Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

Independent contractors are workers whom an employer contracts to perform work for someone else. For example, a roofer may form an agreement with a roofing company to fix the roof of a company client. Under these arrangements, the independent contractor is not technically an employee. Unfortunately, this means if an independent contractor suffers injuries on the job, the employer can avoid paying out workers’ compensation. Instead, an independent contractor may look to alternative routes for compensation.

As a recent news article reported, a paper mill worker suffered from several injuries after falling from a roof in Skowhegan, Maine. Officials believe the person was an independent contractor fixing a piece of equipment on top of the building’s roof. The local fire department assisted with rescuing the person, who was transported to the hospital for multiple injuries. The accident comes on the heels of another subcontractor’s tragic death in the same town. The subcontractor was working at a different mill when he suddenly collapsed.

Can Independent Contractors Recover Workers’ Compensation?

If independent contractors suffer injuries on the job, they generally cannot recover workers’ compensation against the entity that contracted them for the job. Independent contractors must have workers’ compensation insurance for any employees they hire, but independent contractors themselves often do not receive workers’ compensation. Maine law presumes all workers are employees for workers’ compensation purposes. However, employers can escape that presumption by proving their workers are independent contractors who will not receive workers’ compensation for injuries on the job. Unfortunately, this arrangement is all too common. Employers save money by avoiding workers’ compensation insurance and payouts, leaving their workers with no recourse if they suffer injuries that impede their ability to earn a living. However, independent contractors can recover workers’ compensation if they can show the employer misclassified them as independent contractors rather than an employees.

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Those who suffer injuries at a construction site or shipyard, may recover damages for their injuries and losses. Maine workplace accident cases are often complex because they entail a complicated interplay of various statutes and regulations. Maine shipyards and construction sites are some of the most dangerous workplaces. These premises often have heavy-duty machinery and dangerous features that present hazards to anyone in the vicinity. Further, because of the various parties working at these locations, the sites often lead to chaos, and the inattention to detail can have disastrous consequences. These accidents can lead to broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and death. For example, news reports recently described a Maine shipyard’s worker crane accident. The victim suffered severe injuries requiring several surgeries while working with a crane at the shipyard.

The most common types of Maine shipyard and construction site accidents involve automotive and crane accidents, scaffolding accidents, trench collapses, burns, equipment failures, and toxin exposure. In some cases, non-exempt employees may pursue claims against their employer through the state’s workers’ compensation program. However, employers and co-workers are typically immune from liability. As such, the law permits injury victims and their loved ones to pursue third-party lawsuits against any other negligent party involved in the accident.

Some common examples of third-party negligence involve accidents that occur because of the negligent design or manufacturer of safety equipment, the use of toxic materials in construction projects, faulty engineering plans, the failure to want of dangerous conditions, motor vehicle accidents caused by third-parties, and defective machinery. Although workers may recover a portion of their damages through the workers’ compensation program, the amount is rarely enough to cover the extent of the victim’s damages. Further, workers’ compensation does not allow for the award of pain and suffering damages. Pain and suffering is a real, traumatic consequence of many accidents. Damages for pain and suffering are appropriate to compensate the victim for the injury’s emotional and physical stress.

Workers injured on-the-job in Maine are almost all entitled to no-fault workers’ compensation benefits in accordance with Title 39-A of Maine Revised Statutes. With very few exceptions, those hurt in the course and scope of employment can receive compensation for lost wages, medical expenses and vocational training. Survivors of employees who die of these injuries can collect death benefits.
As Portland workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, this was all part of the “grand bargain” struck between labor unions and employers in the early 20th century, in exchange for strictly curtailing, in most cases, a worker’s right to sue an employer for such injuries. However, employee advocates say benefits are insufficient and too difficult to obtain, thanks to years of legislative efforts (the biggest push being in 1992) favoring insurance companies and big industry. This, they say, combined with a twenty-six percent cost of living increase in Maine, makes the current situation untenable for injured workers.
State legislative committees have scheduled hearings, where workers and their families are slated to testify, arguing that reform is necessary because the state’s current workers’ compensation framework is unfair and causes undue hardship. State lawmakers are considering more than two dozen bills that would amount to sweeping reform of Maine’s workers’ compensation system. The objective, say supporters, is to balance the scales. The system was overhauled roughly 25 years ago by those who insisted the state’s approach – the most expensive in the nation – put the entire system on the verge of collapse.

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

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. 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).

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.

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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, 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

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