What research reveals about workplace injuries in Missouri, nationwide

January 26, 2013

1003297_workman_sign.jpgRecent research has provided both employers and employees alike with specific data concerning workplace injuries: where they happen, why they happen, and how often they happen. When examined together, these studies provide an overview of American occupational health - and some of the findings might surprise you.

What kinds of jobs are the most dangerous?

Federal data reveals that workers at nursing and residential care facilities report the highest incidence rate of non-fatal workplace injuries, at 14.7 injuries per 100 full time workers. Other industries with high injury rates include travel trailer and camper manufacturing, fire protection, skiing facilities and iron foundries. Surprisingly, workers at petroleum refineries were at the other end of the list, reporting 0.7 injuries per 100 full time workers. In terms of fatal workplace incidents, fishing workers, logging workers, pilots and farmers reported the highest death rates.

Does geography affect workplace injury incidence rates?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 3.1 million nonfatal workplace injuries reported by Americans in 2010, meaning the overall U.S. incidence rate is about 3.5 injuries per 100 full-time workers. An estimated 59,000 U.S. workers died in 2007, while approximately 44,000 Americans died in car accidents; 41,000 died of breast cancer; and about 29,000 died of prostate cancer.

In terms of individual states, Maine has the highest injury incidence rate on record, with about 5.6 injuries per 100 full time workers. In contrast, Washington D.C. has the lowest injury rate at only 1.9 injuries per 100 full time workers. Missouri, Utah, New Mexico, Alabama and Florida are the only other states that have reported incidence rates lower than the national average.

How much do workplace injuries cost the United States?

A 2012 study revealed that injuries and illnesses contracted at work cost the U.S. approximately $250 billion dollars per year. That's $31 billion more than all direct and indirect costs associated with all forms of cancer. It's also $76 billion more than costs associated with diabetes, and $187 billion more than expenses associated with strokes.

"It's unfortunate that occupational health doesn't get the attention it deserves," said author J. Paul Leigh, professor of public health sciences at the University of California, Davis. "The costs are enormous and continue to grow. And the potential for health risks are high, given that most people between the ages 22 to 65 spend 40 percent of their waking hours at work."

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The growing role of social media in Missouri workers' comp cases

January 19, 2013

1260785_laptop_work.jpgIn this day and age, it's difficult to imagine life without social media. Websites like Facebook and Twitter, extremely popular in recent years: about half of adult Americans have a social networking account, and approximately 22% use networking sites several times a day. Since social media often plays such a large role in an individual's daily routine, it can be a key factor in legal proceedings - especially in the pursuit of a Missouri workers' compensation claim.

In fact, it's becoming increasingly common for information associated with a social media account to be used as evidence in a workers' compensation case. Such an account creates a supply of electronically stored data (ESI), which can offer insight into a claimant's regular activities. "Workers' compensation claims are for the most part based on individualized factual situations based on a collection of social experiences involving work-related events. The collection of ESI on social networks, such as Facebook, has become a treasured library of information that can be utilized to defend or prosecute these matters," reports Property Casualty 360.

For example, in a 2011 Missouri workers' comp case (Dwyer v. Federal Express), an employer introduced online photos of a claimant hauling watermelons, arguing that such activity was inconsistent with someone suffering from a debilitating back injury. Ultimately, the claimant was awarded benefits, but only because the administrative law judge (ALJ) accepted his explanation: the pictures were staged for his friends, and he wasn't actually carrying any weight.

Other claimants aren't so fortunate. In February 2012, an injured worker in Arkansas was denied an extension of benefits after online photos were presented as evidence against him. The claimant, Zackery Clement, was initially awarded temporary total disability benefits for an injury he sustained when a refrigerator fell on him. He underwent three surgeries and then applied for an extension of benefits, maintaining that he was in "excruciating pain" and in need of further medical treatment and disability payments. However, his employer accessed photos of Clement - posted on Facebook and MySpace - that showed him "drinking [alcohol] and partying," which became a key factor in the case against him. After Clement's application was denied, he appealed, arguing that the photos should not have been considered as evidence. Ultimately, the Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled that the pictures were allowable.

Of course, the fact that Clement attended a party doesn't necessarily mean that his request for additional benefits was unwarranted: he clearly suffered a debilitating injury. The issue is the way the photographs undermined his claim in court. "Clement contended that he was in excruciating pain, but these pictures show him drinking and partying," Judge David Glover wrote in the appeals court's decision. "Certainly these pictures could have a bearing on a Clement's credibility, albeit a negative effect that Clement might not wish to be demonstrated to the ALJ or the [Arkansas Compensation] Commission."

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Missouri workers must prove injuries arose "out of and in the course of employment" to collect workers' comp

January 12, 2013

Thumbnail image for file0001675328029.jpgUnder Missouri law, an employee must demonstrate that a workplace injury "[arose] out of and in the course of employment" to be eligible for workers' comp benefits. It might seem black and white: either you were injured on the job, or you weren't. However, a 2012 Missouri Supreme Court decision (Johme v. St. John's Mercy Healthcare) suggests that this issue could present complications to future claimants.

The employee & the injury
Sandy Johme worked as a billing representative at St. John's Mercy Healthcare at the time of her injury. The incident happened in an office kitchen that included a coffee station for all employees, and it was standard practice for the employee who took the last cup of coffee to make a fresh pot for others in the office. Johme was doing just that when she turned and stepped on the edge of her sandal, twisting her ankle and causing her foot to fall out of the shoe. She then fell backwards and landed on the floor.
Subsequently, Johme was transported to the emergency room by ambulance. where she complained of low back pain and left leg pain. An X-ray of her hips and pelvis revealed a fracture. While she did not have surgery to address the fracture, she was admitted to the hospital for pain management and physical therapy.

The claim
Johme filed a claim for workers' comp benefits, but after a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) denied her claim, ruling that Johme's activity - making coffee - did not fall within the scope of her workplace responsibilities. "[Johme] was not performing her [work] duties at the time of her fall at work," the ALJ wrote. "[She] just fell and she would have been exposed to the same hazard or risk in her normal [nonemployment] life."

Johme then appealed to the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, which reversed the ALJ's decision and awarded benefits to Johme. In its decision, the Commission specifically discussed personal comfort doctrine, which allows employees to collect benefits if they are injured while tending to basic human needs (such as hunger and thirst).

Further, the Commission reviewed the question of whether or not Johme's injury "arose out of and in the course of the worker's employment." Section 287.020.3(2) of Missouri workers' compensation law was amended in 2005 to read as follows:

"An injury shall be deemed to arise out of and in the course of the employment only if:

• (a) It is reasonably apparent, upon consideration of all the circumstances, that the accident is the prevailing factor in causing the injury; and

• (b) It does not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment to which workers would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life."

In considering the issue, the Commission referenced a 2010 case, Pile v. Lake Regional Health System, which outlined a standard for applying Section 287.020.3(2):

"The first step is to determine whether the hazard or risk is related or unrelated to the employment...Only if the hazard or risk is unrelated to the employment does the second step of the analysis apply. In that event, it is necessary to determine whether the claimant is equally exposed to this hazard or risk in normal, non-employment life."

The Commission found that making coffee was in fact "incidental to and related to [Johme's] employment," and thus did not consider whether or not she would have been "equally exposed" to the circumstances that caused her injury outside of the workplace. Johme was awarded temporary total disability payments, permanent partial disability payments, and past medical expenses. St. John's then appealed the Commission's ruling, and the Missouri Supreme Court ultimately decided the issue.

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Workplace deaths and survivor benefits: Information for Missouri families

991968_funeral_lights.jpgWhen a loved one dies on the job, surviving family members are left to face an uncertain future. In addition to the grief and devastation that comes with losing a loved one, many families have to worry about numerous expenses, both in the present and long-term. In this post, our Missouri workers' comp lawyers answer some common questions about survivor benefits.

When are Missouri survivor benefits available?

Certain surviving family members may be entitled to survivor benefits under the following circumstances:

• When an employee's death is caused by an on-the-job injury

• When an employee is injured on the job and returns to work with a permanent partial disability (PPD); and later dies of an unrelated cause

• When an employee is injured on the job and is unable to return to work (permanent total disability, or PTD); and later dies of an unrelated cause

In the majority of cases, survivor benefits are available to the deceased's "total dependents," meaning the spouse and/or dependent children. For children, benefits will continue until they turn 18 (unless they attend college full-time, in which case they can receive benefits until age 22). If there is another party who was partially dependent on the deceased, that party might be eligible for partial dependency benefits, but only if the deceased had no total dependents (i.e., no spouse or dependent children).

What kind of benefits can I receive?

• If an employee's death is caused by an on-the-job injury: Survivors may be entitled to weekly payments from the employer/insurer. These weekly payments are given at 66 2/3% of the deceased's average weekly wages during the year before the accident occurred, up to a maximum. Survivors may also be entitled to funeral expenses up to $5,000.

• If an employee on disability dies of an unrelated cause: In general, surviving immediate family members may be entitled to the deceased's accrued benefits - often, a lump sum payment for PPD. However, these kinds of cases can present numerous complications, so we recommend that you meet with an attorney to discuss the specific details of your situation.

What steps do I need to take if I want to claim survivor's benefits?

• When a worker dies in the course of employment, the employer is required by law to report the death to the Division of Workers' Compensation within 30 days after the employer is notified about the fatality. (If this step is not taken, you should notify the Missouri Department of Labor's Fraud and Noncompliance Unit.)

• Once the Division is notified, it will contact the eligible surviving family members and begin paying survivor benefits. (If you are not contacted by the Division and you believe you are entitled to survivor benefits, you should contact the employer - and it may also be in your best interest to seek legal advice.)

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Workers' compensation & employer fraud: What Missouri employees need to know

December 29, 2012

911375_paper_work.jpgWorkers' compensation fraud in employers is a prevalent problem throughout the United States. Recently, the North Carolina Workers' Compensation Journal released its list of the Top 10 Fraud Cases in 2012. Here are a few of the employers who made the list:

• A Florida man and seven other individuals were arrested for funneling more than $70 million in undeclared payroll through 10 different shell companies. By doing so, the ringleader was able to operate a sizeable construction company without paying for workers' compensation insurance.

• In Ohio, more than 41,000 private employers failed to report payroll and pay their workers' compensation premiums, which is a violation of state law. This practice resulted in approximately $5.6 million in unpaid premiums.

• The owners of a Massachusetts roofing company pleaded guilty to several labor violations, including misclassifying over half of their employees as subcontractors; and failing to disclose over $3 million in misclassified subcontractor payroll.

Workers' compensation fraud in employers: The consequences

The most direct consequence of workers' comp fraud in employers is its impact on employees, most of whom have no idea that their employers are doing anything illegal. If a worker is hurt on the job when an employer has failed to maintain workers' comp coverage, the worker will be unable to collect the benefits to which he or she is entitled. Often, this means the innocent employee is left to face the many costs associated with serious, debilitating injuries. Additionally, employer fraud can harm honest business owners. When an employer deliberately misclassifies employees to obtain low insurance premiums, the business has an unfair economic advantage over employers who pay what they owe.

Employer fraud, workers' compensation & Missouri law

• In the state of Missouri, misrepresenting an employee's job classification to obtain insurance at a lower rate is a class A misdemeanor. A second violation is a class D felony.

• Making a false or fraudulent statement regarding an employee's right to benefits (in order to discourage the employee from pursuing a claim) is a class A misdemeanor that can result in fines up to $10,000. A second violation is a class C felony.

• Making a false or fraudulent material statement or material representation in an attempt to deny benefits to an injured worker is a class A misdemeanor that can result in fines up to $10,000. A second violation is a class C felony.

• Employers who knowingly fail to carry required workers' comp liability insurance are guilty of a class A misdemeanor. They can be fined up to three times the amount of the annual premium they should have been paying under the law, or $50,000, whichever is greater. A second violation is a class D felony.

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Winter conditions can create workplace hazards for Missouri employees

December 22, 2012

1251186_a_sign_in_the_snow.jpgWhile many of us can stay home in winter weather, some Missouri workers aren't so lucky. Utility workers; emergency responders; highway workers; federal, state and local government personnel; and other employees may find themselves on-the-job in wintry conditions.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are numerous workplace hazards that can present themselves in winter conditions. In this post, our workers' comp lawyers detail a few of the most common situations that lead to workplace injuries in winter weather - and recommend a few proactive safety strategies.

Workplace injuries in winter weather: Three common scenarios

• Auto accidents due to poor road conditions. About 70% of injuries that occur during winter storms are the result of motor vehicle accidents. If your job requires you to drive in winter weather, OSHA officials encourage you to be prepared. Check road and weather conditions before you get behind the wheel - that way, you can plan the safest possible route. (You can use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Radio or website; and the Missouri Department of Transportation provides up-to-date road condition information.)

In addition, be sure to winterize your vehicle by having its key systems checked, especially your brakes and your tires. Also, it's wise to carry an emergency kit containing essential supplies, just in case you become stranded. You might include items like blankets, an ice scraper, a shovel, flashlights (with spare batteries), jumper cables, non-perishable food, water, etc.

• Frostbite and/or hypothermia from cold weather exposure. Approximately 20% of winter workplace injuries are caused by prolonged exposure to the elements. The term frostbite refers to freezing in deep layers of skin and tissue caused by the cold. Symptoms include a loss of feeling in the affected areas, or a waxy-white or pale appearance in the fingers, toes, nose or ear lobes. Hypothermia, which occurs when an individual's body temperature drops below 95 degrees, can also produce a number of symptoms, including uncontrollable shivering, slowed speech, lapses in memory, stumbling, drowsiness and exhaustion.

Workers are encouraged to learn the signs and symptoms of these conditions so they can be quickly recognized; to dress appropriately for outdoor work; and to take regular breaks in a warm, dry environment. Learn more by clicking here.

• Slips and falls on slippery walkways and surfaces. Snow and ice are two of the most common causes of slip and fall accidents in the workplace. If you're working in wintry conditions, you'll want to make sure you have appropriate footwear. OSHA officials recommend wearing a pair of insulated boots with good rubber tread. When walking on icy or snowy surfaces, be sure to take small steps and walk slowly, just in case you lose traction.

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The Fatal Four: Injuries prevalent on construction sites in Missouri and throughout the U.S.

December 14, 2012

915305_construction_workers.jpgAccording to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 4,114 American workers were killed while working in private industry in 2011. Of those fatalities, 721 - or 17.5% occurred in the construction industry. That's why OSHA officials have identified the "Fatal Four" leading causes of construction worker deaths in Missouri and nationwide. If these four causes of death were eliminated, OSHA reports, 410 workers' lives would be saved every single year.

The Fatal Four: Leading causes of death for Missouri construction workers

• Slips and falls. In 2011, slip and fall accidents accounted for the majority of fatalities in the construction industry (251 out of 721, or 35%). Numerous factors can contribute to these accidents, including icy or wet floors, debris, grease, and uneven walking surfaces. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the work environment, a slip and fall accident can result in multiple physical consequences, including broken bones, back injuries and traumatic brain injuries.

• Electrocutions. When employees work with or near electrical current, they are extremely vulnerable to serious injury. In fact, in all too many cases, employees are unaware of the electrical hazards that may be present in their work environment, especially in the construction industry. Electrocution can be caused by faulty wiring, power lines, or a simple lack of appropriate safety precautions.

• Struck by object. OSHA officials say struck-by hazards are present any time a worker could potentially be hit by an object. In the construction industry, these hazards are common: materials are often moved above people; employees commonly work from heights or elevated surfaces; and workers often use tolls that can create flying objects. Struck-by hazards can lead to head injuries, neck injuries, broken bones and fractures, and other kinds of physical trauma.

• Caught in/between accidents. Caught in/between accidents happen when a worker becomes squeezed, pinched or crushed between moving or stationary objects. They can happen under a variety of circumstances: when trenches collapse; or when limbs caught in machinery; or when workers are pinned by moving vehicles or other equipment.

Under Missouri law, all employers with five or more employees are required to carry workers' compensation coverage. However, employers in the construction industry are required to carry workers' comp if they employ one or more workers. According to the Missouri Department of Labor, "If you erect, alter, demolish or repair improvements you are regarded as a construction industry employer and are required to purchase workers′ compensation insurance if you have one or more employees." For more information about workers' comp in Missouri, click here.

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Texas employee awarded $5.5 million after suffering traumatic brain injury on the job

December 7, 2012

164791_cancer.jpgA Texas man has been awarded $5.5 million in connection with a 2007 injury he suffered on the job. According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Charles Robison sustained skull and facial fractures, traumatic brain injuries, a broken collarbone, and a broken arm while working for West Star Transportation, a trucking company based in Lubbock, Texas.

At the time of the accident, Robison was reportedly standing on several boxes, attempting to spread a tarp over a large piece of cotton gin equipment. He fell about 15 feet and landed on his head on a concrete floor. In his lawsuit, Robison alleged that West Star "failed to provide a safe workplace, failed to provide proper fall protection for employees, and [failed] to provide equipment that would have allowed the work to be done safely," the Avalanche-Journal reports.

As a result of the accident, Robison suffered injuries that impaired his speech and his cognitive abilities. He is no longer able to work or care for himself, and he will receive extended medical treatment throughout the duration of his life. In addition, Robison says the damage to his brain had a negative impact on his family and his personal relationships: during the trial, his wife testified that his "attitude toward her changed" following the accident. The couple is now separated.

The jury agreed with Robison, awarding him $5.5 million for the extensive losses he suffered because of the incident, including the following:

• More than $1 million for pain, suffering and physical impairment
• More than $400,000 for future lost wages
• Approximately $3.7 million for current and future medical costs
• Approximately $400,000 (to Robison's wife) for loss of consortium

In Missouri, the workers' compensation system usually serves as the exclusive remedy for injured employees. In other words, in the vast majority of cases, workers who are hurt on the job must pursue a workers' compensation claim, not a lawsuit, to recover damages for lost wages, medical costs, and permanent disability. These workers cannot recover damages for pain and suffering.

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Missouri construction workers at increased risk of fall-related injuries

November 16, 2012

1057445_ladder_and_sky.jpgAccording to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace falls are one of the common causes of on-the-job injuries, especially among construction workers. Because falls have become such a serious safety issue in recent years, OSHA officials created fall protection guidance which aims to prevent fall-related injuries -- and fatalities -- in employees who work in residential construction. According to the most recent data, falls are the number one cause of death for workers in residential construction.

When the proper preventative measures are not taken by an employer and an employee is then injured, the assistance of an experienced Missouri workers' compensation attorney should be sought at once. An aggressive attorney can help you to collect the proper compensation, regardless of fault. Safety on a work site is the responsibility of the employer. This is why OSHA creates and enforces these standards, to improve the safety of everyone nationwide.

According to the Compliance Guidance for Residential Construction, employers are required to make sure that residential construction employees are provided with the appropriate fall protection. These guidelines were issued back in December of 2010 by OSHA, and employers are now required to meet OSHA's Fall Protection in Construction standard. This document contains a number of work methods that an employer can use to comply with the new standard and its full requirements.

"Fatalities from falls are the number one cause of workplace deaths in construction," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "We cannot tolerate workers getting killed in residential construction when effective means are readily available to prevent those deaths."

This OSHA directive illustrates a number of methods that should be used to preserve the safety of employees throughout all stages of construction, although it mainly focuses on newer construction. Some of these methods include preventing fall-related injuries and deaths by using anchors for personal fall arrest systems and fall restraints, ladders, and scaffolds.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 600 fatal falls on job sites in 2009. This is a 12% decrease from the 700 fatal falls recorded in 2008. OSHA would like to credit their safety standards as a large contributor to this reduction in fatalities. However, the economic downturn was likely the primary factor. Overall, these falls are down nearly 30% from their all-time high record of 847 fatal falls that were reported back in 2007. It is reported that nearly half of all of these fatal falls occurred in construction.

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Missouri Court of Appeals affirms award to employee injured in workplace fall

November 8, 2012

1289968_up.jpgRecently, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, upheld a decision awarding workers' compensation benefits to a Missouri employee injured in a workplace fall.

The claimant, Jason Pope, was injured while working as an entry-level technician for Gateway to the West Harley Davidson. Pope's on-the-job duties included inspecting, washing and test driving motorcycles. He was also responsible for driving motorcycles into interior showrooms for overnight storage.

On March 17, 2010, Pope had just finished moving motorcycles into an upper-level showroom and was descending a staircase when he fell and fractured his ankle. The injury required surgery followed by seven months of medical treatment and physical therapy. He was unable to work for a period of nine weeks, and he incurred nearly $21,000 in medical expenses.

Pope filed a workers' compensation claim, but it was initially denied. An administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled that Pope had not proven that his injury arose "out of and in the course of his employment," which is a requirement of Missouri workers' compensation law. Even though he was wearing his work boots and carrying his helmet when he fell, the ALJ determined that Pope would have been equally exposed to the same risk of injury in his non-employment life.

However, the Missouri Labor and Industrial Commission disagreed, overturning the ALJ's ruling and granting benefits to Pope. The Commission found that Pope's injury occurred while he was acting in the scope of his employment: i.e. walking down the stairs while wearing boots and carrying a helmet. Thus, there was a direct, causal connection between the injury and Pope's employment.

Gateway to the West Harley Davidson and its insurer, the Missouri Automobile Dealers Association Services Corporation, appealed the Commission's decision. The appeal cited two recent decisions made by the Missouri Supreme Court:

Johme vs. St. John's Mercy Healthcare. The Supreme Court denied workers' comp benefits to a St. John's employee after she tripped on her shoe and fell, fracturing her hip and pelvis, while making coffee in a workplace kitchen.

Miller vs. Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission. The Court denied benefits to a road construction worker who suffered a knee injury as he walked briskly to his truck.

However, the Court of Appeals denied the appeal, affirming the Commission's decision to award Pope benefits. The Court noted a key difference between Pope's claim and the claims involving Johme and Miller: "Because the service department was on the first floor, Pope was required to descend the staircase connecting the upper and lower showrooms," the ruling said. "Pope was wearing his work boots and carrying his work-required helmet as he descended the stairs. Unlike Miller and Johme, these facts support a finding that Pope was injured because he was at work, not simply while he was at work."

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Missouri workers' compensation claims: How a lawyer can help

November 1, 2012

1123359_chemical_industry_4.jpgAt Aaron Sachs and Associates, our workers compensation lawyers represent employees who have suffered on-the-job injuries in Missouri. If you've been injured at work, we may be able to assist you. Our attorneys are familiar with the intricacies of the complex Missouri workers compensation system: it's the world we live in every day. We can help navigate your case through the system by handling all the paperwork, legal filings, interviews, research, and expert witnesses. We believe our clients should be free to focus on recovery, so it's our job to help you take care of your family financially by helping you get the benefits you need and deserve.


Missouri workers' compensation lawyers provide legal advice:

If you or a loved one has been injured on the job, we invite you to contact our office. We offer a free initial consultation, wherein we will discuss your case, answer your questions and address your concerns. We know our clients come to us with numerous questions about what to expect, and - of course - they want to know what we can do to help.

How Missouri workers' comp lawyers help injured employees:

Every client - and every case - is different. In general, a knowledgeable lawyer can offer the following services:

• Analyze the circumstances surrounding your injury and determine whether or not you have a valid claim
• Answer your questions and address your concerns
• File your case within the required legal time limits
• Find and work with expert witnesses (such as medical doctors) as needed
• Guide you through the Missouri workers compensation maze
• Deal with the insurance company on your behalf
• Appeal your case if you've been denied benefits

Additional considerations:

• If you have a scar on your face, head, or neck from your work injury, you may be entitled to additional compensation.
• If you were injured by a defective product, you may be entitled to additional compensation.
• If you are receiving other benefits (i.e. social security disability, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.), those benefits can impact the workers' comp benefits you may receive.

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Construction workers at increased risk of fatal workplace falls in Missouri and nationwide

October 25, 2012

file0001782063673.jpgA Mississippi construction worker has died of multiple blunt force injuries after he was hospitalized for nearly a week following fall at a construction site. The Clarion Ledger reports that 43 year-old Stacy Andrew Washington was on the job at Baptist Health System at the time of the incident. Washington was reportedly wearing a harness, but the harness broke, causing Washington to fall five stories to the ground. "It was a massive fall, so you could only image," Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart told the Ledger. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched an investigation into the incident.

On October 23, OSHA revealed its list of the top ten most common safety violations in 2012. The list, presented at the National Safety Council Congress and Expo, demonstrates that fall protection is a major workplace safety concern throughout the U.S.

Top 10 OSHA safety violations in 2012:

1. Fall protection (general requirements) - 7,250 violations
2. Hazard communication - 4,696 violations
3. Scaffolding - 3,814 violations
4. Respiratory protection - 2,371 violations
5. Ladders - 2,310 violations
6. Machine guarding - 2,097 violations
7. Powered industrial trucks - 1,993 violations
8. Electrical (wiring methods) - 1,744 violations
9. Lockout / tagout - 1,572 violations
10. Electrical (general requirements) - 1,332 violations

In 2011, 4,609 American workers were killed on the job, which means about 90 workers died every week, and about 13 died each day. Of 2011 worker fatalities in private industries, 17.5% were employees in the construction industry. According to OSHA, "the leading causes of worker deaths on construction sites were falls, followed by electrocution, struck by object, and caught-in/between. These 'Fatal Four' were responsible for nearly three out of five (57%) construction worker deaths in 2011." Of the "Fatal Four," falls accounted for the largest amount of deaths in the construction industry, with 35% of construction fatalities attributed to falls.

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OK appeals panel upholds decision granting workers' comp benefits to state representative

October 18, 2012

file000495587744.jpgAn Oklahoma appeals panel has upheld a ruling that awarded workers' compensation benefits to a state representative who was injured in a car crash. According to The Oklahoman, the panel determined that Rep. Mike Christian is entitled to benefits for his injuries, but reduced the award from $61,560 to $51,300.

In 2009, Christian was involved in a collision with a truck as he commuted to the State Capitol in a private vehicle. The incident left him with injuries to his neck and spine, but more than a year passed before he filed a workers' comp claim for the accident.

Ordinarily, Oklahoma employees - like Missouri employees - are unable to collect workers' comp benefits for injuries they sustain when commuting to and from work. However, Oklahoma state law identifies a few exceptions - including, notably, when an employer reimburses an employee for travel costs. Oklahoma legislators are entitled to travel expenses for one round trip to the Capitol per week, so Christian maintained that that exception applied to him, even though he waived reimbursement.

Lawyers for the state's insurance company, Comp Source Oklahoma, argued that Christian was not on the job at the time of the accident, and he was therefore ineligible for workers' comp benefits. In court, they pointed out that Christian's wife was in the vehicle with him at the time of the crash. "Because claimant was commuting with his wife, who was to continue on to her place of employment in their personal vehicle, he could not have claimed mileage for the trip even if he had not waived his right since the trip did not serve a public purpose," attorney Kristi Bynum Russell said at the hearing.

In July, a trial judge agreed with Christian, finding that the accident caused an 18% permanent partial disability to Christian's cervical spine and an 18% permanent partial disability to his lumbar spine. The judge ordered Comp Source Oklahoma to pay Christian $342.00 every week for 180 weeks, for a total award of $61,560.

On Friday, an appeals panel comprised of three judges upheld the award. The ruling did not include a comment on the decision itself, or on the panel's reduction of the award amount. Comp Source Oklahoma is expected to continue the appeals process to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

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Parking garage collapses, bringing five stories of concrete down on construction crew

October 11, 2012

file9821238774587.jpgOn Wednesday, three workers were killed, one is presumed dead, and at least 10 others were injured when an under-construction parking garage "pancaked" on a Florida college campus. According to The Miami Herald, the incident happened at Miami Dade College's West Campus. A crew comprised of 17 electricians, welders, painters and other employees were working on the garage when it collapsed, bringing down five stories of concrete.

Two workers - 48 year-old Carlos Hurtado Demendoza and 60 year-old Jose Calderon - were killed instantly. A third worker, 53 year-old Samuel Perez, died in the hospital after emergency responders were forced to amputate his legs to free him from the rubble more than 12 hours after the collapse. A fourth worker, 53 year-old Robert Budhoo, is still missing and is now presumed dead.

Update, October 15: This evening, investigators discovered the body of an adult male buried in debris at the accident site. Because of the instability of the accident site, it will likely take emergency workers several days to retrieve the body, but it is believed to be Budhoo.

One of the survivors, 27 year-old Anthony Williams, said the sound of the garage collapsing was "like an earthquake, like someone put a stick of dynamite in it." Williams only survived because he made an instinctive decision to jump from the second floor.

Local law enforcement officials and investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are working to determine what caused the massive collapse. According to The Sun Sentinel, a crane was moving a large wall panel at the time of the incident, and there have been reports that a crane may have bumped the structure in the days leading up to the collapse. However, the head of the company that contracted the crew says that incident may be completely unrelated. "I don't have the full confirmation of that. It's my understanding, an incident where the crane bumped a column, it didn't cause any damage to the column," Bill Byrne, President and CEO of Ajax Building Corp., told reporters. "The crane was repaired and inspected and was recertified. The engineers, it's my understanding, looked at the column, deemed it, it was perfectly fine."

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Missouri workplace injuries must arise "out of and in the course of employment" to be compensable

file000790174640.jpgA California appeals court has ruled that the state is not liable for a crash caused by a state employee who was driving to work after a medical appointment for a work-related injury.

The case involved Linda Gadbois, who was a cook employed by the California prison system. In April 2008, she was injured on the job at Avenal State Prison (AVP) and sought medical treatment through the prison's workers' compensation network. However, Gadbois was not happy with her original doctor, so she selected a different provider from a list supplied by AVP. On the morning of May 28, 2008, Gadbois was scheduled to work, but she was authorized to take time off to attend an appointment with her new doctor. After the appointment, she called AVP and told her supervisor she was on her way to work. She died in a fatal car crash soon afterward.

Kenneth Fields, the other driver involved, was seriously injured in the collision. Ultimately, Fields filed a personal injury lawsuit against Gadbois's estate and the state of California. The suit argued that Gadbois was "acting within the scope of her employment" when she caused the crash, and thus the state was also liable for his injuries. This kind of argument is known as respondeat superior, which is a common-law doctrine "that holds an employer or principal legally responsible for the wrongful acts of an employee or agent, if such acts occur within the scope of the employment or agency."

Normally, employees are normally considered outside the scope of their employment when they're commuting to or from work: thus, injuries sustained during these commutes this concept is known as the "coming and going rule." But Fields' argued that Gadbois, in driving to work from a medical appointment for a work-related injury, was actually acting within the scope of her employment.

However, the appeals court disagreed. After reviewing the case, the court concluded that Gadbois's employer was not liable for Fields' injuries. The ruling points out that Gadbois requested the appointment of her own accord; that AVP did not require her to drive to the appointment; and that driving was not connected to her regular job duties.

Here in Missouri, an employee must prove that an injury "[arose] out of and in the course of employment" to receive workers' comp benefits. In 2005, section 287.020.3(2) of Missouri law was amended to read as follows:

"An injury shall be deemed to arise out of and in the course of the employment only if:

• (a) It is reasonably apparent, upon consideration of all the circumstances, that the accident is the prevailing factor in causing the injury; and

• (b) It does not come from a hazard or risk unrelated to the employment to which workers would have been equally exposed outside of and unrelated to the employment in normal nonemployment life."


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