After a 30-year-old roof worker fell to his death on a job site in Portland, local media began digging into his employer’s past with work safety violations. The Portland Press Herald reported that the roofing and window installation firm had been slapped with repeated fines for failing to protect workers from job site perils that put them at risk for serious injury and death. Portland workers’ compensation attorneys know that while this won’t necessarily give rise to an additional compensation for the man’s surviving family (who will likely already be entitled to Maine workers’ compensation death benefits), it may expose the company to additional fines.
In the last seven years, the company has been ordered to pay nearly $45,000 for not meeting fall protection safety criteria as outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is now launching another investigation into the worker’s fall-related death. The incident occurred at a three-family home on Congress Street, where the worker reportedly fell from the third story. Safety records indicate federal safety regulators fined the company twice during inspections in 2012 – once for not providing adequate fall arrest systems for workers on a low-sloped roof and again for lack of guardrail systems or safety nets for workers on steep roofs. Then in 2015, federal inspectors said the company had not met the minimum fall safety standards for workers toiling 6 feet or more above the ground, requiring that if workers don’t have a personal fall arrest system, the site needs to be equipped with guardrails, netting or safety harnesses. Then last year, the company was found to be in violation of another worker safety standard requiring ladders extending beyond three feet to be secured safely to the ground. That violation, which is still pending, resulted in an OSHA-recommended fine of nearly $25,000.
In a 13-month period ending March 2018, eight people have died on Maine job sites. One of those in October 2017 involved a worker who fell from a roof when it collapsed. The worker fell to the ground, suffering a neck injury.
A worker who suffered a drug overdose on the job is suing his former employer, alleging his co-workers committed gross negligence by failing to call 911 and instead placing him in a cold shower. Bangor Daily News reports the 30-year-old man is now confined to a wheelchair and unable to care for himself.
The case is unique in the fact that in most Maine work injury cases seeking coverage of medical bills and lost wages from an employer, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy, as explained in the general provisions of 39-A M.R.S.A. §104. The law says an employer is exempt from civil action for either negligence or intentional conduct resulting in an employee’s injury or death, and also that a fellow employee is exempt from a Maine injury lawsuit arising out of the course of employment.
As a no-fault system, the employee is not required to prove negligence and the employer loses the right to assert most common-law defenses that would ordinarily address an injury lawsuit. The worker does need to show he or she was acting in the course and scope of employment. Although employees can (and should, if available) assert third-party liability claims against non-employer defendants whose negligence caused or contributed to their injuries, it’s very rare for an employee to succeed in a negligence lawsuit against an employer for injuries sustained in the course and scope of employment. This doesn’t apply to independent contractor workers, only those who meet the definition of “employee.” Continue reading
The Maine supreme court has that ruled employers aren’t required to cover medical marijuana through the state workers’ compensation system. The 5-2 decision disappointed many worker advocates who had been following the case closely. Justices ruled that in a conflict between federal law considering marijuana a dangerous and addictive substance and Maine’s state medical marijuana law, the federal law takes precedence.
This means that people injured on-the-job in Maine are going to need to either accept an alternative medication for their treatment or else pay for their medical marijuana out-of-pocket. Injured workers should be mindful, though, because the federal precedent also allows employers to take employment action against workers who use marijuana, even with a prescription. While this is troubling in itself, employees accepting workers’ compensation may need to be especially cautious, given that as a whole, they are more likely to be targeted for retaliation from employers for reporting work injuries, seeking treatment for on-the-job accidents or reporting job site safety violations. Continue reading
A Maine roofer has been ordered to pay nearly $400,000 in fines and implement a safety program, including the use of proper safety equipment and fall protection.
Business Insurance reports the announcement by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration comes this month after safety violations were cited at 11 worksites between 2000 and 2011. The company has failed to pay fines or institute proper safety measures, despite having been ordered to do so by a First Circuit judge in 2011, according to OSHA.
Maine workers’ compensation lawyers continue to see an increasing number of fall accidents in the workplace. While falls are the leading cause of work injuries (after transportation accidents), they are particularly common in the construction industry. Summer months will bring an increasing number of roofers to the skyline to make repairs and replace old or damaged roofs, so it’s an apt time for a reminder of the risks these workers face and the safety mandates in place to protect them.
A man is suing two salmon farm companies – including his employer – in federal court in Bangor following a Maine workplace injury at a salmon farm that resulted in the amputation of two of his fingers on his dominant hand. WGME.com reports the worker is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for losing his middle and ringer fingers on his right hand, claiming the two companies were negligent in failing to properly train employees and in failing to provide them with necessary safety equipment.
His attorney alleges the 22-year-old’s life will never again be the same, and he may never again be able to return to working on the water, something he loved. In addition, he’s alleged to be permanently disfigured.
This case is a bit different from most Maine work injury claims in that typically, workers are not able to sue their employers for compensation for such injuries. They can sue third parties for negligence, but the Maine Workers’ Compensation Act is considered the exclusive remedy available to employees who suffer work-related injuries, illnesses, or diseases against employers with workers’ compensation coverage. As long as the employer meets its obligation to provide workers’ compensation benefits, it’s immune from civil liability for injuries to employees. This immunity further extends to all of the company’s employees, supervisors, officers, etc. (meaning you can’t sue your co-worker or your boss).
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled the doctrine of res judicata prohibits the re-litigation of a workers’ compensation claimant’s permanent impairment level, as previously established for a Maine work injury.
The doctrine of res judicata means literally “a matter judged.” In general, the idea is that an issue cannot be re-litigated once it’s already been judged on its merits. This encompasses limits on both the claims and any issues that may be raised in subsequent proceedings. The question was whether this doctrine would not allow a defendant in a workers’ compensation case to re-litigate the issue of permanent impairment level for a worker whose impairment level had already been established by a previous court. The court agreed the doctrine applied.
According to court records, the proceeding that kicked this off was a 2014 decision by the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board that granted the city’s petition to consider the ongoing extent of the plaintiff’s permanent impairment. At the time the board accepted this petition, the plaintiff was 65 years old and had a long history of working with the local fire department, which he joined in 1975.
Back injuries are the most common type of injury suffered on the job, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. What’s more, the Maine Department of Labor reports the problem is getting worse here in The Pine Tree State.
Federal analysis indicates that in 2014, there were approximately 200,000 cases in which workers missed at least one day of work because of a back injury. That’s out of 1.15 million total instances of missed time for occupational injuries.
Meanwhile, the Maine DOL reports injuries to the lumbar spine (the lower back) represented 14.3 percent of all work-related injuries. Compare this to 2009, when lower back injuries comprised 10.7 percent of all work injuries.
An 18-weeks pregnant woman who worked in a Maine psychiatric center was violently attacked with a pen by a mentally ill patient with a history of violence.
Worker suffered severe pain and disfigurement, was forced to undergo surgery to remove part of the pen from her right hand and now suffers chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.
Typically, injuries like these are covered under the state’s workers’ compensation laws. Workers’ compensation is a form of no-fault benefits provided to injured workers (or families of those killed) when that injury or death occurred in the course and scope of employment. Workers’ compensation benefits come with a provision of exclusive remedy, meaning injured workers don’t have the right to sue their employer, but their medical expenses and a portion of lost wages are available. Compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress and punitive damages are not paid by workers’ compensation. So what this plaintiff wants to do is make the state – not the private psychiatric center – liable for the injuries she suffered at work. Continue reading
Most of us who live in Maine love Maine. But according to a recent study by financial website Money-rates.com, Maine is among the worst states in the country to earn a living.
While other states in the bottom 10 ranked poorly because of low wages, high cost of living, high taxes and other economic disadvantages, Maine’s ranking was primarily because of workplace injuries.
The site, which ranked Maine the third-worst state, just ahead Hawaii and Oregon, indicated it is tied for the highest frequency of workplace illness, injury and death.
Specifically, Maine public officials reported 5.3 workplace injuries, illnesses or deaths per 100 workers. Continue reading