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Workers' Compensation Blog

Workers’ Compensation Claims Process - How long does it take to get a hearing and what is a “consideration date?

Friday, July 14, 2017

One of the most common questions I receive from clients concerns how long it takes to get a hearing before the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission. As with any court or judicial body, the Commission sets its own schedule and the claimants and attorneys appearing before it are subject to that schedule. Generally speaking, however, it is a safe assumption that your hearing will be scheduled within three to four months from the date you file your claim or request a hearing. This can vary based on your hearing venue. For example, hearings are scheduled much quicker in Baltimore or Beltsville (the hearing sites with a higher volume and where hearings are held more frequently), than in La Vale or Cambridge (where hearings are held less frequently based on a lesser volume).

What is the “Consideration Date?”

The claim process begins when you file an “Employee Claim Form” with the Commission. This document asks you basic demographic and injury-specific questions. Once this is submitted, the Commission will send a Notice of Claim to your employer and your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier, referred to as the insurer. On the bottom-right of this Notice of Claim, you will find a “Consideration Date,” which is typically about a month from the date your original Employee Claim Form was filed. Your employer and insurer have until this date to either accept or contest your claim. If they contest the claim, they will file Contesting Issues with the Commission and you will have to wait for a hearing to present the evidence of your work-related injury or illness. You cannot request a hearing on your own behalf until after the “consideration date,” has passed. That’s why it is so important to file your claim as soon as possible.

My Employer and Insurer filed Contesting Issues; what next?

When your employer and insurer file Contesting Issues, they are, in effect, opposing the claim until the Commission can hold a hearing to determine the validity of your claim. As stated above, this will typically be scheduled anywhere between three to four months from the date your claim is initially filed. At this first hearing, you will be called upon to testify and present evidence of your work-related injury or illness, including medical records supporting your claim. After the hearing, the Commissioner will decide whether or not your injury or illness is covered by the workers’ compensation laws of Maryland. However, up until that time, you will not be able to recover any workers’ compensation benefits such as temporary total disability. You may or may not receive medical coverage. For this reason, it is all the more urgent that you consult with an attorney to determine your options and to prepare for this hearing.

How can my hearing be scheduled on an emergency basis?

In some circumstances, you can request the Commission to schedule your hearing sooner based on an “emergency” situation. For example, if you are unable to work on account of your injury or illness and have received collection notices on past-due bills or if you require emergency medical treatment, then the Commission may schedule your hearing sooner, within a matter of weeks rather than months. However, you must submit documents to support the urgency and these requests are not always granted.

If you have any questions or require assistance with your work-related injury or illness, please do not hesitate, contact Matthew Engler, Esq. today at 301-740-3322 or mengler@bsgfdlaw.com.

I injured myself at work – why did my employer’s insurance deny my claim?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Simply getting injured at work doesn’t guarantee you any benefits or rights under the law, unless you file an accepted claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission. Many injured workers only file paperwork with their employer or employer’s insurance company without ever realizing that this is NOT the same thing as a workers’ compensation claim. When you proceed in this manner, it is a private transaction between you and your employer’s insurance. Unfortunately, in countless instances, the insurance company will deny medical coverage and disability payments leaving the injured worker on their own without any help and without any options.

Secure Your Rights and Benefits

However, when you file a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission, not only do you secure all the rights and benefits guaranteed under the law , but you also secure the right to present your case to a Commissioner who has the authority to order your employer’s insurance to pay for treatment and disability payments, even when they initially denied it. The Workers’ Compensation Commission was established specifically to litigate injured worker claims and to ensure compliance with the workers’ compensation laws of Maryland. Nevertheless, you MUST first file a claim with the Commission in order to secure jurisdiction for your work-injury.

Get Help...Contact Matt

If you have any questions regarding your status under the law, please contact Attorney Matthew Engler for a free consultation.

Police Officers and Duty Belts – How Back Injuries Can Be Prevented

Friday, September 23, 2016

Think of all the dangers police officers face. They are punched, shot at, struck by cars during traffic stops, injured while restraining combative suspects, and in collisions while in a vehicle pursuit. These are just a few of the perils they encounter. Often though, the injuries which occur while police officers are in the daily grind of the job are the most common.

One of the main culprits of low back and hip injuries is the duty belt. Low back and hip injuries/conditions caused by wearing a duty belt are some of the most underreported types of injuries suffered by police officers. Police are required to carry the following items on their duty belt: radio, gun with a gun light, two extra magazines, two pairs of handcuffs, pepper spray, baton, small flashlight, large light, glove case, tourniquet kit and a Taser. All told, a police officer could be carrying anywhere between 20 and 24 pounds on their duty belt. All that weight pushing right down on their low back and hips during an entire work shift causes long term affects.

Imagine this for a minute. You get up in the morning and put your clothes on for work. Maybe you wear a suit, maybe you have a uniform, but you probably do not have 22 pounds hanging from your belt. So instead of your normal leather belt, it is instead filled with 22 pounds of weight. Or maybe you hang a bag of potatoes from your belt? Or 2 large bowling balls? Or maybe 5 reams of paper? And imagine if that was part of your daily ‘uniform’. You wear it driving to work, walking to get your morning coffee and sitting at your desk. Common sense tells us that our back would be sore at the end of the day. We have all had sore backs from carrying mulch, shoveling snow, carrying our kids or grandkids for long stretches, and moving friends and families.

Police officers have to wear 22 pounds or more around their waist during every hour of every shift. They wear them sitting in the patrol car, pursuing suspects, on foot patrol, during roll call, filling out reports, sitting in court for hours at a time waiting for a case to be called and eating lunch/dinner/breakfast. All day, every day, 22 pounds or more of downward pressure on your hips and lumbar spine. Not to mention the discomfort of sitting in a patrol car with a seat belt and the bolsters on both sides of the seats producing pressure on the belt pushing it up into the back.

But there are some techniques police departments and police officers can utilize to lessen the discomfort and delay the onset of injuries. For departments, the number one way to prevent or lessen back injuries from duty belts is to just do away with them all together. Switching to tactical vests or harnesses can do more to prevent back injuries than anything else. Unfortunately, few patrol officers are issued tactical vests. It is common sense that wearing a backpack is a heck of a lot more comfortable than wearing a fanny pack. Also, departments can provide nylon belts instead of leather belts. Nylon belts are lighter and more flexible than leather belts. But these cost money, and in an era of shrinking municipal budgets, they are unfortunately an unlikely fix.

Sadly, it is up to police to protect themselves. When seated in a patrol car, change posture often, take breaks when possible, stand up and walk around, alter the driver’s seat with a lumbar pillow to provide more support. When on foot patrol, take the opportunity to stretch. If, however, a police officer is experiencing back pain, it is unlikely to get better by ignoring the problem. Back and hip injuries caused by wearing duty belts are consistently underreported.

When these back and hip injuries do happen, it’s vital that police report these injuries to supervisors and seek medical attention. The wrong response is to ignore it and hope it gets better. Finally once the injury has been reported and documented by a doctor, police must file a workers’ compensation claim to ensure their medical rights are protected for the rest of their lives.

Our police, who risk their lives every day to protect our communities and our families, should be provided every piece of equipment to make their increasingly difficult and dangerous jobs safer. After all, many of these brave men and women are going home to their own families, and should not have to be living in constant back pain because local governments are not prioritizing the health and safety of our first responders.

Please contact Jason Shultz at 410-769-5400 or jshultz@bsgfdlaw.com to protect your medical rights.

Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby Team Secure Significant Benefits for Local Firefighter

Friday, September 23, 2016

Ken Berman and Berman, Sobin, Gross Feldman & Darby, LLP were able to secure benefits from three different insurance carriers for a single injury to a fire fighter who was involved in a devastating collision between a tractor trailer and a fire engine. While the law is clear that a Claimant cannot receive compensation twice for the same injury, Ken used his many years of experience and knowledge in handling both workers’ compensation claims and negligence claims for fire fighters to maximize the injured fire fighter’s recovery. The team at BSGF&D explored several complicated recovery scenarios to reduce the workers’ compensation lien and increase benefits from motor vehicle and other insurance.

Helping to Protect Injured Fire Fighters

The injury occurred when several Fire Fighters were in the process of returning to the station when they were suddenly struck by a tractor trailer causing the fire truck to overturn. As a result, the fire fighter’s arm was amputated and surgery was required to reattach it.

Medical Treatment, Benefits, and More

Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby, LLP ensured that the Claimant’s medical treatment was entirely paid for through workers’ compensation and that the fire fighter continued to receive weekly benefits. Ken successfully argued that the Claimant’s fringe benefits (housing at the fire station, clothing allowance through his full time employer, etc.) were included in determining the Claimant’s average weekly wage thereby increasing his weekly compensation benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Commission agreed and allotted the fire fighter higher weekly payments.

Going The Extra Mile for Injured Fire Fighters

After securing the maximum amount of workers’ compensation benefits, Ken went after the Defendant tractor trailer’s driver policy of insurance. Although there were eight other parties making a claim on the defendant/tractor trailer’s insurance, Mr. Berman was not satisfied to simply accept his client’s pro rata share of that policy. Extensive investigation revealed that the fire truck in the Claimant was riding carried an additional “underinsured motorist” policy which provided additional benefits to the injured Claimant. By structuring the recovery from the Defendant tractor trailer tortfeasor, and coordinating the recovery from the underinsured motorist carrier of the fire truck, Ken was able to maximize the recovery to the injured worker from 3 separate sources.

Workers' Compensation Case Experience Matters

After all of the above, Ken and the injured fire fighter then returned to the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission to obtain additional permanency benefits. The Claimant was paid at the highest rate allowable under the law and he will continue to receive benefits for years to come, as well as having full coverage for any future medical needs or treatment.

Experience matters. Ken Berman and Berman, Sobin, Gross, Feldman & Darby, LLP’s extensive knowledge of not only workers’ compensation law but also the complicated subrogation and insurance laws applying to workers’ compensation and motor vehicle accidents, made those laws work for the injured worker, thereby insuring the Claimant the maximum recovery, coverage, and protection.

Key Differences in the Vocational Rehabilitation Process in Maryland and the District of Columbia

Friday, September 23, 2016

VOCATIONAL BENEFITS

The Workers’ Compensation Statutes in both the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia offer a benefit to injured workers called Vocational Rehabilitation, often called “Voc Rehab” for short. Vocational Rehabilitation arises in a workers’ compensation case when the injured worker’s medical treatment is complete, or near complete, and he/she is given restrictions from his/her doctor that prevent him/her from physically performing the work he/she was able to perform before the accidental work injury. During the Voc Rehab process, the injured worker receives assistance from a licensed vocational expert so that they can, together, strive towards getting the injured worker back to full-time work with another employer and within the injured workers’ permanent physical limitations. The injured worker receives pay from the workers’ compensation insurance company while he/she is applying for jobs, taking classes, or going through retraining.

One scenario in which an injured worker would be able to receive Voc Rehab benefits would be, for example, if the injured worker was employed as a security officer at the time of the work injury, and had work requirements of standing for 6 hours a day, and lifting up to 50lbs. Yet, because of his permanent back and right ankle work injuries he is now only able to stand for only 2 hours a day, and lift up to 20lbs. The injured worker in that example would be entitled to receive Voc Rehab benefits in both the District and in Maryland. By contrast, if that same security officer was released to full-duty work, and had no permanent limitations on his ability to lift or stand, then he would not be entitled to Vocational Rehabilitation and would be expected to return back to his pre-injury work, even if it was now physically harder to do that job and his work activities caused him some physical discomfort.

Often times, the permanent work limitations are given by the treating physician at the time the injured worker is being discharged from his doctor’s care. There is a test called a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) that offers a more detailed analysis as to what the injured worker can and cannot do. The FCE usually takes place at a physical therapy facility, although not all physical therapy facilities perform FCE’s. The FCE typically lasts approximately 4 hours. Upon completion of the FCE, the FCE facility will issue a detailed report stating how much the injured worker can lift, push, pull, and carry, and for how long he can sit, stand, walk, and run. If the FCE evaluator feels the injured worker has permanent work restrictions that keep him or her from returning back to the job they had at the time of the work injury, then vocational rehabilitation will begin.

COMPARING MARYLAND AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

There are several key differences in the Voc Rehab process in Maryland and the District of Columbia. For example, in Maryland the Workers’ Compensation Regulations state that the Parties to the Claim may agree on the Vocational Counselor that will be assisting the injured worker with getting back to full-time work within his/her permanent work restrictions. If no agreement is reached, the Commission will pick the Vocational Counselor from a list. In the District of Columbia, however, there is no such provision, and the vocational counselor is typically selected only by the workers’ compensation insurance company, or their attorney. Therefore, from the onset of the Voc Rehab process, injured workers in DC are at a disadvantage. The manner in which the injured worker is scrutinized in Maryland versus the District during the Voc Rehab process is vastly different. In Maryland, Voc Rehab is offered to injured workers typically at three-month increments. If the injured worker in Maryland is “compliant” during those first three months, the Vocational process will be extended for another three months, and another three months, until the Maryland workers’ compensation insurance carrier no longer wishes to offer Voc Rehab to the injured worker, or finds a reason to deem the injured worker as being “non-compliant” with the Voc Rehab process. One example of how noncompliance is alleged is by stating that the injured worker was not applying to enough jobs each week, or was showing up late to their weekly meetings with the Voc Rehab counselor. In the District of Columbia, however, vocational rehabilitation can go on for years without ever having to request or wait for an extension of time from the workers compensation insurance adjuster.

And so, while in Maryland the vocational process is evaluated on a monthly basis by the insurance adjuster, in the District of Columbia, injured workers who are receiving Voc Rehab benefits are often left to their own devices. The Rehab counselors typically do not write detailed monthly reports commenting on everything that was done and not by the injured worker, and so the injured workers’ level of participation during Voc Rehab in DC is not able to be scrutinized or judged as it is in Maryland. However, the same goes for the level of participation of the Voc Rehab counselor. If the counselor is not required to write monthly reports in the District as they are in Maryland, the counselor’s own level of involvement is not recorded. For example, were classes or re-training discussed and offered officially? If so, when? Was the counselor late to meetings as well? These details control the Voc Rehab process in Maryland, and determine the extent to which Voc Rehab will take place, and how much Vocational benefits are offered to the injured worker, whereas in the District of Columbia, those details are often lacking.

In sum, there are benefits and detriments to each jurisdiction’s workers’ compensation laws. There is no perfect system. The best thing for the injured worker to do is to follow the laws and procedures of the jurisdiction in which their injury took place, and to do so with the assistance of an attorney they trust. If additional information is needed as to the Vocational Rehabilitation process, I can be reached at: LPisano@bsgfdlaw.com, or on my direct work line of: 301-740-3304.

Facts About Injuries for Fire Fighters and First Responders

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fire fighters get injured at work more than the general population. If that seems logical to those who perform the job, now there are official numbers to back it up. In 2014 there were 63,350 fire fighter injuries which occurred in the line of duty, a decrease of 3.8% from 2013 when there were nearly 65,880 line of duty fire fighter injuries. While this number, thankfully, is the fewest since 1981, and 2013 represented a 5% drop from the number of injuries to fire fighters in 2012, it is still much higher, proportionately, than for any other occupation. This is especially worrisome when one considers that the number of fires has decreased by 57.1% since 1981.

1 Injury Occurs Every 8 Minutes

Thus, while the number of total injuries for fire fighters has gone down slightly over the last two decades, the number of fires since 1981 has decreased at a much greater rate. The number of injuries remain much higher for first responders than anyone else. It amounts to one fire fighter injury occurring every 8 minutes. In fact, according to the Harvard School of Medicine, putting out a fire has a 100 times higher risk of death than working in a non-emergency situation. Although many people assume that burns and smoke inhalation are the cause of most fire fighter fatalities; heart disease (coronary artery disease) is actually the single most frequent cause of duty-related deaths.

WHERE the Injuries Occur

A look behind the numbers nationwide in 2014 show that forty three percent (43%) of fire fighter injuries occur at or on the fire grounds, while seventeen percent (17%) occur during other on-duty activities. Six percent (6%) arise from responding to or returning from an incident, while eleven percent (11%) happened during training activities. Finally, twenty three percent (23%) occurred at non-fire emergency incidents. The highest rate of injuries (per 100 fire fighters) were, perhaps not surprisingly, among departments that protected populations of one million citizens or more and the fewest were to fire fighters that protected populations of fewer than 25,000.

Exposure To More Than Burns and Scars

In addition to injuries, NFPA estimates that in 2013 (the last calendar year for which reportable numbers exist) there were 7,100 exposures nationwide to infectious disease (such as hepatitis, meningitis, HIV) and 17,400 exposures to hazardous conditions (asbestos, radioactive materials, chemicals, etc.)

Public Safety Workers’ Compensation Claim Rates

The national numbers are mirrored in the State of Maryland. Out of all the workers’ compensation claims filed in the State of Maryland, a disproportionate number have been for public safety employees.

2015 2014 2013
# of Claims 23,711 24,211 23,241
# FF Claims 754 (3.2%) 799 (3.3%) 769 (3.3%)

If you know of fire fighter, first responder, or EMS worker who has been injured on the job have them call me for a confidential consultation.

Increased Deliveries Equals Increased Injuries for Delivery Drivers

Friday, September 23, 2016

Is it just me, or does it seem like there are simply not enough hours in the day anymore? More often than not, I’m trying to accomplish multiple things at a time in order to get through the never-ending ‘to-do’ list that I have created for myself each day. That, coupled with easy access to online shopping from my smartphone makes home delivery a very common and necessary feature in daily life. One study indicated that ‘mobile’ shopping is projected to grow from a mere $3 billion in 2010 to $31 billion by 2017.

Increased Injuries for Courier Workers

Given this, it isn’t surprising that courier workers are experiencing ever increasing demands in their jobs. Increased volume as well as stricter time constraints on delivery schedules have resulted in more injuries to courier workers over the years. And while these injuries occur on a more frequent basis, the typical courier worker continues to work through their injury hoping it will resolve itself. In the best of circumstances, the nagging knee pain or back twinge will eventually go away. However, in worst-case scenarios, those injuries that were initially minor in nature can turn into debilitating, career-ending injuries.

Who to Call...and When...

Time and time again, I receive calls from injured workers who have had long standing injuries that they have reported to the company, only to learn later, and sometimes when it is too late, that these injuries are not covered under workers’ compensation. This should not be happening! Merely reporting your work injury at the job is not enough.

We can help to make sure your rights are protected. Contact Gretchen Rogers today (301-740-3303) to learn what you rights are.

Injuries from Prescription Related Side Effects for Firefighters

Friday, September 23, 2016

Over the years, I have represented thousands of you for claims arising out of work related, as well as non-work related, injuries and/or diseases. Unfortunately, not only have you had to worry about the injuries and the diseases themselves, other concerns have arisen besides the dangers of your profession. Recently, many of the treatments for these problems have been declared dangerous and life threatening.

Side Effects From Xarelto and Other Prescription Meds

For instance many individuals have been prescribed Xarelto as a blood thinner. Xarelto, as you may already know, has been the subject of lawsuits because it has been found that Xarelto can lead to uncontrollable internal bleeding and other serious complications, including heart problems and/or strokes. In addition, for those who have work related or even non-work related problems or diseases, manufacturers of medical devices and IVC, have recalled their products. Inferior Vena Cava Filters (known as “IVCs”) are designed to prevent life threatening pulmonary embolisms. Some of these filter failures have resulted in deaths.

Furthermore, a well-known consequence of hypertension is a loss of potency. The FDA alerted consumers and healthcare providers that a small number of men have lost eyesight after taking Viagra, Cialis or Levitra.

How We Can Help You, Or, Someone You Care About

Berman, Sobin Gross, Feldman, and Darby, LLP has been at the forefront in resolving the cases involving unsafe drugs and medical devices and protecting injured workers, and their families. If you believe you have been harmed by any of these products or by such products as Pinnacle DuPey® Hip Replacements, Taxotere®, or Essure®, please contact me at (301) 670-7030. In the meantime, stay safe.

Hard Fought Court Victory for Widow of Deceased Fire Fighter

Friday, September 23, 2016

Attorney Ken Berman has secured death benefits for the widow of a deceased fire fighter in a three (3) day jury trial. The Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission had found that the Claimant, a fire fighter who was not diagnosed with multiple myeloma until 23 years after last running a call, did not sustain a compensable occupational disease. The Commission denied the widow’s claim for the death of her husband due to the long gap between the fire fighter’s exposure (1989) and the diagnosis of the disease (2012), as well as the fire fighter’s family history of cancer.

Occupational Diseases for Fire Fighters

After three days of testimony, including Mr. Berman subpoenaing the former assistant chief of the department to testify as to exposures fire fighters encounter and past lack of safety measures, the Jury returned a verdict overturning the Commission and in favor of the Claimant- finding that his occupational disease of multiple myeloma was indeed related to the fire fighter’s exposures in the department.

What This Means for The Family

The court victory means that the widow will now receive death benefits, payment for the funeral expenses, and payment for all past medical bills and other expenses.

Benefits for Burns, Scars & Disfigurements

Friday, September 23, 2016

Maryland Workers’ Compensation law requires the Employer/Insurer of a worker who is burned, scarred or disfigured while performing his/her job to pay to that worker, compensation benefits. This includes, and is especially relevant to, fire fighters.

A fire fighter who is burned, disfigured or scarred while either fighting a fire or performing any other aspect of his job has the right to receive $343.00 per week (the 2016 rate) up to a maximum of 156 weeks for any such disfigurement, burn or scar. As in many other requirements of the Workers’ Compensation law, fault is not a factor, however the employee has 2 years to file such a claim after the disfigurement or scarring occurs.

If you have been burned or incurred any scarring in the last 2 years contact us immediately to process the claim and obtain the benefits that are rightfully yours.

Conclusion

The laws governing workers’ compensation are complex. However, the system is designed to benefit an injured worker. An attorney can only charge if recovery is made. If you have a question regarding anything in the outlines, or any other questions, please feel free to contact us at Berman Sobin Gross, Feldman & Darby. Our telephone number is (301) 670-7030 and our toll free number is (800) 827-COMP.

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