Ridge & Downes - Law Firm

  • Decreases in Settlement Values

    The more time that passes since the Workers’ Compensation reforms of 2011, the more the effects of those reforms become apparent. One category of workers’ compensation benefits that have seen a substantial decrease are permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits. As you may know, you generally are entitled to receive three different categories of benefits when you sustain a work-related injury: 1) medical benefits, 2) off work benefits (TTD), and 3) permanent disability benefits.

    “Permanency” is a term used in workers’ compensation to represent the monetary compensation an injured worker is entitled to based on the permanent injury that he/she suffered. The “permanency” portion of a workers’ compensation claim is generally the lump-sum settlement or award an injured worker receives at the end of the case. The 2011 reforms changed the method by which a workers’ compensation Arbitrator must decide how to calculate and determine the permanency (or value) of a workers’ compensation claim.

    We have generally seen a substantial decrease in permanency awards as a result of the changes included in the 2011 reforms. It is now more important than ever to take action to protect yourself and to ensure you receive the compensation you are entitled to should your case proceed to hearing. The best way to improve the chances of a fair permanency award starts as soon as you sustain a work-related injury. When seeking medical treatment, it is vital to be very clear and detailed to your doctors when explaining both how the accident occurred, and what you are feeling. As you progress through your medical treatment, it is always important to tell your doctors exactly what you are feeling, and what limitations you are experiencing. Never assume that your doctor knows what you are feeling, or that he or she will document all of your complaints.

    Providing this information to your doctor is important because one of the factors an Arbitrator will consider is evidence of your disability, your testimony, corroborated by the treating medical records. This means that the symptoms and complaints you provide to the Arbitrator will be given weight only if they also are contained in your medical records.

    The details you provide to your doctor should not be limited to the pain or stiffness or other physical complaints you have. You should also make an effort to tell the doctor how these physical complaints are affecting your everyday life including the effects on your ability to perform job activities and activities of daily living. For example, if your wrist hurts, do not simply tell the doctor that your wrist hurts. Instead, try to be as detailed as possible as to how the pain affects your daily life. Does it hurt when you brush your teeth? Does it hurt when you drive? Can you button a shirt by yourself? What things could you do without issue before that now give you difficulty? You should always be honest with yourself and your doctor, but never assume that your doctor knows how your injury is affecting you. If you are detailed, informative and honest, you will greatly increase your chances of receiving fair compensation for a work-related injury.

  • Oregon Study Article

    Every two years the State of Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services conducts a study on workers’ compensation insurance premiums. In October 2014, they found that Illinois experienced the steepest reductions in workers’ compensation insurance premiums in the country in the last two years. The study estimates that Illinois rates dropped 24 percentage points from 2012 to 2014, whereas the national median was a reduction of only 2 percent.

    In September, 2014, the National Council on Compensation Insurance reported a 19.3% drop in loss costs since 2011. This is a savings of more than $450 million since the amendments to the Workers’ Compensation Act were passed in 2011. For 2015, the Department of Insurance recommended a 5.5% cut in rates. This is the third straight year a rate reduction has been recommended. If insurance companies had followed the NCCI’s recommended rate reductions, employers could have released an additional $1 billion in premium decreases. However, insurance companies are not required to make the recommended reductions in premiums.

    If Illinois has experienced nearly a 20% reduction in loss costs, why are business associations calling for more “reform”? This would only take away more rights from injured workers and increase the insurance industry’s profits. Real reform should promote transparency in the insurance industry to determine why the reduction in loss costs is not being translated into even further rate reductions for employers. Given the lack of premium oversight, workers’ compensation insurance remains the second most profitable line of insurance after auto insurance. Before the legislature contemplates taking away the rights of injured workers, they should mandate the insurance industry pass the cost savings along to employers by way of further premium reductions.

    So what is the answer: Insurance Reform! Injured workers and medical professionals have accepted steep decreases in benefits and reimbursement in order to lower costs for business. The next step to insure rate reductions keep pace with lowered costs is regulation of the insurance industry to assure that they pass along cost savings to consumers.

  • Dangerous Toys

    Now that the holidays are over, we are sure that your little ones are spending many hours enjoying the toys that Santa delivered. Please be aware, however, that Santa’s bounty may also include toys that pose significant dangers for your children. One of the most common items involved in product liability cases are children’s toys. Defective or faulty toys may cause serious injury or even death to your children.

    According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in 2013, there were an estimated 256,700 toy-related injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms. Of the 256,700 injuries, an estimated 73% happened to children younger than 15 years of age. In addition CPSC staff received nine reports of toy-related deaths that occurred in the 2013 calendar year among children younger than 15 years old.

    Many children are injured because they weren’t properly supervised. Other injuries occur because the parent failed to follow the toy manufacturer’s instructions properly. Serious injuries and even death can however also occur due to a toy being inherently defective or dangerous. Always be conscious of the fact that many toys are mass produced and assembled in third world countries, where quality is not nearly as important as quantity.

    According to CPSC, the following are the common causes for toy-related injuries in children:
    • Small parts of the toy that can choke children;
    • Sharp edges or materials of toys causing cuts, grazes and deep lacerations;
    • Strings, ribbon, and cords that can strangle a child;
    • High amounts of hazardous chemicals; and/or
    • High amounts of lead content.

    The most common toys that cause injury include: Rocking horses, balloons, battery operated toys, toys with electrical cords, toys with sharp or jagged edges.

    In accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), US toy producing companies must ensure that their products are safe for children’s use and they should not contain any hazardous chemicals or materials. The Act gives CPSC the power to develop safety standards and pursue recalls for products that present unreasonable or substantial risks of injury or death to consumers.

    What can you do about dangerous toy injuries?

    Toy injury claims are based on the legal concept of Product Liability, alleging the toy was defectively designed or built. Regardless of the cause of your child’s injury, such as choking on a small part, or getting burned by a hot wire, the actual legal basis for your claim will lie in the negligence of the designer or manufacturer in the manner in which the toy was designed, produced or distributed. In order to successfully bring a products liability action for an injury to your child because of an alleged dangerous or defective toy, you must be able to prove four main elements, called your burden of proof.

    These elements are:
    1. The toy was defective;
    2. The designer or manufacturer’s negligence caused the toy to be defective;
    3. As a direct result of the negligence in the design or manufacture of the toy, your child was injured;
    4. Your child’s injuries resulted in compensable damages.

    The law states that the manufacturer of a toy must exercise reasonable care in its design and manufacture, so the toy does not unnecessarily harm a child. The law does not state the manufacturer has an absolute duty to ensure your child will not be injured by the toy.

    If the injuries weren’t serious enough to require medical care, you probably don’t have a case. It’s not enough that your child sustained a minor cut or bruise, or momentarily choked on a piece of the toy. To have a valid personal injury claim, your child’s injuries must be serious enough to require medical care.

    In addition to medical costs, you can also include out-of-pocket expenses (ex. medications, bandages, etc.), lost wages if you had to miss time off work to care for your child, and the pain and suffering your child endured as a result of the injury.

    In an unfortunate scenario that your child gets injured due to a defective toy, the following are SUGGESTED TIPS for parents whose child gets involved in a toy-related injury:

    1. Call the emergency department immediately– Have your child diagnosed by a physician in order to have the injury treated and to avoid further injury.

    2. Follow doctor’s prescription – Once the injury is treated, strictly follow the doctor’s recommendations concerning medication and diet.

    3. Document the incident – Keep medical records of your child and take note of the information regarding the incident. Make sure to document pieces of information regarding the toy that caused the injury. Include information such as the toy name, the manufacturer, and serial number of the product. If possible take photographs of the toy and of the part of the toy in particular that you claim is defective.

    4. File a complaint with the CPSC – CPSC welcomes complaints about toy-related injuries. The CPSC has a number of resources that can help you protect your child including safety guides and tips for preventing accidents and injuries. The commission’s website also provides updated lists of products that have been recalled and the reasons why, as well as a consumer hotline and a link where you can report unsafe products. The website is http://cpsc.gov.

    5. Consult Ridge & Downes Attorneys– Legal representation from highly specialized attorneys who are familiar with product liability cases is advisable if your child has been injured by a defective or dangerous toy.

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