In the construction industry, knowing when and how to take legal action in any given circumstance is not always clear. The world of organized labor is all about getting the right people to help so that we don’t have to go it alone. This is especially true when it comes to the health and welfare of any man or woman on the jobsite. Know that there are plenty of union friendly lawyers out there happy to help guide the way.

To answer some common work-related legal questions, Organized Labor spoke with the experts: Nicholas Sheedy of the Law Office of Nicholas Sheedy; Jim Butler and Chris Viadro, Partners at Butler Viadro, LLP; Robert Arns, Partner at The Arns Law Firm and Hillary Allyn, Associate at The Arns Law Firm; Anthony Label and Steven Kronenberg, both attorneys at The Veen Firm.

What is “personal injury” law?
Label: “Personal Injury” refers to someone who has suffered bodily injury or emotional distress, as opposed to property damage or harm to one’s reputation. Personal injury covers a broad range of cases, and typical examples include workplace accidents, industrial accidents, automobile accidents, unsafe roadways, and the like. Personal injury lawsuits provide an injury victim with an opportunity to recover financially for some of the harms that the victims and their families have suffered.

What are “Social Security Cases”?
Sheedy: The Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Disability programs are the largest of several federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities. Both are administered by the Social Security Administration, and only individuals who have a disability and meet medical criteria may qualify for benefits under either program. Claimants applying for the benefits often find the system to be confusing and encounter a great deal of bureaucratic “red tape.” Often a claimant will retain an attorney so that they have an advocate who is familiar with the procedures and better prepared to prove that their injury qualifies for the benefits.

When a worker gets hurt on the job, remedies include: workers compensation, third party case and/or Social Security case. Why is it important to have one law firm which pursues all available remedies at the same time?
Viadro: Where an injured worker has workers’ compensation, third party (“personal injury”) and Social Security cases arising from the same injury, it is very important to have one firm handle all three. If an injured worker retains 2-3 firms for these various cases, it can be very difficult to effectively and properly coordinate the cases to achieve the maximum benefit for the client. In other words, multiple firms is like having too many chefs in the kitchen.

If I get hurt on the job, what’s the first thing I should do from a legal stand point?
Allyn: Report your injury! This is the most important thing to do immediately after suffering an on-the-job injury. Your employer should then provide you with a Workers’ Compensation claim form (called a “DWC-1” form). You should also ask to see a doctor. It is essential to immediately report your injury and file a claim to preserve your right to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits.

Is there any sort of “pre-injury” action I should take?
Sheedy: An injured worker can, in writing, designate their own physician or medical group to treat their workers’ compensation claim. This is called “pre-designating.” If you pre-designate, you may see your personal physician or the medical group right after you are injured. You can predesignate only if, on your date of injury, you have health care coverage for medical conditions that are unrelated to work.

Why is a consumer class action sometimes the best bet?
Kronenberg: Like union membership, a consumer class action harnesses the power of collective bargaining to achieve justice. Lawsuits can be too expensive to litigate individually and may not provide a consistent remedy for everyone who has been wronged. A class action may level the playing field and keep the marketplace honest.

When it comes to legal representation, how do I go about choosing the right attorney for me?
Butler: Is the attorney experienced, and does he or she have a proven track record? Can the attorney handle all of the issues arising out of my situation or am I going to have to hire multiple attorneys? Will the attorney go the distance and fight for me? How do I get along with the attorney? What do others (e.g., business agents, other lawyers, past clients) think of the attorney?

How important is experience when selecting legal representation? 
Arns: A few great Northern California law firms that represent injured construction workers are well-known, and have proven with their vast experience that they can get the best results for an injured worker or for a family who has lost their bread winner.

Disclaimer: The attorney comments above should not be relied upon exclusively for legal advice, as the limitations of this article did not afford them the opportunity to provide complete and thorough answers to the questions. Visit www.sfbuildingtradescouncil.org for even more info from these and other legal experts.

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