Archives for February 2012

Workers’ Compensation: Keeping Your Benefits

If you suffered a work-related injury or illness, you are entitled to compensation and support. In New Jersey, workers’ compensation benefits include medical benefits, wage replacement, and permanent disability compensation. Wage replacement and disability compensation can be awarded as temporary total benefits, permanent partial benefits, or permanent total benefits. If you are the dependent of a worker who died on the job or as a result of employment, you are entitled to a death benefit. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance program. Regardless of who was at fault for the injury or illness, the insurance must pay. In exchange for the benefits, the employee cannot bring a suit against the employer, for example, suing for pain and suffering, unless the employer’s act was intentional.

The system is not simple. Your employer may dispute your claim, in whole or part, arguing that the injury was not work-related, medical treatment was inappropriate or unnecessary, or temporary disability benefits are not justified. Keeping your benefits will require filing a claim petition or an application for an informal hearing with the New Jersey Division of Workers’ Compensation. You have the right to file the claim petition on your own, but the Division recommends you consult with a workers’ compensation attorney if you are involved in a dispute, filing a claim petition or filing an application for an informal hearing. An attorney cannot charge a fee to represent you in a workers’ compensation matter. The fee will be set by the judge assigned to your case. Attorney fees are normally limited to 20% of the amount awarded to you. An employer will generally be represented by a lawyer hired by the insurance company. A self-insured employer is required to hire counsel.

Threats to your workers’ compensation benefit payments

Aside from disputing the claim, your employer may use other strategies to attempt to stop your workers’ compensation benefits, including the following:

  • You may be offered an inappropriate work accommodation, a job for which you are under- or over-qualified. Your employer may attempt to stop your benefit payments when you refuse the position.
  • The employer’s insurance company may offer a lump sum settlement in place of weekly workers’ compensation payments, permanently limiting the total amount of your compensation.
  • Your employer may refuse to report your accident to the workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
  • The employer may attempt to limit your temporary total disability benefits on the basis of a single impairment rating evaluation.

Retaliation for filing a claim or testifying

It is illegal for your employer to fire or discriminate against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim or for testifying in a workers’ compensation case. You can file a claim of workers’ compensation discrimination with the New Jersey Office of Special Compensation Funds. If your employer terminated you because of a work-related disabling condition, you can file a federal claim of violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C.

If you have been treated unfairly or illegally by your employer, New Jersey State and federal agencies provide avenues for compensation under laws governing discrimination and workers’ compensation. A lawyer with experience in those areas can explain your options and how you may be able to challenge your employer’s actions.

Contact us for a free attorney consultation, or visit our Practice Areas page for more information about Taylor & Boguski.

Fire Injuries: the Third Leading Fatal Home Injury

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fires are the third leading cause of fatal home injuries. Every day sees an average of 435 children treated for fire injuries. Two of them will die. Most victims die from inhaling smoke and toxic gases, not from burn injuries. Smoking is the leading cause of fire-related death and cooking is the most common cause of residential fire. Statisticians can break down the cost of injuries, demographics (children four and under are most at risk of fire injury or death), ethnicity, economics, and social factors.

We also know that most home fires happen during the winter months, alcohol is often a contributing factor, and over one-third of home fire deaths happen in structures without working smoke alarms; one-quarter resulted from fires in homes in which smoke alarms were present but not operational. While there are numbers regarding losses and cost there are none to describe the pain and suffering of a family that loses a child, or a victim who survives but suffers serious burn injuries.

Completely preventable tragic accidents

The steps property owners and families can take to prevent home fires and related injuries and deaths are simple and inexpensive. Take the time to do the following and protect your family:

  • Install smoke alarms in or near every sleeping area and on every level. Check batteries monthly.
  • Discuss fire with your family members. Have an escape plan, with two exits from every room in the house. This might require investing in hanging ladders for second-story bedrooms. Have a meeting place outside of the house. Be sure everyone understands the importance of getting out without stopping for pets or personal belongings.
  • Discuss safe cooking practices, including never setting flammable materials on the stove.
  • Have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and make sure everyone knows how to use it.
  • Enforce a no-smoking-in-bedrooms rule.
  • Be clear that matches and lighters are not toys.

Fire injuries resulting from tenants’ or landlords’ negligence

Owners of rental property, including multi-family units, college dorms, and apartment buildings, are responsible for providing fire exits and smoke alarms. Specific requirements for inspections and permits vary by community and state. A landlord who fails to provide and maintain smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, fire alarms, or exits may be liable for damages to tenants injured as a result. A personal injury lawyer who takes on a fire injury or wrongful death claim should have resources available to conduct a thorough investigation. If a defective smoke alarms or other poorly designed equipment was to blame, the manufacturer may be liable. A landlord who failed to provide a safe building can be sued. In both those situations, insurance companies for the defendants will handle the cases and either agree to settlements or go to court.

Tenants are themselves responsible for taking reasonable precautions to prevent fires. A tenant who causes property damage, injury, or death through dangerous cooking or smoking practices, disabling smoke alarms, or blocking exits can be sued or charged with negligent homicide. If a tenant charge with a crime cannot afford a criminal defense lawyer, the state will provide a public defender. Again, the outcome of a civil or criminal case will depend heavily on the quality of the defense investigation.

When someone suffers injury or loss in a fire

It is important, if a person is injured or suffers another loss in a house or apartment fire, that a thorough investigation be conducted immediately, before evidence degrades or disappears, and witness memories become unreliable. It is common practice for personal injury law firms to offer free initial consultations and, if a firm takes a case, to arrange for that investigation. Therefore, person who has been injured, suffered loss of property, or lost a loved one to fire, should contact a firm as soon as possible afterwards.

Contact us for a free attorney consultation, or visit our Practice Areas page for more information about Taylor & Boguski.

Types of Divorce

From a legal perspective, New Jersey classifies the dissolution of a marriage simply as uncontested or contested. Divorce can be initiated by either spouse. Since the advent of no – fault divorce, the most common reason stated is simply irreconcilable differences. It is rare for the court to inquire as to the differences.

The legal distinction between types of divorce is simple, but in reality, each divorce is as unique as the individuals involved. Most dissolutions of marriage fall somewhere along a continuum, bounded by amicable agreement and all-out war.

Uncontested divorce

In an uncontested divorce, the couple works out an agreement on all division of assets and debt. This will include division of all property/assets, including retirement accounts, the family home, vehicles, investments and Aunt Sally’s blue china plate. It may include terms of any limited or permanent alimony, and a determination of how any debts will be settled. This agreement is formally written into a property settlement agreement (contract) which becomes part of the final judgment of divorce.

If the couple has children, the parents must agree on all details of child support, medical insurance, cost of education, sports, music lessons and other expenses. Their agreement must include decisions on legal and physical custody (sole, joint, combined), parenting time for a non-custodial parent, expenses involved in transporting the child between homes, and may involve agreements on special features such as video calls and religious instruction. If the couple can not agree then the Courts will make those decisions, something both parties should try to avoid as it is their children and they should do what is in the best interests of the child/children.

Related issues that may be included in the agreement include terms of temporary separation, grandparents’ visitation rights, and provisions for re-evaluating child custody post-divorce.

An important feature provided by uncontested divorce is privacy. In a contested (litigated) divorce, the record of court proceedings is a public record that may cause pain or embarrassment to the couple, their children and other parties.

Uncontested divorce is, compared to litigation (contested divorce), economical in financial and emotional terms. Attorney fees are kept to a minimum. There are no public arguments. Some couples with few assets and liabilities and no children even opt for do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce, preparing documents and presenting them directly to the courts. There are hazards, however, to DIY divorce, or budget attorney packages. Under the stress of emotional exhaustion or guilt, a party may agree to terms that are clearly unfair. The couple may overlook significant property or financial issues, fail to consider future changes in circumstances, or not understand the impact of the agreement on welfare or medical assistance payments.

Contested divorce (litigation)

In a contested divorce, the spouses fail to agree on some or all terms of division of property, child support and custody, and alimony. Spouses are represented by separate attorneys; the role of each is solely to protect the interests of his or her client. The litigation process may include discovery, investigations of marital assets, psychological evaluations of parents and children, motion practice, multiple court dates and postponements. The validity of a pre-nuptial agreement may be questioned. Ideally, divorce lawyers act as voices of reason in an emotionally charged space, helping their clients reach fair agreements on as many points as possible, only taking the most contentious issues to court. Finally a judge, working on the basis of court documents and proceedings, decides all terms of the divorce.

Child custody is the most complex and challenging issue in contested divorce. The law does not favor either parent as custodian, but will look at time away from home, living situations, the child’s relationship with each parent and the effect on the child’s education and social life when deciding custody issues.

Despite famous stories of contested divorce proceedings that devour the bulk of the marital estate or take years to resolve, most contested divorces are resolved in a reasonable fashion.

Legal separation, divorce from bed and board and annulment as alternatives to divorce

Some individuals, for religious or other reasons, choose not to divorce. Some choose instead a legal separation, living apart and limiting their financial relationships with their spouses. Others petition the court for annulment. An annulment is essentially a statement that the marriage did not exist. In New Jersey there are divorces from ”bed and board”-which allows the parties to live separate and apart, completely divide their assets and liabilities, determine alimony and child support, and allows for one spouse to keep the other spouse on their health insurance coverage. Neither party, however, can re-marry.

Contact us for a free attorney consultation, or visit our Practice Areas page for more information about Taylor & Boguski.

Construction Accidents, Third Party Liability, and Workers’ Comp

Mount Laurel Third Party Construction Accident Attorneys

While workers’ compensation covers medical costs for work – related construction accident injuries, it doesn’t always cover lost wages or pain and suffering. That’s important to remember in cases where construction accident injuries involve negligence on the part of a contractor or subcontractor other than your employer. In fact, it’s not uncommon for painters, electricians, carpenters, drywallers, and concrete workers to come and go, each working for a different employer. As a result, it’s not uncommon for certain safety violations to occur, resulting in construction site accident injuries that incur costs beyond what workers’ compensation can cover.

Third Party Liability and Construction Site Accidents

If you’ve been injured due to negligence on the part of a contractor or subcontractor, your employer’s worker compensation should cover most of your initial medical costs. However, if your injuries are serious and result in partial or long-term disability, workers’ compensation may only cover a portion of the total financial impact of your injuries. For instance, serious head trauma, spinal cord injuries, burns, or amputations often involve pain and suffering and long-term costs that exceed what you can recover through workers’ compensation benefits.

Holding Third Parties Legally and Financially Liable for Your Injuries

A negligent electrician, backhoe driver, crane operator, welder, or carpenter isn’t going to volunteer information regarding their negligence. As a result, you’ll need to work with an experienced construction accident attorney who has access to the necessary investigative resources needed to expose OSHA violations and departures from New Jersey state law governing everything from the use of ladders, scaffolding, asphalt, electrical work, drywall, concrete, and heavy equipment at construction sites. This involves collecting eyewitness statements, reviewing company records, collecting evidence from the scene of the accident, and reconstructing what happened.

Contact Mount Laurel Construction Accident Attorneys at Taylor & Boguski

If you’ve been injured in a construction site accident, there may be other considerations beyond what your workers’ compensation benefits will pay. If your injuries were caused in part by the actions of a third party, you may be able to collect additional compensation to offset the long-term financial consequences of your injuries.

To discuss your case and learn more about our personal injury practice and how we can help you, contact Mount Laurel construction accident injury attorneys at Taylor & Boguski today.

Dealing with Your Insurer after an Accident

Mount Laurel Personal Injury Attorneys

In 2010, Allstate, one of the nation’s largest insurers, paid $10 million to settle a lawsuit brought against it by 41 states. The lawsuit claimed there were inconsistencies in how Allstate used a claims software called “Colossus” to calculate claim payments in injury accidents. While Allstate agreed to standardize the use of Colossus, the claims software is still used today – and not just by Allstate. Colossus is used by many large and smaller insurance companies in order to determine claims payouts in car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian knockdowns, and other kinds of accidents where personal injuries are involved.

What is Colossus?

Colossus is a proprietary software used by some of the nation’s largest insurers (MetLife, Farmers, and the Hartford) for estimating claims in personal injury cases. In many ways, Colossus acts like a database for providing a baseline range of costs associated with different kinds of injuries that are similar in kind. To begin, a claims agent selects certain variables and enters them into Colossus – variables like “broken femur, “concussion,” lost wages, and the kind of accident you were in. Using pre-determined algorithms, Colossus then estimates the amount you should be paid based on costs associated with injuries that are similar to yours in your situation.

However, since there are certain questions associated with each variable entry, what is entered determines how each variable interfaces with value drivers considered by Colossus. Value drivers include such things as the kind of injury involved, hospitalization, its duration, treatment, etc. After analyzing costs associated with these value drivers, Colossus provides an estimate for a claims payout.

Questioning the Estimates of Colossus in Injury Claim Payouts

In this way, the results provided by Colossus depend in part on the variables entered by a claims agent in the first place. If your broken shoulder results in chronic pain or the weakness in your hand, the estimate provided by Colossus may not take into account these other factors that are a part of your injury. Critics of Colossus have pointed to this aspect of Colossus, though its supporters claim the software has been improved. Additionally, the manner in which Colossus determines an average payout has come under fire since insurers can tweak results by selecting from the low end of what is considered an average payout.

Why It’s Important to Talk to a Personal Injury Attorney

Insurance companies don’t always tell you that they’ve used a computer software to estimate your claim. And, since the result provided by Colossus is dependent upon what a claims agent enters, the estimate is subject to error. Further, Colossus does not take into account pain and suffering, especially in cases where an injury results in chronic pain or a loss in strength or the use of an arm or a leg. For these reasons, it’s important to work with an experienced personal injury attorney who understands how to challenge the estimates provided by Colossus and ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident, truck wreck, motorcycle crash, your slip and fall, contact Mount Laurel personal injury attorneys at Taylor & Boguski today to discuss your case.

Hit and Run Car Accident Injuries – Who Pays?

Mount Laurel UM/UIM Car Accident Attorneys

Due in part to the economic downturn, more and more Americans are driving without insurance coverage. In fact, experts and other observers have noticed an increase in uninsured / underinsured drivers since 2009. With foreclosures, unemployment, and bankruptcy affecting millions of Americans, many are choosing to let their car insurance lapse in order to pay for other things. As a result, it’s likely that the number of uninsured / underinsured drivers will continue to rise. Consequently, it’s not unreasonable to expect a rise in the number of hit and run accidents as uninsured motorists attempt to avoid criminal charges or lawsuits after hitting another car, bicyclist, or pedestrian.

Recovering Compensation after a Hit and Run Accident

If you’ve been injured in a hit and run accident, you can recover financial compensation under the terms of your own policy’s uninsured / underinsured (UM/UIM) coverage. Since UM/UIM coverage is not mandatory in New Jersey, you’ll want to make sure you purchased it and for how much you’re covered. If you purchased $100,000 UM/UIM coverage, you can claim up to that amount in damages under the terms of your UM/UIM policy less any amount you received from the responsible parties insurance.

Here, however, is where a hit and run injury victim can encounter difficulties with their own insurer. Since insurance companies are in business to make money, they can be difficult to deal with regarding UM/UIM claims.

You may be on good terms with your agent and have an excellent rapport with him or her. However, once you submit a UM/UIM claim after a hit and run accident, your relationship essentially becomes adversarial: since the other driver fled the scene, your insurer is unlikely to recover the losses it has to pay you. As a result, they may delay your payment, choose to take their time in the investigation, or dispute the severity of your injuries.

Protecting Your Interests after a Hit and Run Car Accident

If your insurer disputes your claim, you’ll need to hire a personal injury attorney to represent you. Although UM/UIM claims generally do not go to trial in New Jersey, they are handled through arbitration. Here, an impartial third party will listen to both sides of the case and decision. Arbitration requires that both parties agree to adhere to the arbitrator’s decision which means you and your insurer must accept what is final decided.

Hiring an experienced car accident attorney can help you prepare for and participate in the arbitration process. An experienced car accident lawyer understands what sorts of tactics insurers resort to minimize claims, including the use of claims software like Colossus and medical economists and life care planners. As such, you and your personal injury attorney may need to hire your own experts in order to challenge those working for your insurer.

Contact Mount Laurel UM/UIM Claims Attorneys

A hit and run accident can be a nightmare beyond the physical injuries you suffer if your insurer balks at paying your claim in a timely fashion. To protect your interests and learn how we can help you, contact Mount Laurel car accident attorneys at Taylor & Boguski today.

Workers’ Compensation Claims – Do I need to See My Doctor?

Mount Laurel Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

If you’ve been injured in a work-related accident, your employer’s worker’s compensation insurer will likely ask you to see one of their doctors to verify your injuries and condition. While this may seem reasonable and simply part of the worker’s compensation process, don’t assume the doctor who exams you is primarily interested in making sure you are okay and being taken care of. A doctor that works for an insurer is interested in determining if your injuries are due in part to a prior condition or as serious as you claim.

In this capacity, an insurance doctor is in part an agent of the insurer and has an incentive to protect the interests of the insurer. As a result, the severity of your injuries may be questioned or downplayed while your length of recovery shortened by recommendation of the doctor.

Consult Your Doctor | Protecting Your Interest after a Work – Related Injury

Under New Jersey’s worker’s compensation laws, an employer (or the employer’s insurer) can select the doctor you have to see. However, you can elect to consult your own doctor if you tell your employer (or their insurance carrier) that you are under the care of a particular doctor. If your employer requires you to see a particular doctor you should be able to see your own doctor after a certain amount of time has passed or to get a second opinion. However, you may be responsible for any expense incurred in seeing a doctor of your selection.

Getting a Second Opinion | Disputes and Worker’s Compensation Claims

When you see the insurance doctor, you’ll likely be asked a series of questions about your medical history and the accident that injured you. If the insurance doctor has reason to believe your injuries are due completely or in part to a prior condition, you benefits may be reduced or denied altogether.

For example, suppose you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome after being on the job for a year and a half. The insurance doctor might ask if you’ve ever had trouble with your wrist or arm before. Suppose you play guitar and tell the doctor that you’ve struggled on and off with pain and soreness for a few years. He might conclude that your injury is due to your guitar playing and constitutes a prior condition.

At this point, if your claim is denied or you contest the benefits offered, you’ll have to file a Claim Petition or Application for an Informal Hearing with the Division of Workers’ Compensation. Being prepared with a second opinion from your doctor may provide grounds for honoring or increasing your claim if the court is persuaded by the facts.

Contact Mount Laurel Workers’ Compensation Attorneys Taylor & Boguski

Employers don’t always inform their employees about their rights, nor do they always treat them fairly when it comes to protecting their job and returning to work. If you’ve been injured on the job, it’s important to talk to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to ensure your rights are protected. To learn more about your rights under New Jersey workers’ compensation laws, contact Mount Laurel workers’ compensation attorneys at Taylor & Boguski.