Tragedies on and off the silver screen: How to avoid costly workplace injuries

April 10, 2017 - by: Angela Cummings 0 COMMENTS
Angela Cummings

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is the title of a science fiction horror film that was recently released worldwide. The horror that occurred behind the scenes in the making of the movie rivaled the fictional onscreen terror. First, the leading actress’ stuntwoman, Olivia Jackson, sustained life-threatening injuries, including cerebral trauma, a crushed face, a severed neck artery, a paralyzed arm that had to be amputated, spinal cord damage, and multiple broken bones, all from a motorcycle collision with a camera crane. Then, later in filming, another crew member, Richard Cornelius, was killed when one of the movie’s props, an Army Hummer, crushed him. In addition to such stunt and crew film personnel, actors themselves often suffer serious workplace injuries while filming movies. For example, while filming “Syriana,” A-list actor George Clooney broke his spine during a stunt scene gone awry. His injury was so serious that he was bedridden for a month with severe migraines, during which time he also suffered from depression. Work Injury Claim Form

Like the Hollywood employees just mentioned, everyday workers also suffer workplace injuries. These injuries can prove costly to their employers in the form of workers’ compensation claims, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties, and loss of productivity and morale. Private employers reported approximately 2.9 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses to OSHA in 2015. Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that approximately 4,500 employees suffer workplace injuries each year that result in their deaths. Such recorded workplace injuries and illnesses range in severity and include wounds, amputations, back injuries, as well as fatal accidents from crushing and falling. Almost one-half of the recorded workplace injuries were serious enough to result in direct or indirect financial loss to the employer, including the injured employee missing a day or more from work, requiring a transfer to a different position, or needing to limit some duties of his or her position due to a doctor-imposed work restriction. In addition, these are just the reported injuries. It’s safe to say that many thousands more injuries are either not reported by the employee and/or the employer.

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Workingjay

November 24, 2014 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS
Brian Kurtz

Inspired by The Hunger Games trilogy, some employers may feel the urge to pile the employees onto a bus, head off site, and pit coworker against coworker in some form of physical competition under the guise of “team building.” Savvy employers are always looking for new and better ways to motivate the troops, solidify relationships, and build some esprit de corps. What better way than to take the workforce on a high-action field trip?

But they better be mindful of employment laws, particularly OSHA regulations, state tort law, and state workers’ compensation laws. shutterstock_196000976 In February 2009 OSHA published a letter of interpretation stating that employee injuries suffered at off-site teambuilding events are recordable in OSHA logs. The letter was requested after an employee was injured in a go-kart accident during an office retreat.

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A scar is born

November 11, 2014 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS
Brian Kurtz

On The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon the other night, the host and Matthew McConaughey competed to see who could throw the most footballs at the other guy’s face. Not his physical face, of course, but glass plates printed with each guy’s face. Toward the end, McConaughey steps in front of Fallon as he is about to throw, and I immediately start thinking, “What if he hits the actor square in the nose with a football?”shutterstock_183450509

As an employment lawyer, I wasn’t so concerned about McConaughey’s career. Did you see him as modern day Rust Cohle? Dude can pull off ugly just fine. No, my concern was whether he could be compensated for his injuries. Would it be covered by workers’ comp?  Could he sue The Tonight Show or Fallon? Turns out, Hollywood has had to deal with these kinds of safety issues in the past. Here are two cases worth noting.

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If Bill Cosby is wearing a garish sweater, this must be 1980s TV!

March 27, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 0 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

A few weeks ago, I saw a news story about how the last of the baby boomers are turning 50 in 2014. “Wow, that’s old,” I thought, until I realized that I’m 53. Then, as if I needed any further reminders of my elder statesmanship, one of the legal assistants in our office, a 20-something, accused me of “making up” the fact that there used to be a popular singer named Bing. Sigh. (And for the record, he was popular way before my time.)  CosbySweater

That’s it, I decided. Time for a blog post about popular culture from an era that none of those rascally whippersnappers will even remember: the 1980s.  That’ll teach ‘em not to be so darn … er, young. So charge up your brick-sized cellular phone, press “play” and “record” simultaneously on your 150-pound manually-operated VCR, and run your comb through that mullet: We’re going to take a spin through “Employment Law in1980s TV-Land.”

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Work hard, play hard work harder

November 11, 2013 - by: David Kim 0 COMMENTS
David Kim

As discussed in our previous blog post, the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin scandal has dominated the sports and national headlines. Lost somewhat in the midst of an Incognito-Martin-centric sports news cycle were the recent health scares of Denver Broncos coach John Fox and Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak during week 9 of the NFL season. Fox, whose Broncos were on a bye week, experienced symptoms, including feeling light-headed, while golfing, and ended up having an aortic heart valve replacement procedure just days later. Kubiak, during the halftime of the Texans’ Sunday Night Football matchup with the Indianapolis Colts, collapsed on the field and was taken to a nearby hospital due to what doctors have described as a mini-stroke.

On the heels of these events, which occurred within 48 hours of each other, the health and work ethics of NFL coaches have come under scrutiny. Journalists, NFL analysts, and former players and coaches have discussed the need for the NFL to implement programs or procedures to create a healthier work environment for coaches. One former NFL player, Cris Collinsworth, has suggested the NFL implement a “7 to 7” rule, stating that teams should be forced to open its office doors at 7:00 a.m. and close them before 7:00 p.m. Others, including former head coach and NFL media analyst Brian Billick, state that the hours and pressure come with a job where you are judged on your performance week in and week out and that “we [coaches] do this to ourselves.”

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Workers’ compensation latest battleground for NFL

September 27, 2013 - by: David Kim 0 COMMENTS
David Kim

When is $765 million a bargain? Apparently, when you’re the National Football League. By now most people know that the NFL agreed to pay $765 million last month to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 players and their families, who alleged that the league concealed what it knew about the dangers of concussion-related brain injuries. Attorneys for the plaintiffs point to the fact that immediate care is needed for retired players with severe neurological disorders, such as ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, many who would never receive remuneration during their lifetime should the case be litigated over many years. In addition, there was a concern that individualized claims could become complex due to the fact that certain former players with short NFL careers played the vast majority of their football outside of the NFL (college, high school, etc.). This settlement ensures that thousands of retired players obtain compensation needed for current and future medical injuries and exams. While this is true, most agree that the NFL has to be ecstatic with this deal. With annual revenues hovering around $10 billion, the NFL is paying a mere fraction to avoid a potential finding of liability as well as a public relations nightmare. And if anything, Commission Roger Goodell has admitted that one of his primary objectives is “protecting the shield.” Instead of spending years defending allegations that the league knew concealed and misled players about the long-term dangers of concussions, the NFL can say this settlement not only helps retired players in need but also funds future baseline medical exams and research and education funds intended to take appropriate preventative measures. While the settlement’s details are still being analyzed and debated, including questions (and confusion) from some former players about who is or is not eligible under its terms, another fight is brewing between the NFL and its former players that has not quite received the same national attention. That is because the battleground is California. Just a few weeks ago, the California Senate passed a bill (which previously passed the California Assembly) that would preclude workers’ compensation claims by athletes from non-California teams, as well as athletes who played only a portion of their career with California teams. The bill is currently before California’s governor, who many expect will sign it into law. Who helped lobby and push this bill through? You guessed it. The NFL, along with the other five other professional sports leagues that the bill affects: MLB, NBA, WNBA, NHL, and MLS. California’s statute of limitations on workers’ compensation claims is much less restrictive than in other states, and California is one of the few states that cover “cumulative” injuries such as brain trauma incurred over a period of time. As a result, former athletes who played for visiting non-California-based teams have been making claims in California for years, especially former NFL players seeking compensation for repeated head trauma and related brain injuries, because they cannot do so anywhere else. Many of these claims are made by little-known athletes who enjoyed relatively short careers, earned the league minimum, or never even made it to the “big” leagues. On the one hand, this bill’s impact is arguably limited to professional sports. Teams and their insurers pay the costs of successful workers’ compensation claims, not taxpayers. In addition, insurance premiums are often determined on an industry-specific basis and therefore the claims activity of professional sports leagues don’t directly affect other industries. On the other hand, there are concerns that this measure could lead to future legislation depriving workers in other industries from filing claims in California, or to legislation in other states’ creating carve-outs for specific classes of workers. In addition, there is a belief that if players are prohibited from obtaining workers’ compensation in California, they will have to turn to Medicaid, Social Security, or other forms of government assistance, leaving the public to foot the bill. The reality is that oftentimes legislation begets legislation. We may think of “athletes” as those men and women on SportsCenter and TV commercials making millions of dollars and whose lives have no similarity to ours. However, the fact is an athlete’s injury is considered a workplace injury just as if he or she was injured on the job as a foreman, truck driver, or messenger. And just because the California bill applies only to athletes doesn’t mean the next piece of legislation won’t apply to you, your class of workers, or your state.