The Bayou State: A Not-So-Great Place To Work

According to one metric, which we posted about earlier, Louisiana workplaces are among the safest ones in the country. But according to another survey, the Bayou State is almost literally a deathtrap for workplace injuries.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported that only Arkansas has a higher workplace death rate than Louisiana’s 6.8 incidents per 100,000 workers. In general, most all states in the Southeast have job injury death rates that well exceed the national average, which is 3.8 per 100,000. Motor vehicle crashes and other transportation incidents are the leading cause of workplace death in Louisiana and elsewhere, followed by contact with equipment or objects, workplace violence, falls, and exposure to hazardous substances.

Study authors suggested that more research go into the causes of, and solutions for, fatal workplace injuries.

Compensation for Fatal Workplace Injuries

No amount of money can begin to compensate for the loss of a loved one, but the money available through the workers’ compensation system at least provides a little extra economic security. Since that is one of the biggest reasons the departed loved one went to work every day, that added security is a good way to honor the decedent’s memory.

There are two types of fatal workplace injuries: persons who die almost immediately because of their injuries, and persons who are seriously injured and succumb to their work-related injury or illness within two years. In both these instances, surviving spouses and children typically receive a weekly stipend based on the decedent’s contributions during the past twelve months; if there are no surviving spouses or dependents, each surviving parent usually receives a $75,000 lump sum payment. In all these cases, workers’ compensation also pays all funeral and burial expenses up to $8,500.

Workers’ Compensation System

When these laws first appeared about a hundred years ago, injured workers rather quickly received substantial compensation for their economic losses, thus offsetting the fact that they could not sue for noneconomic damages, because of the “exclusive remedy” doctrine. But over the years, benefits incrementally went down and the time required to process workplace injury claims incrementally went up.

As a result, some victims are challenging workers’ compensation systems. The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled that a key attorneys’ fee provision was unconstitutional, because it effectively denied victims competent representation in these matters.

Such reform movements have not yet come to Louisiana, because on balance, benefits are sufficient to get workplace injury victims healed and back to work in a reasonable amount of time. But as the Florida case illustrates, only an aggressive attorney gives victims a fair chance when they go up against large insurance companies, whether it is in a negligence trial or at a workers’ compensation hearing.

Employers must pay compensation when their workers are injured or killed on the job. For a free consultation with Lee Hoffoss or another experienced personal injury attorney in Lake Charles, contact Hoffoss Devall. After hours appointments are available.

Reckless Injuries To Sewer Workers

Federal authorities ordered Don M. Barron Contractor to pay over $152,000 in fines after investigators determined that bosses sent workers into a potentially dangerous work injury situation; two of them fell seriously ill after they inhaled toxic fumes.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued seven safety citations: six for serious violations and one for a willful violation. Investigators concluded that the company sent sewer workers into a confined space without first testing the atmosphere. Two employees completely lost consciousness and were rushed to nearby hospitals. “This employer must take responsibility for making sure these types of injuries and the potential for loss of life do not happen again,” declared OSHA area director Dorinda Folse. [Read more…]

The Bayou State: A Great Place To Work

The workplace accident rate in Louisiana dropped to its lowest rate in fourteen years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Only the District of Columbia had a lower workplace accident rate than Louisiana’s 1.9 per 100 full-time workers. That figure is almost half the national average, and Louisiana has been below the national average since recordkeeping began. Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Executive Director Ava Dejoie remarked that the encouraging numbers are but another step in the ongoing effort “to continually improve safety until we reach zero incidents.” In terms of specific sectors, workplace accidents declined almost all across the board, including real estate (0.9 decrease), retail trade (0.6), professional services (0.5), and management (0.4). [Read more…]

Feds Assign Blame In 2013 Plant Explosion

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) ruled that workplace safety deficiencies at the Williams Olefins Plant in Geismar, Louisiana caused an explosion that killed two workers.

Specifically, according to the CSB, in the dozen years prior to the incident, management neglected issues with a over-pressure reboiler, which ultimately ruptured. The facility normally employs about 110 people, but roughly 800 people were onsite at that time, as contractors worked to expand the petrochemical plant. At the time, the reboiler was offline and not hooked up to its pressure-relief device, so the heat build-up lead to a BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion) and subsequent fire. Most of the 169 casualties (two dead and 167 seriously injured) were contractors.

In announcing the findings, CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said that “The tragic accident at Williams was preventable and therefore unacceptable. This report provides important safety lessons that we urge other companies to review and incorporate within their own facilities.” [Read more…]

Sooner State Stands Up For Injured Workers

Neighboring Texas is the only remaining state that allows employer to opt out of the workers’ compensation system after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that such a system upset the so-called Grand Bargain.

Three years ago, large retailers and other large employers convinced Oklahoma lawmakers to pass a law that allowed them to self-insure against workplace injuries; after a successful push in the Sooner State, advocates introduced similar bills in Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and several other states as part of a nationwide push to effectively dismantle the workers’ compensation system. But the tables started to turn when a national media outlet published a study that opt-out plans meant substantially lower benefits for injured workers. Next, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a rather arcane attorneys’ fee structure was unconstitutional, and the move is expected to give injured workers more options. Earlier this year, Oklahoma’s highest court struck down a provision that sharply curtailed benefits for permanently disabled workers. [Read more…]

I Wish I Could Hear You…

22 million American workers suffer partial or total permanent hearing loss on the job each year, making this condition the most common workplace injury claim.

The number of claims – which come largely from construction, manufacturing, and mining operations – cost an estimated $242 million per year, according to the Department of Labor. In response, the government has launched an aggressive educational campaign designed to help employers know about available noise-reduction technologies. However, critics say that poor regulation, and not technological underutilization, is to blame. They want the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to update its maximum noise-exposure workplace injury rules to more accurately reflect current conditions and also account for exposure to non-work noise that adds to the cumulative exposure risk. OSHA says that it is considering such actions. [Read more…]

Could A Few Extra Pounds Cost A Few Extra Dollars?

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin believe they found a direct link between employee obesity and workers’ compensation costs.

The researchers examined 2,300 Louisiana cases to form their conclusion. They found that 75 percent of workers’ compensation claimants were either overweight (a Body Mass Index of at least 25) or obese (a BMI of 30 or more); most of the claimed injuries were torn tendons and broken bones. The study also looked at costs for major injuries, and found that the major-injury costs for non-overweight/obese workers ($180,000 per incident) were significantly lower than similar costs for overweight ($270,000) and obese ($470,000) workers.

The study found no correlation between weight and less severe injuries, or weight and recovery time. [Read more…]

More Details Emerge In Fatal Bus Crash

The events leading up to a serious bus crash that killed two people and injured dozens are coming into sharper focus, and as a result, some victims are turning to workers’ compensation to obtain money that will help them recover from their injuries.

Several St. John’s Parish Fire Services Operations officers were injured, and 37-year-old Firefighter Spencer Chauvin was killed, when a runaway bus collided with a disabled vehicle. That bus was filled with flood relief workers, and about a half dozen of them plan to file workers’ compensation claims as well.

Although the employer’s identity is clear as far as the firefighters are concerned, investigators are still working on identifying the relief workers’ employer. Apparently, these individuals may or may not have been in the country legally. It seems that Wallace Rush Schmidt Inc. recruited local day laborers to work for Servpro and perform flood restoration work. Kristina’s Transportation owned the bus, but it is unclear what professional relationship, if any, the company had with the bus driver.

That driver was an undocumented immigrant from Honduras who had no commercial drivers’ license. Denis Amaya Rodriguez had evidently been involved in bus crashes before, and some state lawmakers are asking questions about the entire affair.

Workers’ Compensation

About a hundred years ago, labor groups negotiated with management representatives to devise a plan to address the rising number of workplace injuries brought on by the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Essentially, workers agreed to trade time for money. They gave up their right to sue in negligence court and obtain compensation for noneconomic damages, like pain and suffering, in exchange for a no-fault insurance system that compensates injured victims for their economic losses, like medical bills.

In many jurisdictions, the so-called “Grand Bargain” is no longer an even exchange, because workers’ compensation benefits have been reduced so dramatically in recent years. As a matter of fact, workers in several states – including Florida and Oklahoma – have challenged the system in court, claiming that it is no longer a legitimate alternative to a tort system.

However, that is not the case in Louisiana, where benefits are usually a bit more generous. For example, the average workers’ compensation payment for medical bills in the Bayou State is 430 percent higher than the comparable Medicare rate. However, victims must act fast to claim their share of benefits, because there are very strict time deadlines in these cases and administrative law judges almost never grant extensions or mulligans.

Benefits exist to help those injured on the job get back to work and back to life. For a free consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in Lake Charles, contact Hoffoss Devall. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.

Industrial Accident Triggers Investigation And Fine At Plant

The Department of Labor found fifteen serious violations at a Center, Texas Tyson Foods plant, and fined the company $263,000.

Investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration toured the poultry plant earlier this year, after OSHA received reports that a worker’s finger was amputated following an industrial accident. The worker tried to clear a belt jam by removing chicken parts, and doctors had to amputate a severely cut finger. Investigators ultimately cited the Arkansas-based company for a number of life-threatening violations, including improper safeguards on moving parts, dangerously high carbon dioxide levels, insufficient worker safety precautions, and improper compressed natural gas storage. Some violations were repeat violations, as this Tyson plant was also inspected and fined in 2012. [Read more…]

Third Party Liability on the Jobsite

While the workers compensation program in Louisiana is designed to help compensate injured workers, it can sometimes fall short of actually covering expenses incurred after an accident. If a third party caused or contributed to a workplace accident, affected workers can seek compensation under the legal theory of third party liability.

What Is Third Party Liability?

Oftentimes on a jobsite, other companies are subcontracted to work on the site that are not employees of the owner or operator of the business premises. If these entities, third parties to an employee, are negligent or reckless and cause the employee to get injured, he or she may be able to hold the third party liable for their injuries.

How Does Third Party Liability Differ?

Unlike workers compensation, those claiming third party liability can seek compensation for pain and suffering and lost wages. If the worker is killed by the third party’s negligence, the widow/widower and/or other dependents can seek loss of companionship and loss of financial support. Additionally, punitive damages can also be sought for a third party’s gross negligence.

Third party liability also differs from workers compensation in that workers compensation is a no fault system, meaning you do not have to prove liability to receive workers compensation. That workers comp coverage is limited by law and often insubstantial. However, third party liability must be proven to receive compensation and there are far less legal restrictions on the amount of financial damages that can be recovered.

Where Do Third Party Liability Accidents Occur Most?

Construction industry workers have the ability to file lawsuits for third party liability more than in any other industry. Because construction requires dozens of specialized workers like electricians, carpenters, and HVAC technicians, among others, on the jobsite the potential for third party negligence is much higher.

While some jobsites come with more inherent dangers than others, all workers have a right to safe workplace, and when a negligent party compromises the safety of a jobsite and causes an accident, they need to be held responsible.

Lake Charles Third Party Liability Attorneys

The experienced third party liability attorneys at Hoffoss Devall know how devastating a work injury can be, and are willing to work with you to seek complete compensation for your injuries. Call us today for a free consultation to discuss your case and your legal options.