Articles Posted in Worker’s Compensation

Workers’ compensation in Alabama, as in most other states, is intended an exclusive remedy for injuries incurred on the job. However, there are some options for additional compensation under certain conditions.

One of those might be when injuries are caused by a co-worker – but only if that co-worker was acting outside the scope of his or her employment. Some examples would be if he or she was off-the-clock or if the injury was intentional. Otherwise, the co-worker would likely be indemnified under worker compensation laws.

The individual facts of the case are going to weigh heavily on whether the court allows third-party litigation against a co-worker, but it’s important to have the case carefully vetted by an experienced Alabama workers’ compensation lawyer.
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In October, our Montgomery work accident attorneys discussed the release of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on fatal Alabama work accidents. The 4,609 people who died in 2011 in workplace accidents represent only a small portion of those who were involved in workplace accidents during the year.

Unfortunately, many more people suffered injuries of varying degrees of severity.

Reviewing BLS data on workplace injuries in 2011 shows that an injury can occur in any field or any location. While some industries such as construction are inherently more dangerous than others, no one is immune from a potential accident on the job. As such, every worker and employer needs to be aware of workplace accident risks and needs to take steps to improve and encourage safety.Workplace Injuries in 2011
In addition to their data on workplace deaths in 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides a report on Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. According to the BLS:

  • Almost 3 million non-fatal injuries and illnesses acquired at private sector workplaces were reported in 2011. This means that 3.5 injuries occurred for every 100 full-time workers in the private sector.
  • Among state and local government workers, there were approximately 820,900 cases of workplace injury and illness reported in 2011. This means that, on average, there were 5.7 injury cases for every 100 full-time workers. Although this means that the rate of government employees injured is significantly higher than the rate of private sector employees injured, this is not an increase over past years.
  • The majority of the injuries suffered by government workers — almost four out of every five — were suffered by those employed in local government.
  • More than half of the three million injuries suffered in private industries in 2011 were serious enough to require a worker miss at least some days of work.
  • The overall rate of injuries and illnesses that were serious enough to lead to restriction or job transfer declined in 2011.
  • The rates of illness and injury increased in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. This sector was one of only two private sectors that had an increased number of illnesses and injuries from 2010 to 2011.
  • The rate of injuries in both the healthcare industry and the social assistance industry declined, as did the rate of injury in retail establishments including grocery stores.
  • Workplace illnesses accounted for around 5.2 percent of the total number of non-fatal workplace injuries. The majority of reports of workplace illness came from goods producing industries.

These statistics also demonstrated clearly that injuries can happen anywhere. Although workers in animal production; workers in beverage and tobacco manufacturing; and couriers and messengers had some of the highest incidents or injury, even merchants and car salesmen were reported to have recordable cases of workplace injury.

While workplace injuries are always going to occur, employers should ensure that they do everything possible to reduce the risk of work accidents. This includes complying with all OSHA regulations and having clear and well-enforced company safety policies.
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Workers’ compensation claims allow employees who suffer a work-related injury to claim benefits from their employer’s insurance carrier. However, in addition to providing workers with benefits, workers’ compensation statutes protect employers by creating a statute of limitations which bars claims that are not made timely.

Deciphering the different specifications within the Alabama workers’ compensation statutes can be tricky, which is why you need the guidance of an experienced injury attorney.The effects of statute of limitations in workers’ compensation cases is illustrated in a recent Fifth circuit case called Patrick v. Wal-Mart. This case involves a Wal-Mart employee injuring her lower back while stocking shelves in a Mississippi Wal-Mart store.

Teresa Patrick (plaintiff) injured her back in 1997 and brought a workers’ compensation (WC) claim against her employer Wal-Mart and its insurer National Union Fire Insurance Company (collectively, defendants). The facts of the case were brought to be disputed in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

Plaintiff argued that her lower back injuries were caused by her work for Wal-Mart. Wal-mart countered with the argument that the plaintiff’s back injuries could not have possibly been caused by the plaintiff’s work stocking shelves. In 1998 despite the contradictory arguments, the ALJ found that the plaintiff was entitled to temporary disability benefits for eleven months. Because the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries could not yet be determined, the ALJ left the decision for any additional benefits due to permanency of the injury, open to be discussed at a later time.

Defendants paid the plaintiff the bulk sum award. Plaintiff left work with Wal-mart and began working in other capacities for different employers. This lower back injury the plaintiff suffered continued to be agitated until plaintiff brought another action against the defendants for additional benefits for her work-related back injury.

Five years after the entry of the first judgment for the plaintiff, the ALJ re-heard the facts of the workers’ compensation case. The ALJ found that the plaintiff was permanently disabled because of the back injury she obtained working for Wal-Mart, and awarded the plaintiff necessary and reasonable medical expenses incurred because of this injury.

Additionally, the defendants were required to pay the plaintiff monthly benefit payments because of the permanency of her injury.

The defendant’s disagreed with this ALJ decision. Defendants argued that the plaintiff’s claim for permanent disability came too late, as it was over the statutory time allotted by statute. In Mississippi, an injured worker has three years from the date the injury was discovered or diagnosed to bring a claim for damages.

Plaintiff argued that because the ALJ’s decision in 1998 was not final, the clock for the statute of limitations had not begun to tick. Thus, she argued that the final decision in this workers’ compensation case came in 2005.

The confusion arose because of the word “final.” Because the 1998 ALJ’s decision left certain things undecided, this decision was considered interlocutory. However, this court notes that the decision was interlocutory as to the plaintiff’s substantial rights but considered a final judgment for procedural law.

Because it would not be consistent with the legislative intent of workers’ compensation laws to only allow a decision to be final when all of the potential benefits are awarded. This would only create an unjust result leading to decades worth of litigation for work-related injuries. Thus, the plaintiff’s second suit was considered to be barred because it was not brought within three years of the date of her injury.
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An Alabama man was recently injured while on the job in an Alabama manufacturing plant. He was walking thru the main aisle way of a storage warehouse when a container weighing several hundred pounds fell on top of him. The man suffered five fractures, some of which required surgery to stabilize.

Generally, an injured employee’s only remedy is under the Alabama Worker’s Compensation Act. However, if the injury is actually caused by an individual or entity with no connection to the employer (a third party), the injured worker may pursue a case against the third party directly.
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