As the Olympics draws to a close, it is appropriate to compare the drug-testing done for Olympic athletes versus those done to Texas Workers.

Many states, including Texas, have a provision that creates a rebuttable presumption of intoxication when someone tests positive for drugs or alcohol.

However, a new use of drug testing is gaining in prominence in Texas Workers Compensation law that is an abuse of the workers’ compensation system.

Continue Reading Abuse of Drug Testing by Carrier Doctors

Each day, Texas residents drive to and from work, expecting to arrive safely. On many occasions, employers may provide either (1) company-owned transportation or (2) financial reimbursement for travel expenses using a private vehicle. Both situations would be in furtherance of the responsibilities of the job and are directly connected with the performance of the employment. 

But what happens when the commute goes wrong and there’s an accident? If you become injured, who will pay for your injuries and damages? Does your employer carry workers compensation insurance? If they do carry it, are you entitled to receive benefits from your employer’s workers compensation insurance carrier?

The answers to these questions are complex and fact intensive. Not all cases are the same and not all injuries are the same. An attorney who specializes in workers compensation law will be able to assist you at every step of your workers compensation case. 

The law in Texas under the Workers Compensation Act provides for employee compensation when injuries arise out of and in the course and scope of employment for which compensation is payable. For an injury to arise in the course and scope of employment it must: (1) relate to or originate in, and (2) occur in the furtherance of, the employer’s business. Travel to and from work generally does not meet this test, unless the employee’s travel was pursuant to express or implied conditions of his employment. The claimant has the burden to prove that he was injured in the course and scope of his employment. (TWCC APD No. 931006) Whether an injury occurred in the course and scope of employment is a fact question that must be determined by the hearing officer. (TWCC APD No. 971607)

A recent Texas case helped clarify these legal issues. In SeaBright Inc. Co. v. Lopez, an employee was assigned to work at a remote job site. The employer provided a company vehicle but did not pay for the employee’s travel time to and from the job site. One morning, the employee was killed while driving to work with two other employees. The decedent’s wife sought benefits from the employer’s workers compensation carrier, but the insurance carrier denied the claim for benefits because the insurance carrier believed the employee was not on the job (a.k.a., the course and scope of employment) at the time of the accident.

The court concluded that the employer’s business called for employing specialized, non-local work crews in constantly changing, remote locations on temporary assignments. It required employees to obtain temporary housing and travel from that temporary housing to that temporary, remote location. Based on these facts, the court held that the plaintiff had conclusively established that her husband was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident and was entitled to benefits.

As mentioned above, not all cases are the same. But with the help from an attorney that is board certified in Texas workers compensation law, you will receive skilled and knowledgable representation. 

 

 

Two things happened this week to raise the consciousness of the public towards the inadequacies of workers compensation. First was a major piece of reporting by Pro Publica and NPR that conducted an exhaustive examination of workers compensation benefits, state by state. You can find the articles here:

www.propublica.org/article/photos-living-through-california-workers-comp-cuts

www.propublica.org/article/the-demolition-of-workers-compensation

The reporters chief findings:

  • Since 2003, legislators in 33 states have passed workers’ comp laws that reduce benefits or make it more difficult for those with certain injuries and diseases to qualify for them.
  • Where a worker gets hurt matters. Because each state has developed its own system, an amputated arm can literally be worth two or three times as much on one side of a state line than the other.
  • Many states, Texas among them, have not only shrunk the payments to injured workers, they’ve also cut them off after an arbitrary time limit — even if workers haven’t recovered.
  • Employers and insurers increasingly control medical decisions, such as whether an injured worker needs surgery.

As a workers compensation attorney who has been practicing since before 2003, I can attest that changes made to Texas’ system that occurred after 2003 were the second such effort to reduce workers compensation benefits and make them more difficult to obtain.

Even though other states made changes to their workers’ compensation schemes in part due to the success Texas has had reducing benefits, most of those states still did not take the more extreme path of reducing benefits to injured workers to the levels that Texas has done. This graphic is illustrative:

 

Texas Benefits Compared to Other States

Those of us representing injured workers have complained for a long time that there is a race to the bottom amongst the states in what is being paid to injured workers. That race is on the verge of breaking the system. The only question is will Republicans in safely gerrymandered districts have the courage to fix the system before it breaks?

The second thing to raise some consciousness was a report put out by OSHA which can be found here:

www.dol.gov/osha/report/20150304-inequality.pdf

That report states another aspect of workers compensation law that has long been complained about by those of us who represent injured workers:

“The costs of workplace injuries are borne primarily by injured workers, their families, and taxpayer-supported components of the social safety net. Changes in statebased workers’ compensation insurance programs have made it increasingly difficult for injured workers to receive the full benefits (including adequate wagereplacement payments and coverage for medical expenses) to which they are entitled. Employers now provide only a small percentage (about 20%) of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries and illnesses through workers’ compensation. This cost-shift has forced injured workers, their families and taxpayers to subsidize the vast majority of the lost income and medical care costs generated by these conditions.”

That is, the public, not the workers’ compensation insurer and not the business that purchases the insurance, bears the primary burden for the costs of injured workers. This occurs through the cost-shifting of workers onto other forms of payment.

I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have heard adjusters state that a workers isn’t being disenfranchised because the worker can just apply for social security disability. Likewise, we frequently have problems on cases with doctors advising injured workers to just put their injury on medicaid so that the doctor can avoid all the pre-authorization hassles that comes with workers compensation.

One problem is the race to the bottom that impacts all injured workers. The public’s attitude is “As long as it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care. Out of sight, out of mind.” But this report confirms that it does affect the public. When the system finally breaks, remember that.

When injured on the job be sure and follow these steps:

  1.  Immediately report the injury to your supervisor. Make sure that the injury is properly logged or recorded by your supervisor.
  2. Request medical attention for your injury and take note of the names of the doctors who are treating you. Remember, you are not required to see a company doctor.
  3. Make sure to get contact information from any witnesses. If possible, use your phone to take photographs of the accident site. Take photographs of your injuries as well, both before and after treatment.
  4. Do not sign anything, or give any recorded statements, until you have spoken with an experienced workers compensation lawyer. You may be signing away your rights without even knowing it.
  5. If you are injured, stop working until released to work by your doctor. Additional labor could severely aggravate your injury. If your doctor releases you to light duty, you do not have to return to work unless your employer agrees in writing to abide by your doctor’s restrictions.
  6. Contact an experienced workers compensation attorney as soon as possible after your injury.