June 26, 2017

Poultry Plant Worker Injuries Likely to Increase Under New USDA Regulations

chicken processing plant work injuriesWhen I first started practicing law back in 1988, I worked as an associate attorney for a well established insurance defense law firm.  I stayed at that firm for about 7 years before leaving to start my own practice, representing injured workers.

My days as an insurance defense lawyer were invaluable, however, because I learned a great deal about workers’ comp. law from some very good lawyers and I litigated hundreds of cases.   I also traveled throughout the state and got to see numerous job sites in person.

I remember distinctly visiting several poultry processing plants north of Atlanta near Gainesville.  I will never forget watching poultry workers “popping blisters” on conveyor lines of chickens moving quickly overhead.

It is no surprise that poultry plant workers experience a high number of work injuries.  The most obvious type of injuries are repetitive motion injuries such as carpel tunnel, but I also see shoulder injuries, crush injuries and puncture wounds.

Now, I am reading that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a rule change that will reduce federal oversight of poultry processing plants while allowing processors to speed up their kill lines. 1.

The federal government will save $90 over three years by eliminating the fourth inspector.  At the same time, large processing companies will save over $250 million by increasing the speed of the lines. [Read more…]

  1. Currently USDA regulations required processors to allow four inspectors per line with the lines producing 140 chickens per minute.  The new regulations would only call for three inspectors per line, while allowing the lines to turn 25% faster – 175 birds per minute.

Case Study: Workers Compensation for Severe Ankle and Foot Injuries

Welcome to the 7th installment of my summer long series on Georgia Workers’ comp case studies. In the following case study, I discuss a recent workers compensation case involving a severe ankle and foot injury.

Severe ankle and foot injury Workers’ Compensation case

This case involved an ankle injury incurred by woman (Mrs. K) who worked in a warehouse environment.   While moving a bulky 250-pound steel panel, Mrs. K and her co-workers paused to rest after moving the steel panel only about 10 feet.   The panel became extremely unsteady and fell on her Mrs. K’s foot, snapping and breaking the ankle and foot.   Mrs. K was immediately rushed to her local hospital’s ER where she would undergo surgery to stabilize and immobilize the fracture.

After her surgery, Mrs. K was referred to a physician from the posted panel of physicians who saw her 3 days after her surgery.  Despite the severity of her fracture, the panel physician did not take X-rays to evaluate the union of the bones, nor did he conduct any nerve function tests to evaluate any possible loss of function.  Instead he left the cast on and prescribed pain medications.

After just over a week living in intense pain, Mrs. K.  found me through my web site and retained me to represent her.  After reviewing the medical record, it was obvious to me that Mrs. K needed additional surgery and she needed a surgical consult quickly.  I contacted the insurance adjuster and persuaded the adjuster to refer my client to a foot and ankle specialist.   The foot and ankle specialist diagnosed the foot fracture as a “displaced” fracture, meaning that another surgery was needed and that plates and screws would have to be used to stabilize the foot.  This, of course, means that a third surgery likely would be necessary to fully or partially remove this hardware.

Because of the delay in getting Mrs.  K to the appropriate physician, she suffered complications – ecchymosis (skin discoloration) up the leg to her knee and neuropraxia (loss of nerve function) throughout her foot.    In my opinion, these complications would not have occurred, or would have been less severe had the 2nd surgery been performed earlier than it was.

Mrs. K is still recovering from surgery.   Her job had required her to stand, squat, lift and stand, and she cannot perform the duties of her past job.  Rehabilitation is proceeding slowly and I estimate that she will be out of work for at least 6 to 8 months.

Mrs. K has not yet had her second surgery and it is not clear to me how invasive that second surgery will be.   I expect that we will make a settlement demand either before or after the second surgery.

In my view, this is a case in which the insurance company’s delay and their reluctance to get Mrs. K to the right doctor quickly on what was clearly a surgical case will dramatically increase the settlement value of this case.  More importantly, I am of the opinion that my client’s health was compromised by the insurer’s delay, not to mention the unnecessary suffering she experienced.   I further suspect that had she waited 3 or 4 weeks before hiring me, a second surgery would not have been scheduled as the initial panel doctor seemed oblivious to the severity of this injury.

This case illustrates the importance of recognizing that medical treatment under workers’ compensation can be substandard and inadequate.  The panel doctor’s motivation and loyalty was not to his patient, but to the insurance company.  Ironically, the panel doctor’s failure to act will end up costing the insurance company more money.

Workers’ Comp Tip: If your work involves tips, keep good/accurate records of wages earned

Recently I had a workers’ comp case where my client suffered from a very severe and complex ankle injury and had to undergo 2 surgeries over a period of several months. Even after the surgeries, she still required ongoing medical care and had limited range of movement, resulting in her inability to work certain jobs.

When her initial workers’ comp benefit was calculated, she was awarded a weekly TTD benefit that was a gross underpayment when you looked at all the care she needed and the specifics of her case. After a careful review of the case, it became obvious that her benefit was mis-calculated due to her position as a waitress – where a lot of the money she brought in was due to TIPS.

You see, many times servers and bartenders and other workers who bring in significant income from tips end up experiencing improper wage calculations and mis-calculations of benefits owed when in pursuit of workers’ comp cases. The same is true for workers who work off commissions or receive large bonuses.

In my client’s case, we were able to get her the benefits she deserved (we ended up securing higher TTD benefits, plus TPD and PPD as well), and we were also able to re-calculate her wages to reflect a more accurate picture of what she had been making at the time of the accident. This is why it pays to have a workers’ comp attorney helping you with your case – we see these situations often and can often help you maximize your benefits.

In any case, the tip of the day is this: To anyone bringing in significant income from tips, commissions, or bonuses, KEEP GOOD RECORDS in the event that you are one day injured and have to pursue a workers’ comp case!

Company Doctor Will Not Help Me – Is There Anything I Can Do?

My question is that, I’ve been out hurt for a year and 3 months with a crushed heel. I’ve seen 2 workers comp doctors and just saw a independent doctor. The independent doctor said that he could heal me,and do surgery but the workers comp doctor disputes his opinion. Now the insurance company says that their not going to let me see him nor pay for the surgery. If the workers comp doctor would have x-rayed my foot he would’ve saw that its still broke but he hasn’t x-rayed it in 6months or hasn’t seen me in 3 months and refuses to give me anything for pain. Isn’t that refusing me treatment? Please give me some advise???
-John

Jodi Ginsberg responds: John, thanks for your question. I am going to assume that you are not yet represented. If you are, you should speak with your lawyer to discuss the reasons for the denial and what you can do about it.

There are a number of approaches I would consider in your case. First, I would evaluate whether you have a good argument to ask for a change in your authorized treating physician. If you are not getting better and the independent medical exam doctor states that surgery is indicated, I think that the State Board would consider a request for change in treating physician. The law provides for such a change if the current doctor demonstrates a “failure to effect a cure or give relief.”

I would also discuss with you whether you might consider a settlement of your claim. Sometimes, when there is uncertainty in a claim (differing opinions by the doctors), you have an opportunity to maximize your settlement dollars since the insurance company faces an unknown risk in future surgeries and wage benefits. Settlement would only be appropriate if you feel comfortable that you could pursue medical treatment on your own and are prepared to assume that risk.