Shoulder Injuries and Pennsylvania workers compensation

shoulderI see many shoulder injuries in my workers compensation practice.  These types of injuries generally are centered around warehouses and distribution centers, trucking terminals, nursing care facilities, and manufacturing type facilities.

These type of work-related injuries can be specific type of injuries or repetitive type injuries.  Injuries to the shoulder can happen in specific events, such as lifting items overhead and feeling a ‘pop’ or feeling immediate pain in the shoulder area when pushing or pulling something heavy, or falling directly on to the shoulder.  I also see these types of injuries in nursing homes where certified nursing assistant and LPNs are lifting patients or trying to stop a patient from falling.   We see these types of injuries often.   Given the amount of distribution and assembly lien production facilities up and down the Interstate 81 corridor, from Greencastle, to Chambersburg, to Shippensburg, to Carlisle and beyond, these type of injuries will likely be on the rise.

However, not all work-related shoulder injuries occur with a specific event.  We also see injuries that occur in the shoulder due to repetitive job tasks and overuse.  These types of injuries are frequently denied by the employer/insurance carrier.

So what are common shoulder injuries that occur at work?

Rotator cuff tears are common in  both lifting, falling, and repetitive use injuries.  These types of injuries are extremely difficult for injured workers.  They are painful and many times lead to a surgery or two.  Partial tears usually lead to surgery is conservative treatment fails, such as physical therapy, injections, and medications.  Full thick tears almost also lead to surgery.    Rotator cuff tears are a very common injury I see in my practice.

Impingement and adhesive capsulitis are two common conditions I see in my practice.  Impingement system is more common in older workers, and is usually related to bursitis and rotator cuff pathology.  Overhead activity of the shoulder and repetitive activity are risk factors for shoulder impingement syndrome as related to work-relatedness.  Adhesive capsulitis is also known as frozen shoulder.  Symptoms of this condition are pain and stiffness in the shoulder.  This condition can also occur after shoulder surgery.  

Other injuries that occur are labral tears, dislocations, instability, and aggravation of pre-existing shoulder arthritis.   As related to work injuries, labral tears can occur when an injured workers falls onto an outstretched arm, trying to catch oneself, A direct traumatic blow tot he shoulder, or a sudden pull, such as trying to pull a patient up from falling.   Catching, grinding, and popping in shoulder are common complaints.  The condition also causes a decrease in range of motion and weakness.

Aggravation of arthritis is a big one in workers compensation.  The fact a pre-existing condition exists will usually trigger a denial of workers compensation benefits.   Employers frequently tell injured workers that have a pre-exisiting condition, that there new pain symptoms are not workers compensation eligible because of pre-existing arthritis.  Statements like “you’ve always had that condition” are used to discourage injured workers from pursuing their rights under Workers Compensation.  Don’t fall for it.  Aggravation of pre-existing conditions are seperate and distinct work injures that can be compensable under the Act.

It is important that if you have a shoulder injury to seek legal counsel.  Many times these injuries take significant time to recover.  Some times these injuries do not allow an injured worker to ever return to their pre-injury job.  That is precisely why it is important for you to seek an experienced workers compensation attorney.

 

If you injured your shoulder at work or have a pre-existing condition that has been aggravated at work, do not hesitate to protect your workers compensation rights.   Call Mooney & Associates today at 1-877-9632-4656 for your FREE CONSULTATION.  Even if your employer has accepted your shoulder work injury, it is FREE to sit down and chat with us about your work injury and for us to make sure your right stay protected.  Even with an accepted injury, injured workers with shoulder injuries eventually end up in workers compensation litigation.

Mooney & Associates has twelve office locations to make the FREE CONSULTATION convenient for you.

Unemployment rate in Harrisburg area drops below 5%

The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area has been blessed with a low unemployment rate.  It’s true that employment concerns still continue to linger in certain areas of the nation, but not in our area.

For the first time in six years, the unemployment rate for the Harrisburg region has dipped below 5%.   The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry posted the Harrisburg region numbers yesterday and lowered the rate to 4.9%.   Cumberland County had the lowest rate in the region at 4.4%.  Not too terribly hard to understand why, given all the warehousing and distribution center development in the area along Interstate 81.

Here are the current unemployment rates in the Counties our law firm practices:

Adams County:  4.2%

Cumberland County:  4.4%

Dauphin County:  5.0%

Franklin County:  4.6%

Fulton County:  6.2%

Perry County:  5.1%

York County:  5.2%

Rural Fulton County is the only county in our area that hovers above the Pennsylvania statewide average of 5.6%.

 

 

 

Anesthetic Vials at Summit Health Surgical Group in Waynesboro may have been contaminated.

Summit Health, the ownership group of the Chambersburg and Waynesboro Hospitals announced that there is a possibility of anesthetic vial contamination for 326 patients of Summit Surgical Group in Waynesboro.   Apparently there is a possibility of 326 people who could have possibly been contaminated and all 326 have been contacted by Summit physician Services.   Summit did caution that chance of contamination and infection are remote.

“Although the possibility of infection is remote, we’re not taking any chances with our patients’ safety,” Dr. Frank Mozdy, vice president and chief medical officer for Summit Physician Services, said in a statement.

The medication that was the subject of this disclosure was used on patients that had minor skin procedures, such as mole removal, performed at the Surgical Group.   If you had a similar minor skin procedure completed at the location you can contact a hotline for further information.  That number is  1-844-884-3692.  

PA Court: Employer has burden to prove injured worker is not a legal, documented worker

CommCtThe Pennsylvania Supreme Court took up the issue of which party bears the burden of proving whether an injured worker is ineligible for workers compensation benefits because they are in the United States illegally.   The answer the Court provided was that the burden to prove an injured worker is illegal lies with the employer, not the employee.

In this specific case, an injured worker filed a Claim Petition for wage loss benefits.   A hearing for Claimant testimony was held and on cross examination, defense counsel asked whether the injured worker was a naturalized citizen, a documented worker, or had a green card to legally work in the United States.  Through his Counsel, the injured worker invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination.  After the litigation process occurred, the Workers Compensation Judge found the injury to be work related, ordered benefits paid, but then subsequently suspended benefits in the same decision stating that the Employer had met its burden in proving that the Claimant was not authorized to work in the United States.

Claimant appealed.

On Appeal, the Workers Compensation Appeal Board (WCAB) reversed the WCJ in that the Board found that the failure of the Claimant to testify to his work status was not enough for the Employer’s burden to be met.  The WCAB ruled that since the Employer failed to provide independent evidence  to support the contention that the injured worker was unlawfully working in the United States, that the burden was not met.   Essentially, the WCAB ruled that Employer could not meet its burden just because the injured worker invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to testify to his citizenship status.  The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the WCAB decision unanimously.  The case was appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In Cruz v. v. WCAB (Kennett Square Specialties), decided July 21, 2014, the PA Supreme Court noted that there are only TWO ELEMENTS involved in a Claimant ‘s burden on a Claim petition.  They are 1) the injured workers must be injured while in the course and scope of employment, and 2) the injury resulted in a loss of earning power.   In reviewing those two elements, the Court was clear that “claimant’s eligibility to lawfully work in the United States is not a relevant consideration in establishing either of these factors.  We therefore reject Employer’s assertion that a claimant, as part of his or her burden of proof in a claim petition, is required to establish his employment eligibility status under federal immigration law.”

 

In terms of the WCJ’ suspension of benefits, the Court noted that the Employer bears the burden of proof for a suspension of benefits.  In order to carry that burden, the Employer must present independent evidence that the injured worker was unlawfully employed.  Claimant did not have the burden to carry, therefore was not required to provide proof of employment status.

Finally, the Court rejected the Employer’s argument that since Claimant testified he was from Ecuador and refused to testify to his legal status, that the burden had been met.  Those facts combined did not meet the evidentiary burden of proof of substantial competent evidence to support the WCJ’s decision.  The Court rejected that notion, stating

“It is undisputed that the ‘sole’ evidence regarding claimant’s employment eligibility relied upon by the WCJ was Claimant’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination in response to questioning from Employer’s counsel.   We find that the Commonwealth Court properly determined, based on our Harmon decision, , that adverse inference drawn by the WCJ from the Claimant’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights against elf incrimination did not, by itself, constitute substantial competent evidence to support the WCJ’s finding that Claimant was not a US citizen, and was otherwise not authorized to work in this county. “

 

Pennsylvania workers compensation by the numbers

b4e87-workinjuryIn terms of background, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers Compensation is under the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry.  Each year, the Department of Labor and Industry releases its Annual Workers Compensation and Workplace Safety report.  The Department has released its 2013 Workers Compensation Annual Report.

Injury and Petition Stats

The total number of reportable work injuries in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania rose slightly from 2012.  In 2013, Pennsylvania employers reported 89,132 work injuries, compared to 85,117 in 2012.   A reportable injury is defined by the Department as an injury that causes an employee to miss a day of work, shift, or turn at employment.

When breaking down those numbers to the geographic area our law firm serves, and looking at actual injuries that caused a Petition to be filed with the Bureau, here are those numbers from 2013 . . .

PETITIONS FILED

Let’s first look at statewide numbers per common Petitions filed

PETITION 2013 Filings 2012 Filings
Claim Petitions 9,280 9,451
Fatal Claims 90 99
Reinstatement Petitions 2,349 2,484
Employer Filed Petitions Against Injured Workers
Modification Petitions 2,605 2,791
Suspension Petitions 3,465 3,773
Termination Petitions 5,641 5,471
Workers Compensation Settlements
C & R Petitions 5,805 5,788

Mooney & Associates service areas (Total Petitions by County)

COUNTY 2013 CHG
Adams County 267 Decreased
Cumberland County 605 Decreased
Dauphin County 1,066 Decreased
Franklin County 637 Decreased
Perry County 177 Increased

Some Pennsylvania employers fail to provide workers compensation coverage.  They may do so for various reasons, including simply refusing to abide by the law, they suffer a lapse in coverage, or they do not believe they were required to provide coverage.  Regardless, workers are still injured in these circumstances.  Pennsylvania law provides for the Uninsured Guaranty Fund to provide benefits for injured workers who are injured on the job with employers who do not have workers compensation insurance.  The Fund steps in and acts as the insurance carrier for the employer and then ultimately pursues civil and criminal penalties against the uninsured employer.  With our firm, we usually see this in the context of build contractors and hope repair contractor who believe their employees are actually subcontractors, but yet do not meet the legal requirements to have them considered to be subcontractors.  The law is very specific in that regard.  In terms of 2013 numbers, the claims against the Fund rose to 380 in 2013 compared to 295 in 2012.

Finally, the reported provided that on a statewide average from hearing until decision, the average workers compensation case took 6.5 months to fully litigate.  That is consistent with the prior three years, down from 6.9 months in 2010.  This is an area we discuss with our clients at the initial office visit.  Specifically, if the workers compensation claim is denied, workers compensation is not a fast system to provide the injured worker money.  If a claim is denied, and a Claim Petition is filed, and the claim is not settled and goes all the way through litigation, an injured employee may go six or more months with no income, if their injury keeps them out of work.  Unfortunately, it is a litigation based process that takes time.

Shippensburg Fair starts today

The Shippensburg Community Fair starts today.   The fair will last all week at the Shippensburg Fair Grounds off of Possum Hollow Road in Shippensburg.  Mooney & Associates will have a table at the fair all week in the evening.  We encourage everyone to stop by and say hello to our Attorneys who will be at the table.

If you have concerns regarding a work injury and plan to be at the fair this week on an evening, stop by our table.  Attorney Buterbaugh will be present most of the week and would be happy to discuss your workers compensation claim with you.

Workers compensation rights and rights to benefits are critically important.  Whether your claim is accepted or denied, Mooney & Associates has a full workers compensation practice.  It is often a new, complex, and confusing experience for most injured workers.  We can help.  Our Fair table will be located along the aisle of the main food vendors.  If you have questions, stop by and see us.

PA Unemployment Rate remains steady

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate remained unchanged for the month of June.  The overall unemployment rate in Pennsylvania remained at 5.6%.

The jobless rate was 5.6 percent in June, the same as in May, and employers added a meager 1,800 jobs, according to the Department of Labor & Industry monthly work force report.

The number of Pennsylvanians who reported they were unemployed fell by a seasonally adjusted 6,000 to 357,000, the report showed. But the civilian labor force declined by 28,000 people to 6,403,000.

JOBSThe Pennsylvania state unemployment rate remains below the National unemployment rate.  Locally, the economy continues to churn with the warehousing boom occurring along the Interstate 81 corridor, from Greencastle, Pennsylvania up through Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

 Shippensburg is the latest booming area along the Interstate 81 corridor.  Procter & Gamble is now hiring for their almost completed 1.8 million square feet warehouse off Exit 24.  Procter & Gamble is expected to hire over 900 employees.  Additionally, off Exit 29, Georgia Pacific is building a warehouse that will bring an additional 60-70 jobs to the Shippensburg area.  There are also rumors of another potential business that may locate off Exit 24 and possibly bring over 500 manufacturing jobs to the area.  (Check out the new site for ShippensburgWorkersComp.com)

Down in Washington Township near Greencastle,  Pacemaker Press is relocating from Maryland and bringing 39 jobs to the area.

 

Can I receive Unemployment after Workers Compensation in Pennsylvania?

Settling a workers’ compensation case can be very frightening for an injured worker.  When is the right time?  What happens to my medical benefits?  What if my condition worsens?  What about outstanding medical bills?

Another question frequently asked centers around unemployment compensation.   Can an injured worker who settles his/her workers compensation claim receive unemployment compensation after settlement.  The answer is — possibly.   Workers compensation settlements and eligibility for unemployment compensation benefits usually revolve around two specific questions.

First hurdle applies to injured workers who have been off of work due to injury for a period of one or more years.   The issue that usually triggers a denial is the fact that after being off a year or more, unemployment compensation may have very little or no wage information to determine eligibility.   Since no or little wage information exists, unemployment compensation finds you to be financially ineligible.   The Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act addresses this issue in Section 204(b).  The provision allows injured workers who have been out of work due to the work injury to elect to have their ‘base year’ consist of the four calendar quarters that immediately preceded the work injury work absence.   However, the issue must be raised on Appeal on the the Notice of Financial Determination.   It is best to have legal counsel represent you in your unemployment compensation appeal to raise appropriate issues to fight for your benefits.  Along with workers compensation, we here at Mooney & Associates also represent individuals in unemployment compensation appeals.

Just because you were off work due to injury does not mean you do not have the work credits to be eligible for unemployment compensation.  The Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act (WCA) has addressed this issue in Section 204(b) which provides that an employee who does not meet the monetary and credit week requirements under section 401(a) of the Unemployment Compensation Law due to a work related injury compensable under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act may elect to have his base year consist of the four complete quarters immediately preceding the date of the work related injury.  This request should be raised within the appeal period identified on the Notice of Financial Determination.

The second trap usually involves the employment status of the injured worker at the time the workers compensation settlement occurs.  It is likely with most insurance carriers that an injured worker will be required to sign a resignation letter or general release when they settle their case.  When an employee resigns from employment, the burden to prove eligibility for unemployment  falls to the employee to prove a necessitous and compelling reason for resignation.  Specifically, in Lee v. UCBR, The Commonwealth Court made it quite difficult to meet that burden when voluntarily resigning as part of a workers compensation settlement.  The simplest way to protect right to unemployment compensation is to have the appropriate language in the settlement agreement as to not bar unemployment compensation benefits.  That is one reason, among many others, why it is absolutely imperative to seek legal counsel before agreeing to any workers compensation settlement.  For your FREE consultation, please contact our firm at 877-632-4656.