourself. Keep a record of delivery -- if you personally deliver the notice, write down the date and time as well as the name and title of the person to whom you delivered it. You may verify that your injury has been reported to the state, you may call 800-775-2667.

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Missouri Workers Compensation Injuries and Roofing Accidents a Spring and Summer Danger

The tornadoes and the torrential rains mean the roofers will be even busier than usual this spring and summer. Employers have an obligation to protect employees from fall hazards, heat stroke and other dangers associated with roofing accidents in Springfield, Columbia and elsewhere in Missouri.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has spent the spring issuing directives aimed at reducing the risk of residential and commercial roofing accidents. Still, two Missouri roofing companies were recently cited for significant health and safety violations.
A St. Louis roofing company was slapped with nine alleged safety violations for repeatedly exposing workers to fall hazards; the proposed fine is more than $56,000.

"Falls remain the number one killer of workers in the construction industry," said Charles E. Adkins, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City, Mo. "OSHA will not tolerate employers who place workers' lives at needless risk by repeatedly failing to provide and ensure the use of fall protection."

Less than two weeks later, another St. Louis roofing contractor was issue proposed penalties of nearly $70,000 for 11 serious and repeated safety violations. Safety issues included fall hazards, lack of eye protection, scaffold fall and trip hazards and inadequate training.

Late last year, OSHA withdrew permission for residential roofers to bypass some fall protection requirements. Previously, some protections had not been mandated for residential roofers in cases where feasibility, space to operate, or other concerns were present. The high number of deaths among residential roofers moved the government to make the change.

"We cannot tolerate workers getting killed in residential construction when effective means are readily available to prevent those deaths," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "Almost every week, we see a worker killed from falling off a residential roof. We can stop these fatalities, and we must."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an average of 40 workers are killed each year in falls from residential roofs and hundreds more are injured.

Fall protection requirements for residential roofers now include a requirement that those working at a height of six feet or more use guardrails, safety nets or personal fall arrest systems.

Those seeking exemptions from the rules must have an alternative fall-protection plan in writing and must document the reason why conventional fall protection will not work or would create a greater hazard.

Visit OSHA's residential fall protection program for more information.

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What if I am Injured on the Job, But My Employer Has No Missouri Workers' Comp Insurance? (Part two)

956750_broken_arm.jpgHere is a question posed to Missouri Workers' Compensation Attorneys all the time: If my employer is so small that they are not required by Missouri law to carry workers' compensation--does this mean I must pay for my injury myself?

If your employer is not required to have insurance, he is still liable to pay for your injury and medical care, But, rather than being subject to Missouri workers compensation laws, he is now subject to civil lawsuits. Joplin Missouri job accident attorneys advise that if your employer doesn't take care of you and your medical expenses in a timely and appropriate manner, you are within your rights to seek legal action against him. Before proceeding, you would be wise to consult an experienced Missouri personal injury attorney and make sure you actually do have a legitimate case.

Can I Receive Missouri Workers' Compensation as an Independent Contractor?

If you are an independent contractor who suffers an injury while working, your employer has no legal liability--because in fact you are your own employer. As Springfield Missouri Workers' Compensation Lawyers, we know that this is a very misunderstood issue. If you are ever offered a job where you can choose between being "on the books" or working as an independent contractor--you must take into consideration that you have no legal compensation if you are injured on the job as an independent contractor.

Claiming that you are an independent contractor and not an employee is a common way employers get around having to pay in case of an accident. You need your status clearly defined whenever you take a job.

The Missouri Supreme Court has defined an independent contractor as "one who, exercising an independent employment, contracts to do a piece of work according to his own methods, without being subject to the control of his employer, except as to the result of his work" (Vaseleou v. St. Louis Realty & Securities Co., 344 Mo. 1121 (1939)).

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A Question to Missouri Workers' Compensation Attorneys--What if I am Injured on the Job, But My Employer Has No Workers' Comp Insurance?

Missouri Workers' Compensation lawyers will tell you that this question can have a complicated answer, which depends on the exact circumstances of both your employment and your accident. Let's run down the different possibilities:

1219097_untitled.jpg1. Your employer is in violation of Missouri's Workers Compensation laws.
2. Your employer is too small, and therefore exempt from Missouri's Workers Comp laws.
3. You are an independent contractor.
4. There is some dispute as to whether or not your injury was in fact job related.

Any Missouri employer, from Springfield to Joplin to Cape Girardeau is legally required to carry workers' comp insurance if they have five or more employees. Construction firms--with their higher potential for accidents--must carry workers' comp if they have only one employee.

If you are injured in a Missouri on-the-job accident and your employer falls into one of these two categories, he is in violation of Missouri law. You need to file a report with the Missouri Division of Workers Compensation Fraud and Non-Compliance Unit.

In this circumstance, you may be able to receive compensation for your injury from Missouri's Second Injury Fund, which is entitled to seek reimbursement from your employer. However, the Second Injury Fund will only pay your medical bills in this situation. In any situation where your employer fails to carry the required workers' comp insurance, Columbia Missouri Workers Comp lawyers recommend getting legal help.

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State and Federal Law Prevents Retaliation Against Employees Reporting Missouri Work Accidents

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has taken action against Union Pacific Railroad in a case of alleged retaliation for reporting a work accident in Missouri.

OSHA has ordered the railroad to immediately reinstate the employee with more than $200,000 in back wages, compensatory damages, attorney's fees and punitive damages. "An employer does not have the right to retaliate against employees who report work-related injuries," said Charles E. Adkins, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City. "While OSHA is best known for ensuring the safety and health of employees, it is also a whistleblower protection agency."
A Missouri workers' compensation lawyer in Joplin, Springfield or elsewhere in Missouri should be contacted immediately if an employee feels he or she is retaliated against as a result of filing a work injury claim or reporting dangerous conditions in the workplace. Such retaliation is against both state and federal law. The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reports 34.1 percent of the cases it handled in 2009 -- or about 700 complaints -- dealt with retaliation. Such complaints may also be filed in conjunction with a discrimination complaint or other unlawful employment issue.

OSHA's investigation upheld allegations that the railroad terminated his employment in retaliation for reporting a work injury. Despite the fact that its internal investigation found that the employee was not at fault, the railroad charged the employee with its most severe form of discipline under its progressive discipline policy. He was subsequently fired.

As part of the ruling, the railroad was also ordered to provide whistleblower rights information to its employees.

In this case, the investigation was conducted under the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act -- which protects employees who report violations of law, rules or safety.

OSHA enforces more than 20 laws aimed at protecting employees from retaliation -- including those involving airlines, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.

Dealing with retaliation is just one possible fallout when filing a work accident claim. Such claims have strict timelines and failure to follow guidelines can harm your ability to collect damages. While Missouri workers' compensation law started out as a simple no-fault benefits system, it has become a complex benefits program in which the workers' rights are not always at the forefront of the process without the help of an experienced attorney.

Other issues that could require the help of an experienced Missouri work injury lawyer include:

-You are not getting the proper medical care or benefit payments or the insurance company is not returning your calls.

-The insurance company or employer is claiming some sort of safety violation, including drug or alcohol use.

-You feel intimidated by the process or feel you are being treated unfairly.

-You have suffered a serious work injury that could result in disability benefits.

-Your case does not reach settlement and is headed for an evidentiary hearing or you are told by the workers' compensation insurance company or an administrative law judge that you should consult with an attorney.

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