Hearing Loss from Ongoing Exposure to Excessive Noise

Posted in Workers' Compensation

Anyone who saw the Super Bowl last January witnessed the impact the crowd noise had on the players on the field.  The ‘12th Man’, as the fans in Seattle are known, has become famous for the extreme noise levels.   The problem is, exposure to this type of excessive noise can cause permanent hearing loss.

A recent article on www.huffingtonpost.com , “Seahawks Fans Seek Roar Record as Experts Warn of Health Risks”, discusses the hearing risk posed by exposure to noise levels, often reaching up to 132 decibels. The article cites experts who indicate that hearing loss is caused by both noise level and duration and that exposure to these noise levels could cause permanent hearing damage.

In addition, the National Acoustic Laboratories in Australia, found that the noise of fitness classes at the gym are almost as high as a jet engine.   Finding that Circuit and Spin classes had noise levels as high as 94 decibels.    This would impact the instructors and gym employees even more than the gym members, as the overall hours exposed is significantly higher.

To prove hearing loss from an occupational exposure, the loss must be to both ears.   If you do not suffer enough of a loss in one ear, the hearing loss will not qualify for benefits in a New Jersey Workers’ Compensation claim.  The standard is different for hearing loss caused by a single incident, such as a gunshot or explosion.   Hearing loss for a specific accident can be to one ear, hearing loss from ongoing exposure needs to affect both ears.

Stadium workers, Gym employees, Factory workers, heavy equipment operators, firefighters and first responders, and many other occupations are exposed to high noise levels that could result in an Occupational Hearing Loss.   If you feel that you’ve suffered a work related hearing loss, it is important to know that you only have 2 years from the last date of exposure to file a workers’ compensation claim.   If you’ve undergone audiometric testing that shows a hearing loss and you’ve been exposed to high noise levels at work, you may very well have a viable workers’ compensation claim.

I was Laid off from a Casino, Will that Effect My Workers’ Compensation Case?

Posted in Injury Law, News & Events

The closing of Revel and Showboat  casinos over the Labor Day weekend will not have an effect on an injured worker who had a valid workers’ compensation claim before the casino closed.  In fact, if you were injured while you were working for one of these casinos, and reported the injury but never filed a formal workers’ compensation claim petitioner, you can certainly contact an attorney and do so now, even though the casino has closed.  The Associated Press reports that the closing of the Showboat Casino and the Revel Casino over the Labor Day weekend caused approximately 5000 employees to lose their jobs.  Those with valid workers’ compensation claims will not lose their claims because of the casino closings.  Nor will filing a claim for unemployment benefits because of the closings effect an injured worker entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.  Keep in mind though that an injured worker cannot receive unemployment benefits and weekly workers compensation benefits at the same time.  The same rules apply to those workers employed by Trump Plaza who are expected to lose their jobs when that casino closes on September 16th.

I recently met with an employee of the Revel casino who was getting laid off on September 1, 2014.  She was injured in May of 2014 and had an ongoing workers’ compensation case where the employer was honoring her light duty restrictions and paying for 100% of her injury related medical care.  She wanted to know if the fact that Revel Casino was shutting down would stop her workers’ compensation benefits.  I was pleased to be able to tell her that her workers’ compensation benefits would continue after her lay off on September 1, 2014.  In fact, since she now has no employer to accommodate her light duty restrictions, she will be paid weekly benefits by the workers’ compensation carrier until the authorized workers’ compensation doctor releases her for full duty.  And at that point she will still be eligible for a partial permanency settlement through the workers’ compensation court, even if she returns to another place of employment.  Workers’ compensation benefits that were in effect on the date of an injury continue and remain intact through lay-offs and firings.  These benefits include weekly temporary disability benefits, medical benefits and partial or total disability benefits through the workers’ compensation system.

If you have any questions regarding your right to ongoing workers’ compensation benefits please contact Stark and Stark.

Stark & Stark and The Meadows Frozen Custard are Proud to Honor Fallen Soldier

Posted in News & Events

Although I am an Attorney at Stark &  Stark in the Personal Injury Department by day, I am also co-owner of a frozen custard store, The Meadows, which is located on Route 130 in Delran, New Jersey.  On Sunday, October 5, 2014, these two organizations, along with many others, are joining together to hold a fundraiser to honor a fallen local soldier, Staff Sergeant Michael Bruzgis.

As an attorney and business owner, I am fortunate enough to have an ability to give back.  Similarly, as a business owner, there are opportunities which come along that provide a chance to do something special for an individual or an organization.  This event is exactly the type of thing that I had hoped to be part of when I think of ways I can give back to the community.

Staff Sergeant Michael Bruzgis was a true American hero. He was the individual who provided people like me the ability to do what we do on a daily basis.  While I work on my career as an attorney or starting a business, it is people like Staff Sergeant Bruzgis who fight daily to protect our country and our freedom.  He served four (4) tours of duty, two (2) in Iraq and two (2) in Afghanistan.  Ironically, these were not consecutive.  Instead, after his first enlistment which included two (2) tours in Iraq, he separated from the military.  However, he soon realized that he was an American soldier through and through and he subsequently re-enlisted.  The second time he spent two (2) tours of duty in Afghanistan.  During his time in the military, he served as troop leader of his group.  In the four years he served, he never lost one of his fellow soldiers.  Unfortunately, during his fourth and final tour, an IED exploded causing him to suffer severe injuries which ultimately ended his military career and eventually his life.  He received a Bronze Star, and will be receiving both a Purple Heart and Silver Star posthumously.

This Sunday, Stark &  Stark, along with The Meadows, will be honoring Staff Sergeant Bruzgis with a flag dedication and ceremony presented by VFW Post 3020.  A 24” x 18” flag will be raised atop a 70” flag pole.  The event will be from 12:00-3:00 PM with the flag ceremony beginning at 1:30 PM. All proceeds raised from the event will then be donated directly to The Wounded Warrior Project, an organization which assisted Staff Sergeant Michael Bruzgis.  Following the flag ceremony, Throwbacks Bar & Grill, located a block away from The Meadows on Route 130, will be holding a “Wing Fling”, all you can eat wings and soft drinks, for two hours for $10, and the proceeds will be donated to The Wounded Warrior Project.

This will be a great opportunity for those of us who have not served in the armed forces to come out and show appreciation for those who have and specifically those that have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we all may live the lives we live.  In addition to the flag ceremony, there will be a live DJ on hand and a face painter for children.  I encourage everyone to come out to help raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project and to honor Staff Sergeant Bruzgis.  I hope to see you there.

Thoughts for Motorcycle Riders in Fall

Posted in Motorcycle Injury

Fall is here. The leaves are just starting to change and we had our first rainy day in a long time. The days are still warm and inviting to riders to get out and enjoy a nice ride, but with autumn comes new hazards to motorcyclists. Obviously, wet leaves, slippery roads and objects or potholes hidden by fallen leaves are a danger to us. But, something we don’t necessarily consider is the change in lighting conditions. As the days get shorter riders should be aware that low light presents an additional hazard. Not only are bikers harder to see but we will have a more difficult time seeing potential hazards in or on the road ahead. For those of us who love taking a ride after work to wind down please be particularly mindful of this since we probably do not realize how dim the lighting actually is or how quickly it gets dimmer.

The best option is to ride more slowly than you would in bright daylight. This will give you more time to see and identify potential hazards and will give other drivers a greater opportunity to see and identify you. You also will give yourself more time to react should something happen.   Remind yourself before you ride of the change in daylight conditions and adjust your driving accordingly. If you are unfamiliar with the road ahead, or if you know there are curves or hills coming up, reduce your speed so you can clearly identify any hazards common in autumn and low light conditions and give yourself plenty of time to avoid them.

You might also consider wearing more visible clothing and helmets. I understand that white helmets are much more visible than black and a lime green or orange reflective jacket will make you much more apparent to other drivers.

Finally, remember that the sun rises later and sets earlier than it has the last few months. As the sun gets lower in the sky all drivers have problems with sun glare. Be particularly alert for this in the mornings and evenings as you and the vehicles around you may suddenly round a curve and find yourself looking directly into the sun. Drivers react differently to this sudden blinding glare and you want to be sure to give yourself extra room to maneuver should someone hit their brakes or unexpectedly swerve out of their lane of travel due to the blinding sun.

A great reason to live in this area is the change of seasons, but with each new season comes new hazards to contend with. Please add some of these thoughts to your pre-ride mental checklist and be safe.  If you have have any questions, please contact us at Stark & Stark.

Can Your Employer’s Insurance Company Send You to an “Independent Medical Exam” While You Are Still Under Insurance Company Physician Care?

Posted in Injury Law

This issue arises more and more in our practice. Insurance companies and self-insured employers frequently schedule these “IME”s during the course of authorized treatment, often while the injured employee is still out of work and receiving temporary disability payments. Sometimes the reason for the exam is quite legitimate. If a worker has sustained a serious injury requiring surgery and is not making progress post-surgery, it is often desirable to have another expert physician in the same specialty as the current treating physician examine the worker to possibly suggest another approach to the injury which might improve the worker’s condition and return him or her to work. In this situation the worker’s attorney often will make a request for such an exam. Another situation is when a complicated surgery is recommended; the worker in this situation often will ask for a second opinion before proceeding to surgery. Exams in both of these situations are often needed.

Unfortunately, we are seeing an increasing use of the IME for a negative purpose; to “cut off” the worker from treatment which is still needed. To cite an extreme example, a worker injured in a specific incident was recovering from a very serious spinal surgery, was receiving post-surgical therapy, and was also recommended for surgery to another part of the body. The treating doctors were authorized and paid by the insurance company. The worker was also receiving temporary disability payments. The insurance carrier then sent the worker to a physician of its choosing for an IME. That IME physician examined the worker and wrote a report expressing the opinion that the surgery and treatment were not related to a work incident, that physical therapy should stop, and that the worker should be returned to work without restrictions. There was no real evidence justifying that opinion. Nonetheless, the insurance company then stopped all benefits. Fortunately, as soon as the appropriate Motion for Medical and Temporary Benefits was heard in Court the Judge of Compensation entered an Order restoring the worker’s benefits.

If you are injured in a work-related accident and require treatment it is important to obtain the services of Stark & Stark as soon as possible. By having an open file we are able to get into court more quickly should such an unfortunate situation arise with your treatment. We will be happy to help you with your Worker’s Compensation claim.

Consequences of Texting and Driving the “Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis’ Law”

Posted in Injury Law, Motor Vehicle Accidents

Many of us know about the dangers of texting and driving. Yet, some motorists continue to text and drive.  It is a dangerous and illegal activity.  How many people know that you can be put in jail for texting and driving?

Under a new law called the “Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis’ Law,” proof that a defendant was operating a hand-held wireless telephone while driving a motor vehicle may give rise to the presumption that the defendant was engaged in reckless driving.  Prosecutors are empowered to charge the offender with committing vehicular homicide or assault when such type of accident occurs from reckless driving.  Vehicular homicide is generally a crime of the second degree, punishable by imprisonment of five to ten years, a fine of up to $150,000, or both.  Assault by auto is a crime of the fourth degree if serious bodily injury occurs and a disorderly persons offense if bodily injury occurs.  A fourth degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.  The penalty for a disorderly persons offense is imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

The new law is named after New Jersey residents who were killed or severely injured in a crash caused by someone using a handheld cell phone while driving.  Helen Kulash was crossing the street when she was killed by a driver illegally using a cell phone.  David and Linda Kubert are now amputees after a man who was texting crashed into their motorcycle.  Toni Bolis, nine months’ pregnant with her son, Ryan Jeffrey Bolis, was killed in a motor vehicle accident caused by a driver using a cell phone.

According to the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, since 2008, over 10,000 drivers have been involved in crashes while using a cell phone.  A recent study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that not only do people tend to answer the phone and keep driving, but 45% of the people polled hold the phone in their hand while driving.  When asked how they thought their own driving changed when sending text messages, 25% of the survey respondents said the distraction made no difference in their driving yet almost all of the men and women asked (86% of the men and 90% of the women) said they felt unsafe as a passenger in a car while the driver was sending a text message or email.

If you still think this cannot happen to you, think again.  In June 2012, an 18-year old man in Massachusetts was convicted of homicide for texting while driving, which led to a crash killing a 55-year old New Hampshire man.  The Massachusetts man is believed to be the first person in the country convicted of vehicular homicide for texting and driving.

Here at Stark & Stark we represent victims injured in car crashes every single day. If you or someone you know has been hurt because of someone who was texting and driving, contact us right away.  We can help you understand your options and protect your rights.  The person who caused the accident will have an insurance company defending their rights.  You need someone to stand up for you to work hard to make sure your rights are protected.  We do that every single day.  It’s who we are, and it’s what we do.

Bad Faith

Posted in Injury Law

I’ve previously shared stories about insurance companies that engage in unfair claims settlement practices in order to avoid paying out on legitimate claims. The bottom line for insurance companies is money. The more claims the insurance company denies, the greater the profit. This is why several insurance companies have developed a reputation for systematically denying claims. Incredibly, some of these companies are proud of their reputation.

Recently, there was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer which brought to light the egregious conduct of an insurance company in a battle which lasted 20 years. The accident occurred on September 4, 1996, when the Plaintiff, Sherri Berg, who was driving a brand new jeep, was struck by a large Suburban. While the Plaintiff was fortunately not injured, her jeep sustained very significant damage. She reported the accident to her insurance company, Nationwide, and took the vehicle to a body shop for a repair estimate. Although she did not know it at the time, the body shop declared the vehicle a total loss. Additionally, the frame was severely bent, which meant it was not safe to put back on the road. Nationwide balked at paying out the full value of the vehicle, and instead got a “second opinion” which called for the jeep to be repaired instead of being replaced. A mechanic from the shop was so disgusted by the insurance companies actions, and worried that the jeep was not safe to drive, that he felt compelled to contact the Bergs to let them know what was going on.

The Bergs filed a lawsuit in 1998 against Nationwide. Instead of Nationwide honoring the property damage claim, which was valued at approximately $25,000.00, Nationwide spent more than $3 million defending itself in the 16-year legal fight with the Bergs. During the lawsuit, the Plaintiff’s attorneys found internal documents which showed that Nationwide had a practice of fighting smaller claims tenaciously – even though such a strategy had been denounced by Pennsylvania courts as “unethical and unprofessional.” This is because they figured that most consumers would not spend the money to litigate these smaller cases, which would ultimately equate to more profit for the insurance company. The judge was so disgusted with Nationwide’s behavior, which included hiding photos of the vehicle, that he awarded $18 million in punitive damages in order to punish the insurance company.

Has an insurance company unfairly denied a claim that you recently filed? If so, please contact the experienced attorneys at Stark & Stark to discuss your situation.

Link to article: http://articles.philly.com/2014-07-14/news/51435798_1_crash-photos-jeep-nationwide-insurance

Social Media and Workers’ Compensation

Posted in Workers' Compensation

Recent news stories have highlighted  awareness of the dangers of digital data being exposed after breaches of security.  Digital data is not only exposed after breaches in security, such data can be exposed by an individual posting information that adversely affects their claim for workers’ compensation benefits in New Jersey. The U. S. Supreme Court  ruled on June 25, 2014 that police need a warrant to search information on an arrestee’s mobile phone, acknowledging the fact that for many of us our cell phones hold a “digital record of nearly every aspect of their life.” So you might wonder how the digital age and social media have affected injured workers in New Jersey. While an injured workers’ cell phone cannot be searched by an employer after an injury, the postings of an injured worker on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram can be discoverable and might cause more problems than the worker can imagine.  For example, think about the situation where an injured worker tells a treating doctor that he or she cannot do certain activities because of their work injury, and then that person posts pictures of their leisure activities on Facebook.  An employer or insurance company attorney might see a posting of an employee running/walking a charity race, or on a boating trip for example.  If an injured worker tells their doctor that they cannot do certain activities they should not be doing those activities; and if they try on occasion, they should remember that pictures of those activities might end up on discoverable social media. In the age of GOOGLE, so many of our leisure activities can be captured and saved for all to view.

You might ask how an injured worker’s postings on the internet can adversely affect that employee.  There are clear provisions against fraud in the workers’ compensation Statute. The four instances below outline the types of fraud that are actionable under the law. Fraud is called into question when an employee:

  • 1)  misrepresents his / her job status while collecting temporary disability benefits
  • 2)  files a claim for an injury that did not occur on the job
  • 3)  knowingly misrepresents his / her physical condition to obtain WC benefits
  • 4)  misrepresents previous trauma or treatment

It is easy to imagine how a workers’ compensation carrier can twist innocent postings on social media to fit the fraud requirement above, even if no real fraud is involved. Therefore it is imperative that injured workers who have filed workers’ compensation claims be cognizant of the down side of posting their activities on social media. Please contact Stark & Stark if you have any questions about Workers’ Compensation Law

Workplace Violence

Posted in Workers' Compensation

Workplace violence can happen anywhere and at anytime. It can involve employees, clients, customers or visitors. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), nearly 2 million America workers report being victims of workplace violence each year, and its assumed that more cases go unreported. OSHA warns that workplace violence can strike anytime and no one is immune. Research has identified certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood of violence for certain workers within certain occupations; such factors include businesses that run cash operations with the public (e.g. convenience stores, restaurants, bars, stores, etc.), and others include situations where workers work with unstable, volatile people. Working alone or in isolated areas may also contribute to the possibility of violence.

Research shows that the health care sector leads all other industry sectors in incidence of nonfatal workplace assaults with 48% of all nonfatal injuries from violent acts against workers occurring in this sector. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, mental health workers experienced the highest rate of simple assaults in the health care sector, with 43.2 assaults per 1,000 workers. According to research studies, psychiatric nurses report among the highest violent victimization rates among all types of nurses.  Workplace violence is defined as violent acts, including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward persons in a workplace or on duty.

We often hear from clients who work in the health care industry or in the prison system who have been injured by violent residents or inmates. Anytime you are injured at work you should immediately report the injury to your employer and request treatment through their workers’ compensation insurance. If you have been physically assaulted by a fellow co-worker or by a resident, patient, inmate or even a customer, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under New Jersey’s workers’ compensation system.

If you have questions about an injury occurring at work, we would be happy to assist you.  Please contact Stark & Stark’s experienced attorneys today for your confidential no obligation consultation.

Psychiatric Claims Under Workers’ Compensation

Posted in Workers' Compensation

New Jersey Workers’ Compensation recognizes claims for specific accidents as well as occupational injury and disease claims.  Psychiatric claims can fall into either category, but have traditionally been very difficult cases to prove.  Under Goyden v. State of New Jersey, 256 N.J. Suer.438 (App.Div. 1991), five objective elements must be met for a worker’s condition to be compensable.  The working conditions must be objectively stressful, the believable evidence must support a finding that the worker reacted to the m as stressful, the objectively stressful working conditions must be peculiar to the particular work place, there must be objective evidence supporting a medical opinion of the resulting psychiatric disability in addition to the bare statement of the patient and the workplace exposure must have been a material cause of the disability.

In a recent unreported decision, Rizzo v. Kean University, (Decided June 11, 2014.) the Appellate Division has maintained this standard of proof.  In Rizzo, the Petitioner alleged that she was confronted and trapped by a co-worker and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.  As a result she sought counseling and did not return to work.  She subsequently sought a leave of absence and later resigned.  She filed a formal claim petition several months after the incident. The employer denied compensability and she sought treatment on her own.  More than three and a half years, she filed a motion requesting that the employer provide treatment and reimburses her out-of-pocket expenses.  During the trial, the worker revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child and locked in a closet.  Her doctor testified that she did not believe the response would have been the same if she had not had the experience as a child.  Therefore, the judge found that the sexual abuse was the source of her disability; not the office incident.

Psychiatric claims are very fact specific.  The facts of each case must be thoroughly reviewed in order to determine if a particular claim is compensable.  At Stark & Stark, we have experience in evaluating the facts and the likelihood of success.  If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact Stark & Stark to schedule your complimentary consultation.