Archives for January 2011

Are you a victim of Workplace Violence?

When you think of Workers Compensation, most people typically think of someone becoming injured while working – after having an accident.  Perhaps they were injured by a piece of equipment, fell from a ladder, or were involved in an auto accident.

However, workers’ compensation claims can also result from incidents of workplace violence.  The most common examples are those we hear about in the news – this worker opened fire on his former co-workers in Orlando, or search this wikipedia page for a number of prime examples, but frequently it is workers who turn on one-another that leads to the most common examples of workplace violence.

In the article cited above, there are several forms of inappropriate behavior that might tip you off to a potentially violent co-worker:

  1. Waving arms or fists
  2. Excessive profanity
  3. Screaming
  4. Verbal abuse of others
  5. Threats against people or property
  6. Any behavior that intentionally endangers another person
  7. Refusal to comply with a reasonable request
  8. Intimidation, either verbally, physical closeness or gestures
  9. Throwing objects
  10. Intentionally damaging property
  11. Stalking (presumably, after-hours)
  12. Any worker who might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs

If you are the witness of any of these types of behaviors, you must bring it to the attention of your management immediately! Even when brought to their attention, Employers will frequently disregard the complaints of workers.  So you must be persistent when you see dangerous behavior on the part of your co-workers.

There are a whole line of cases in North Carolina that fall within the scope of “Assault and Criminal Activity”.  Some of the cases are compensable, and some are not.  If you or someone you love is the victim of workplace violence, we recommend that you speak with an attorney who can evaluate your claim and advise you on the proper course of action to take.

Forklift Injuries – Hazard Report released by NCDOL

A Forklift is an extremely dangerous piece of equipment.  In 2010 there were 7 forklift related fatalities in North Carolina, which amounts to almost 15% of the total workplace related fatalities that were reported last year.  This is such an important issue that the North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL) has issued a Forklift Hazard Alert, which outlines some precautions that should be taken whether you are operating a lift, or simply working in an area where forklifts are operating.

If you are driving the equipment, be constantly aware of your surroundings, including pedestrians, blind spots, and ramp/dock edges.  Always wear your seatbelt and never extend your hands, arms or head outside of the “safe zone”.  These fundamental tips are extremely important because several of the deaths reported in 2010 occurred because:

  1. An operator drove the lift partially off the ramp he was working on, removed his seatbelt (causing him to fall out of the forklift) and was crushed when the forklift fell on top of him.
  2. A pedestrian was run-over by a forklift.
  3. An operator reached his head and arm through the “safe zone”, accidentally turned on the lift, and died from asphyxiation.

Here are some other tips to consider when operating a forklift:

  1. Be careful not to carry unbalanced loads – another fatality occurred because an unbalanced load fell on the operator.
  2. Never stack materials above a safe stacking height.
  3. Consider using shrink wrap to enhance the stability of a stack
  4. Do not overload warehouse racks
  5. Take pre-use inspections seriously and correct any issues prior to operating a lift
  6. On inclines, always drive with the load uphill

A more exhaustive and comprehensive list of safety precautions can be found on the website for the NC Department of Labor.  If you are injured while operating a forklift or any other heavy machinery, you may need the assistance of a workers comp lawyer to help you navigate your claim.  Call Raleigh Workers Comp Lawyer James Hart at (919) 460-5422 to schedule your free consultation.

Low Clearance: Truckers watch out!

Thanks to Workers Comp Insider for drawing my attention to this video.  All of the truck accidents in this video took place at a single trestle bridge in Durham, North Carolina.  There was a prominent sign that let everyone know that trucks over 11′ 8″ tall need not pass, but it seems that too many drivers weren’t paying attention.  My initial thought would be that most of the trucks would be casual drivers and rental trucks – but the video tells a different story.  Many professional drivers were involved as well.

If there is a moral to be had in this story, it is that if you drive for work, you must always be careful to pay attention to signs – especially if you drive a semi for a living.  The higher the truck, the more risk you face of an accident on a day-to-day basis.

For you truckers out there, make sure to check the Low Clearance Bridge Database if you are travelling a new route and need to check for problem bridges.  Additionally, America’s Independent Truckers Association also maintains a Truck Escort Referral Service.

Are you too old to receive Workers Compensation?

If you are an ex-Federal Employee who is receiving workers compensation benefits and older than 70 – you may just be.

According to the Workers Compensation Blog published by Jon Gelman, Senator Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) has asked the Government Accounting Office (GAO) to launch an investigation into whether employees in their 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and even 100’s should still be receiving Workers Compensation benefits, even though there is no chance they would ever go back to work.  Sen. Collins has said that “I am increasingly concerned that individuals with no intention of returning to work continue to receive these benefits.”

I have serious concerns about cutting off benefits to senior citizens without giving them any due process.  An individual who is receiving Worker’s Compensation benefits does not receive the same benefits as someone who is employed, such as a Federal Pension in the case of these Federal workers.  It would stand to reason that if their benefits are cut off, they would have no other comparable income to replace it – with the exception of Social Security which they are probably already relying on.

Cutting off these benefits could have severe consequences to the individuals affected and is not a decision that should be taken lightly.

Is your Workers Comp Lawyer easily accessible?

Is it easy for you to talk to your Workers Compensation Lawyer?  Do they return your calls promptly?  Do you feel cared about and that your case is being handled properly and with professionalism?  If the answer to any of these questions is no, perhaps you don’t have the right attorney handling your case.

At The Hart Law Firm, we are different than other attorneys you may have come across – from your first meeting with an attorney, through the conclusion of your case, you will find that we are not your ordinary personal injury law firm.  For starters, we are a small law firm – not a 50 lawyer firm that is forced to settle cases quickly to pay their overhead.  Because we are a small firm, we are able to give personal attention to each of our clients – which is what you deserve.

I’ve heard stories of attorneys that handle upwards of 150 cases at one time – in my opinion, that is just too much work for one attorney.  Assuming a 50 hour workweek (many attorneys work many more hours than that, but go with me here…), an attorney with 150 cases will be able to spend approximately 20 minutes on each file each week.  Obviously, the attorney will probably spend some time in hearings, client meetings, and attending to other administrative matters during the week – squeezing the attention they can give each file even more.  Chances are, with that kind of workload, the attorney will utilize one or two paralegals to assist with their cases.  That means that when you call with an emergency or because you have a question for the attorney, you pretty much have no chance that they will even remember your name, let alone be able to talk to you intelligently about your file.  You will get passed off to the paralegal.

Not at The Hart Law Firm.

I have chosen to limit the number of cases I will take at any given time so that all of my clients will receive the prompt and careful attention that they deserve.  When you call my firm, you will talk to an attorney – me – if not right away, then certainly within 24 hours.

We care about our clients because you are our livelihood.  Our goal is to make you happy so that you will refer your friends to us.  How can we expect you to do that if you don’t feel cared about or satisfied that we are looking after your case?  You can’t.

At The Hart Law Firm, we care about our clients and your satisfaction.  To schedule your initial consultation, please call (919) 460-5422 or fill out our online contact form.

10 Tips to help prevent Workplace Injuries

One of the best ways to avoid having navigate the minefield that is a workers compensation claim is to avoid getting hurt at work in the first place.  According to workers-comp-news.com, 165 Americans die each and every day from an occupational disease, and another 18 die from a work-related injury.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Here are 10 quick tips that will help to keep you safe on the job:

  1. When you are lifting heavy objects, make sure to lift with your legs and knees, and not your back (how many times have we heard that?)
  2. Never twist your body while lifting something heavy.
  3. When sitting for long periods, make sure to take breaks every hour to get up and stretch.
  4. Reduce the amount of overhead work you must do by using a lift to get you closer to what you need to do.
  5. When you are picking up or setting down an object, make sure not to reach more than 10 inches from your body.
  6. Whenever possible, use ergonomically designed tools that are designed to fit the hand, body and job.
  7. Avoid overexerting yourself.  Many workplace injuries are caused when workers are tired, stressed or both.  If things are getting to tough for you, take a break.
  8. Drink plenty of fluids – especially when working in the hot sun.  Soda’s don’t count – make sure that you are drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  9. If you sit at a desk most of the day, make sure your chair is comfortable and the correct height.
  10. If you do see any unsafe conditions, make sure to report them to your supervisor immediately.  If your employer won’t do anything to fix it, you should contact your state workplace safety administration.

Thanks to workers-comp-news.com for providing some of the tips that were used in this post.

Are you scared to call a Workers Comp Lawyer?

One of the things that we as lawyers often forget is that we can be intimidating.  One of the first things I tell clients who come to visit with me for the first time is that they have nothing to be afraid of.  I pride myself in not trying to pull one over on a prospective client – or an actual client.

However, as I was perusing another attorney’s website this morning, I came across a page that I found interesting.  Robert Kraft, a Dallas Personal Injury Lawyer, has put together a special page to alleviate the fears that people have of calling a lawyer.

The reasons Mr. Kraft lists on this page as to why people shouldn’t be afraid to call his firm pretty much mirror the reasons that I tell clients they should be scared to pick up the phone and call my office.

If you choose to call my firm, here are some things you should expect:

  1. Provided that I am currently available to talk – I promise I will talk with you.  If you leave a message with my receptionist, I will call you back as soon as I possibly can, usually the same business day.
  2. I don’t charge prospective clients for calling our firm.  Also, all of my Comp cases are handled on a contingency fee basis – meaning that you don’t pay us anything unless we win your case.
  3. When you call my firm for the first time, I promise to empathize with your problem and listen to why you are calling.  If you decide to schedule an appointment, I will ask you some simple questions about your case and your contact information – but nothing more.
  4. I never, ever attempt to pressure anyone into making an appointment.  I provide a ton of information on my website, so if I sense any hesitation on your part, than I will direct you to my website to do some more research and call back when you are ready.  If you choose not to call back, then that is fine too.

Just like Mr. Kraft says, if I think that I need to meet with you to discuss your problem in more detail, than I will ask you to schedule a meeting in my office.  If I don’t think I can help you, than I will refer you to the appropriate lawyer or agency for more assistance. For clients who can’t get to my office, I will either come to you (if feasible), or we can schedule a telephone or skype conference to talk in more depth about your legal problem.

Any questions?  Feel free to call us at (919) 460-5422.  We pride ourselves on building relationships with our clients – all of them.

Average Weekly Wage – What’s that all about?

If you are injured at work in North Carolina, then you are entitled to Workers Comp benefits.  One of the most important calculations that you or your attorney will make at the beginning of your case is your “average weekly wage”.  Many people mistakenly believe that this amount is simply your stated weekly salary – but that’s not the whole truth.

Your average weekly wage includes a number of other inputs that the insurance company will conveniently leave out if they are allowed to calculate this number for you.  For example, your average weekly wage should include the following items:

  • Any overtime you have been paid
  • Mileage checks
  • Per diem checks
  • Tips
  • A value for the use of company vehicles
  • Any other item which comes to you as salary or pay in the form of either cash or goods (excluding health insurance or other benefits)

The reason this number is so important is because the Average Weekly Wage is used to calculate your weekly benefit checks if you are unable to work because of your injury.  The insurance company will pay you 2/3 of your Average Weekly Wage – so if this number is not correct, then you could be short-changing yourself hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the course of your claim.  To make matters worse, if and when you go to mediation to resolve your claim, the insurance company will use the average weekly wage calculation to determine a potential lump sum payout amount.  The wrong calculation could lead to an artificially low settlement amount.

If you have questions about your average weekly wage, and feel that it is lower than it is supposed to be, then please call us at (919) 460-5422.  We would be happy to review this information with you so that the insurance company can get it right.

*In Most cases, the average weekly wage amount in improperly calculated in favor of the insurance company.  However, if you ask for a recalculation and you received too much compensation, then you run the risk of the insurance company either asking for a lump sum payment from you, or withholding checks until the arrearage is paid back.  For this reason, it is important that you consult with an attorney prior to requesting a recalculation of your average weekly wage.

Snow and Ice Create Dangerous Conditions on NC Roads

Ok, so I admit – I’m a bit of a work-aholic.  My wife isn’t exactly pleased that I decided to head to work this morning, but now I’m here, so I might as well update my blog! In case you didn’t get the memo, the roads in central North Carolina are treacherous today (see stories here and here regarding the conditions).

Governor Perdue has warned people to stay off the roads so that the DOT can properly ice the roads while we wait for some warmer weather.

What does this have to do with Workers Compensation claims in North Carolina?  Everything.  If you are employed as a driver by your company, you must be extremely careful today.  Talk to your employers about whether you should even be driving.  Anyone who drives for a living is affected by the weather conditions outside, including the postal delivery workers (including UPS, FedEx and DHL), as well as other truckers and pizza delivery workers (on days like today, many people will order pizza for delivery!)

In addition, even if you don’t drive for work, but your employer required you to come to work against your will and you get in an accident, you could have a compensable claim.

Bottom line, if at all possible, stay home from work today.  However, if you have to go out driving today – be careful.  If you drive for a living and get in an accident, call a Workers Comp lawyer to discuss your rights.