Workplace Injuries

Friday, July 10, 2015

Pennsylvania Appellate Court Considers Complex Case Involving Workers’ Compensation & Unemployment Benefits

Can I accept unemployment benefits while out-of-work on disability? 

In a recent case decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, a work injury victim had her unemployment benefits reinstated despite claims by her employer that she could have returned to work and committed alleged “willful misconduct” by refusing to accept a promotion after the injury. The following case presents a complex procedural issue that – while perhaps unusual for the appellate court to unravel – represents a fact pattern that workers’ compensation clients could easily experience in the aftermath of an injury. 

Details of Paolucci v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review

In 2010, Ms. Paolucci was employed at WalMart and endured a concussion while on the job. After properly and timely submitting her claim to her employer’s workers’ compensation carrier, she received compensation benefits. After some time, the carrier required the employee to undergo an Independent Medical Evaluation, which concluded that she was fit to return to work. Her personal treating physicians, however, disagreed with this finding and Ms. Paolucci did not return to her position – despite being offered an alternative position within the company. 

Shortly thereafter, Ms. Paolucci filed for unemployment compensation in addition to her workers’ compensation benefits. She was awarded unemployment benefits, and the employer immediately appealed the decision. On appeal, the employer cited that she should not be eligible for benefits as she left her job due to “willful misconduct” and is therefore precluded. Specifically, the employer asserted that the worker could have returned to work (based on the IME results), and held the following: 

The claimant never made the employer aware that she could return to work. Further, the claimant did not respond to the employer’s offer of work. Finally, the claimant’s attorney told the employer to no longer contact the claimant.

On a second appeal, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed the decision, and found the results of the IME to be irrelevant given the fact the treating physician asserted that Ms. Paolucci could not return to work. Further, the court found no evidence that the “employee violated a policy, work rule or reasonable expectation of employer.”

If you are facing a difficult workers’ compensation issue, do not hesitate to contact Louis P. Lombardi & Associates today at (610)239-7600.  We serve the areas of  Montgomery and Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling Limits Subrogation of Workers’ Compensation Claims Against Negligent Third-Party

What happens if I am injured at work, but my injury was caused by the negligence of another worker? 

Workers’ compensation coverage offers a sense of security to workers across Pennsylvania. However, these claims can quickly become marred by procedural complexities and conflict with the insurance company – as in a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case involving an injured worker whose accident was caused by the negligent acts of a co-worker or third party entity. Prior to this case, Pennsylvania laws were somewhat unclear as to the rights and obligations of a workers’ compensation insurer when the payee was actually injured by someone else. However, the holding in Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. Domtar Paper Co. et al. shed some interesting legal light on the issue – much to the dismay of both insurers and employers, who came out primarily on the losing end. 

Facts & Procedure of Domtar

The Domtar case began in 2009 when an employee for a trucking company known as Schneider National fell in a parking lot leased by paper company Domtar Corporation. The employee filed a workers’ compensation claim with Schneider National, and was paid over $30,000 for his injuries. In turn, Schneider National, through its insurer Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, alleged that Domtar was negligent in its maintenance of the parking lot, resulting in injury to the employee. However, the employee did not individually pursue a claim against Domtar and refused all attempts both by Liberty Mutual and Schneider National to file a negligence lawsuit against the paper company. 

As a result, Liberty Mutual filed a claim against Domtar itself, alleging negligence resulting in injury to the employee. In response, Domtar asserted that the insurer had no right to file an independent claim for damages on behalf of the injured employee who did not pursue his own right to file an action. The trial court agreed with Domtar, and the case was appealed to Superior Court, which also agreed. 

As a last resort, Liberty Mutual filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower courts’ rulings for several different reasons: 

• Both Liberty Mutual and Schneider National failed to get the employee’s cooperation in the matter. In other words, it is technically not their fight. 
• Liberty Mutual did not properly “perfect” the subrogation (reimbursement) claim, nor did it follow proper procedural frameworks to pursue its assertions. 

As a result of Domtar, Pennsylvania precedent stands (somewhat) clearly for the notion that an insurer may not pursue reimbursement of a compensation claim without the involvement of the actual injured party – and it better follow proper procedures when it does. 

If you are having a difficult time with your workers’ compensation claim or appeal, please contact the Montgomery and Bucks County workers compensation attorneys at Louis P. Lombardi II & Associates by calling (610)239-7600. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Driver Injures Four Construction Workers in Pennsylvania Turnpike Crash

Can you receive workers compensation or a personal injury settlement for the work related death of a loved one?

A motorist injured four construction workers in an early morning crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near the Bensalem Interchange.  The driver was killed during the crash.  One worker was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and another worker was airlifted to another Philadelphia hospital and rushed into surgery shortly after arriving.  The two remaining construction workers had minor injuries and were taken to a local hospital in Bristol for observation.  Authorities are investigating the incident.      

The construction workers, all male, were working for contractors hired by the Pennsylvania Turnpike to work on a link between the Turnpike and I-95.  This crash comes on the heels of another incident in Bedford County.  In that incident, a state trooper attempted to pull over a car.  The car sped off and swerved into a lane under construction hitting a construction worker.  Thankfully, none of the workers died in this accident. 

Being employed as a construction worker on a main road or highway is a dangerous job.  Many construction workers and others are killed while working on Pennsylvania roads every year.      

As a result of the recent events, the Turnpike Chairman, Sean Logan, requested extra troopers in construction zones to enforce speeding and distracted drivers.  The extra enforcement is part of Operation Orange Squeeze.  A trooper sits inside of a construction vehicle while another trooper waits in a patrol car to pull over the speeding car.  Drivers traveling 11 mph or more in a construction zone face a $200 fine and a 15-day driver’s license suspension.  Last year alone there were 150 crashes in construction zones.  

Unfortunately, no matter how many extra precautions are taken to keep workers safe, work-related deaths will still occur on these roads.  If a member of your family was killed in a work-related accident, the attorneys at Louis P. Lombardi II & Associates may be able to help you with your workers compensation or personal injury claim.  Our Montgomery and Bucks County attorneys can be reached by calling (888) 818-4343.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How to Handle a Work-Related Injury That Was Caused By A Third Party

If My Work Related Injury Is Caused by a Third Party Do I Also Have a Personal Injury Claim?

People who suffer work related injuries that were caused, at least in part, by someone other than your employer may have a viable personal injury claim as well.

Some examples include:

• While driving a company owned vehicle in the course of your duties you were injured in an accident caused by the negligence of another driver.

• You slipped and hurt yourself when you stepped onto a slippery surface at a customer’s facility. 

• You were injured as you worked on the assembly line by a machine tool that was defectively designed or manufactured or defectively repaired by an outside contractor. 

If you exercise your right to file this lawsuit, your employer (or its insurer) has a right to collect a percentage (based on a formula) of what you collect from this third party in order to be paid back what it paid to you. This is known as subrogation.

Your employer or its insurance carrier cannot directly sue the third party to be reimbursed what it paid out, the injured worker needs to be part of the litigation, according to a state Supreme Court decision, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. Domtar Paper Co.

In this case, George Lawrence worked for the trucking company Schneider National, Inc., at a facility leased by Domtar when he slipped and fell in the parking lot, injuring himself, resulting in a payment of $33,929.23 in workers' compensation benefits. Liberty Mutual sued Domtar and the owners of the facility claiming they were responsible for the injury. Lawrence never filed his own suit, assigned his legal rights to Liberty Mutual nor did he join their lawsuit.

The lower court ruled Liberty Mutual did not have a right to sue on its own a third party alleged to have caused the work related injury and dismissed the case. On appeal the Supreme Court disagreed with Liberty Mutual’s interpretation of state statute and prior court decisions and agreed with the trial court.

If you find yourself suffering from a work related injury caused by another party, the workers compensation and personal injury attorneys at Louis P. Lombardi II & Associates, P.C., can help you navigate through the complex legal system. The firm helps those in the Philadelphia area with offices in Philadelphia, Plymouth Meeting, Montgomery County and Chalfont, Bucks County. Call (610)239-7600 or (888)818-4343 today to schedule a consultation. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Work-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries Could Create Lifelong Limitations

What are some of the side effects of work-related traumatic brain injuries? 

Each day, Americans sustain traumatic brain injuries in their homes, on the roads and in the workplace. These serious injuries result not only in physical disabilities, but cognitive loss and personality changes. While many tissues in the body can recover from injury, brain cells cannot. 

TBI is caused by a blow or jolt to the head, which may or may not cause an open wound to the skull, which disrupts normal brain functioning. Not all blows to the head result in a TBI. The harm from TBIs range from “mild” (a short change in consciousness) to “severe” (a long period of unconsciousness or lost memory).  Most TBIs are mild and normally called concussions.

TBI is a leading cause of death and disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It estimates that TBIs contribute to nearly a third of all injury deaths.  

TBI can result in impaired thinking, lost memory, limited movement, lost sensation (including vision and hearing) and emotional functioning (personality changes, anger and depression).  These effects not only impact workers but their families and communities as well.

CDC figures paint a sobering picture of the number and severity of TBIs across the country. In 2010:

• about 2.5 million emergency department visits, hospital admissions and deaths were connected to TBI, (either by themselves or in combination with other injuries);

• the deaths of more than 50,000 people were connected to TBI; and

• TBI was a diagnosis (by itself or with other conditions) in more than 280,000 hospitalizations and 2.2 million emergency department visits.  

The leading causes of TBI are: 

• Falls - 40.5%,

• Unknown/other - 19%,

• Traffic accidents - 14.3%

• Being struck by or against an object - 15.5% 

• Assaults - 10.7%.

Work-related TBIs can be caused by:
• slips and falls in areas that are uneven or slippery;

• accidents involving construction equipment, autos or trucks;

• being struck in the head by an object or piece of equipment being moved from one place to another; and

• being the victim of a crime at the workplace.

If you or a loved one in Montgomery or Bucks Counties has suffered a work-related TBI, the law firm of Louis P. Lombardi II & Associates can help you obtain the medical treatment and compensation you deserve. Call (888) 818-4343 or (610) 239-7600 to schedule your free consultation. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Former Pittsburgh Steeler Wins Workers’ Compensation Claim

Can I appeal the denial of my workers' compensation claim? 

If a worker is injured on the job, he or she is usually eligible for partial or full disability payments – depending upon the nature and extent of the injury. For former Pittsburgh Steelers center Chukky Okobi, his six years with the team caused so much damage to his back and neck that he has been unable to continue his career and will need lifelong medical interventions to withstand the pain of the damage. Okobi successfully pursued workers’ compensation benefits from the Pittsburgh Steelers Sports Inc. A Commonwealth Court judge upheld the Workers’ Compensation Board holding in favor of Okobi.

In 2009, Okobi filed his original claim for workers’ compensation from the team and was immediately met with resistance. After a denial of his first claim for benefits, Okobi appealed to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Board and was victorious. During that stage of the process, the Steelers missed several filing deadlines and failed to properly advance their arguments against Okobi in the administrative hearing. 

Nonetheless, the Steelers appealed the Board’s decision, citing it did not have an adequate opportunity to participate in the litigation. Again holding for Okobi, the court pointed out the team’s penchant for blowing its deadlines. The judge awarded almost $18,000 in attorneys’ fees to Mr. Okobi as well as costs in the amount of $5,516 and unspecified medical damages. From now on, Mr. Okobi will receive $779 per week from the Steelers to compensate him for his workplace injuries.

The Steelers can appeal the Commonwealth Court decision to Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The attorneys at Louis P. Lombardi II & Associates, P.C., have the experience and knowledge to successfully guide your workers' compensation claim. We serve the Philadelphia metropolitan area with convenient locations in the city of Philadelphia, Plymouth Meeting, Montgomery County and Chalfont, Bucks County. Contact us today at (610)239-7600 or (888)818-4343 to arrange a consultation.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Nursing Employees At Risk for Workplace Injuries

How Common are Workplace Injuries Among Hospital Staff?

In Pennsylvania, hospital workers are injured on the job every day. In fact, nursing employees seem to suffer more back injuries than construction workers. The Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 35,000 back and other injuries each year, severe enough for nursing employees to miss work.

One nurse at Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Chester became one of these statistics when performing her job. Tove Schuster was working the night shift and heard a co-worker call for help because a patient had fallen to the floor. The patient was more than 300 pounds, and a group of nurses lifted the patient as a team.

Schuster did as she was trained, but while getting the patient back into bed, she felt something pop. She finished her shift in pain and drove home. When Schuster awoke the next day, she was unable to walk. Surgery was required to repair a damaged disk in her spine. The hospital acknowledged that Schuster injured her back while lifting that patient. Schuster's career as a floor nurse is over, but she is able to walk and sit without excruciating pain.

The high rate of nursing staff injuries and what hospitals do about it is an ongoing issue. Federal studies have documented how other occupations, such as auto factory workers, have limits as to how much can be lifted. For nursing employees, lifting is part of their everyday duties, with virtually no protections in place.

The law firm of Louis P. Lombardi II & Associates has decades of experience with workers' compensation and personal injury cases. Our Montgomery and Bucks County attorneys are available for free consultations. Contact us today at (888)818-4343 or (610)239-7600.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bankruptcy Judge Shielded Workers Compensation Settlement

Can workers compensation settlement and Medicare set-aside account funds be used for expenses other than medical treatment?

A worker broke his hip and settled the workers compensation claim related to the injury for $225,000 in workers compensation benefits and $72,742 placed into a Medicare set-aside account for future medical treatment. The worker used those funds to purchase real estate in York, Pennsylvania, and a new truck

About two years after the purchases, when filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilkes-Barre, the worker asked for the properties, truck and remaining funds from the workers compensation settlement to be exempted from the proceedings. Despite objections by the trustee in the bankruptcy case, the judge exempted everything as requested by the worker.

The judge found that the settlement funds were reasonably necessary to support the worker’s family. The worker was unemployed, his wife had a low-earning job, and two of their three children were under 18. While the worker was receiving some income from his brother, the judge found it to be modest.

One of the worker’s real estate purchases was a parcel of property that the worker sold to his brother under an installment payment agreement. The worker did not disclose that agreement to the bankruptcy court. Still, the judge determined that the income had only a negligible impact on the worker’s bankruptcy case and did not have to be included as an asset.

The Medicare set-aside fund was not included in the bankruptcy proceedings because it was intended for medical expenses, although the worker did not use it for that purpose.

The attorneys at Louis P. Lombardi II & Associates are experienced in handling all types of workers’ compensation claims. We service the areas of Philadelphia and Montgomery and Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Contact us at (610)239-7600 for a consultation today.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Pennsylvania State Liquor Store Manager Awarded Workers Compensation Benefits the Second Time Around

What can you do if your workers’ compensation claim is denied?

Many Americans are injured on the job everyday.  That is why most employers are required to carry some form of workers’ compensation insurance.  Sometimes, a worker is injured in an unusual way and when he or she makes a claim for benefits it may be denied due to the uncommon circumstance.  When this happens, the worker often has the right to appeal.  This is exactly the situation in a recent Pennsylvania workers’ compensation case. 

In 2008, Gregory Kochanowicz was working as a manager at a Pennsylvania state liquor store in Morrisville.  During his shift, a robber entered the store wielding a gun and demanded that Kochanowicz hand over the money in the store safe.  The robber held a gun to Kochanowicz’s head throughout most of the ordeal and also duct taped him and a co-worker to chairs.

While, Kochanowicz remained physically unharmed, he claims to have been seriously disturbed by the incident. Kochanowicz claims that he was unable to go back to work after the ordeal and to have suffered severe emotional distress.  As such, Kochanowicz filed a workers compensation claim with his employer the Pennsylvania Liquor Control.  The agency disputed the claim and the Commonwealth Court denied Kochanowicz’s plea for benefits. Kochanowicz appealed the denial to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and this court sent the case back down to the Commonwealth Court for further review.  At this point, the Commonwealth Court decided that benefits were warranted and found in favor of Kochanowicz.  The court noted in its opinion that because the circumstances leading to Kochanowicz’s injuries were not considered normal working conditions that he should be entitled to benefits.  

If you were injured at work, even in an unusual way, do not be discouraged from pursuing a workers’ compensation claim.  The attorneys at Louis P. Lombardi II & Associates are experienced in representing clients in a variety of circumstances and may be able to help you.  The firm represents clients in and around the areas of Montgomery and Bucks County, Pennsylvania and can be reached at (610)239-7600 or (888)818-4343.  Contact us for a consultation today.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dog Bite on Break Leads to Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Can you receive workers’ compensation benefits if you were injured while on a break?

In Pennsylvania, an employee may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if he or she was injured during the course and scope of his or her employment.  While during the course and scope of employment is a phrase that implies that the person must be injured while working, this is not the case.  This phrase has come to encompass a variety of situations as evidenced by a recent Pennsylvania case.

Sean Sovens worked full time for a manufacturing company and part time as a cook at the 1912 Hoover House Restaurant.  In the spring of 2010, while working his one night a week at the restaurant, he went out for a smoke break.  At the same time, his co-worker’s father stopped by, bringing with him the co-worker’s dog.  Sovens pet the dog and the dog attacked him, biting him on the face and causing lacerations.  This incident resulted in Sovens missing 6 days of work.  

Sovens filed a workers’ compensation claim in April of the same year and the restaurant argued that he should be denied benefits because the dog bite did not occur within the course and scope of his employment.  The judge did not agree with the restaurant and instead awarded Sovens’ benefits, assessing his salary to be over $900 a week, which included the wages from his full time job.  

The restaurant appealed the award of benefits and the salary assessment.  While the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board found that the salary was calculated incorrectly, they also found that Sovens was entitled to benefits nonetheless.  The decision was appealed further and subsequently upheld by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. This high court found that breaks for leisure that do not interfere with work are considered to be within the course and scope of employment.  They also found that the petting of the dog in Sovens case did not cause him to fall outside of the course or scope.  In addition, the court held that the fact that he was injured while smoking in an area provided by the restaurant was further evidence that the incident occurred while he was on the job.

The attorneys at Louis P. Lombardi II & Associates are experienced in handling all types of workers’ compensation claims.  We service the areas of Philadelphia, Montgomery and Bucks County, Pennsylvania and can be reached at (610)239-7600. Contact us for a consultation today.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Worker injured in Smethport plant explosion

An International Wax plant in Smethport, Pa reportedly exploded on Monday, leaving a worker injured. Following the explosion, the employee was reportedly treated for injuries at a local hospital and then released.  Whenever a workplace explosion occurs, authorities must conduct a thorough investigation.  

The explosion was so large that it significantly damaged a filter house, destroyed another building, and moderately damaged five other buildings.  It is remarkable that only one employee out of the roughly 130 that work at the plant was injured. In this case, the explosion investigation evidence suggested that it was simply an accident.

Read more . . .

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