Family matters: Age and driving ability

Getting older does not make you a bad driver, but changes in the ability to drive safely can. Pennsylvania drivers want to hang onto their driving privileges as long as…

Getting older does not make you a bad driver, but changes in the ability to drive safely can. Pennsylvania drivers want to hang onto their driving privileges as long as possible to retain the independence that a vehicle provides.

Family members frequently hesitate to broach the subject of driving with an older relative, knowing that it could cause the person to become defensive. The conversation often fizzles and only comes up again when the relative’s driving behavior becomes risky or there is a car accident.

Age is no defense in a personal injury or wrongful death case, when an older driver is responsible for harming others in a motor vehicle accident. Any driver who acts carelessly or recklessly may be considered negligent and liable for injuries and deaths.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends finding out more about an older driver’s activities before making any judgments or taking any actions. Your own observations can be combined with information provided by others who interact with the older person regularly. You can record what you see while riding with or following the relative as he or she drives.

Be careful not to make assumptions about the person’s abilities due to age. Be certain that your assessment is based on driving fitness. Running stop signs or red lights, speeding or slow driving and aggressive driving can pose an immediate danger to your family member and other drivers. Red flags accompany off-road behaviors like coordination loss and dizziness.

Consult with your relative’s medical professionals — doctors, pharmacist or ophthalmologist — while being mindful that you may need the older person’s permission to do so. You may also speak with a police officer about possible license restrictions and an attorney about the legal responsibilities of drivers with physical or mental limitations.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “How to Understand & Influence Older Drivers,” accessed May 29, 2015

Truck drivers’ hours of service are limited for good reason

Multiple studies in recent years have shown that drowsy driving is a major cause of auto accidents. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that at least…

Multiple studies in recent years have shown that drowsy driving is a major cause of auto accidents. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that at least 100,000 crashes each year result directly from driver fatigue.

While all drivers should avoid drowsy driving, the risk of a serious accident may be significantly higher when a truck or bus driver is sleepy while behind the wheel. That is why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, regulates truck and bus drivers’ hours of service and requires those drivers to log their hours.

There are some slight differences in the hours-of-service limits for truck drivers and bus drivers. The FMCSA categorizes truck drivers as property-carrying drivers and bus drivers as passenger-carrying drivers.

Property-carrying drivers are allowed to operate their vehicles for no more than 11 hours after an off-duty period of 10 consecutive hours. The driving limit for passenger-carrying vehicles is 10 hours after eight consecutive hours off duty.

Truck and bus drivers’ jobs also require them to be on duty when they aren’t behind the wheel, whether for vehicle maintenance or some other reason. FMCSA regulations take this into account.

Truck drivers are not allowed to drive once they reach the 14th consecutive hour on the job after 10 consecutive hours off duty, and bus drivers are not allowed to drive once they reach the 15th consecutive hour on the job after eight consecutive hours off duty.

Unfortunately, these rules are often broken, and there have been many cases of truck and bus drivers falsifying their hours-of-service logs.

To learn more about these matters and what to do after a collision with a large commercial vehicle, please see MHK Attorneys’ “Five Things You Need To Know About Truck Accidents.”

Can a workers’ comp claim be resolved through mediation?

If you’ve ever been hurt at work, you may have already begun the process of filing a workers’ compensation claim. If your accident or illness is obviously the result of…

If you’ve ever been hurt at work, you may have already begun the process of filing a workers’ compensation claim. If your accident or illness is obviously the result of a workplace incident, you may not have any problems obtaining the medical care and other benefits you expect. If your claim was denied, however, you may have little option but to argue your case before the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry’s Office of Adjudication.

The prospect of going to court probably makes you nervous. Having an attorney with you can help with the discomfort and make your case go more smoothly, but a lot of people prefer alternative dispute resolution methods over the adversarial process you see in court. Is it possible to handle the matter in a less confrontational way?

Yes. The Office of Adjudication does allow alternative dispute resolution in workers’ comp disputes, including mediation. In the area of workers’ compensation, however, the mediator will actually be a WC judge.

In fact, mediation is the default option whenever an employer or an employee files a petition with the Office of Adjudication. However, informal discussions and conferences aimed at negotiated settlements are also available.

If mediation facilitated by a WC judge doesn’t result in a settlement right away, you can always try traditional methods. However, you’re free to return to mediation or have a settlement conference at any point in the process, if both parties agree.

If you choose the option of an informal settlement conference, it will also take place with a WC judge. One interesting note: If you don’t have a lawyer at an informal settlement conference, your employer can’t either.

Americans are tired of auto recalls — and we’re ignoring them

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, people only get their cars fixed after a safety recall about two-thirds of the time. Can you believe that? You’ve been notified…

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, people only get their cars fixed after a safety recall about two-thirds of the time. Can you believe that? You’ve been notified of a potential safety issue with your car, and you’re told there will be no charge for fixing it. All you have to do is bring it to a dealership. Easy, right?

Apparently, it’s not that easy. In fact, it’s a huge problem. Recalls aren’t issued for every little thing; a recall is only issued for defects that pose a serious threat to health or safety. In other words, if your vehicle is on the recall list, it’s over something pretty big.

How big? Well, you may recall last year’s recall of around 27 million cars and trucks in the U.S. alone. It was among the largest recalls in history, and it involved ignition switches that could suddenly shut the vehicle off without any warning — even at highway speeds. GM acknowledges at least 90 people have died and 163 others have been injured.

Or, consider Takata Corp., which supplies air bag assemblies to many major automakers. The problem appears to be that the airbag’s inflator can cause the airbags to explode out at such tremendous force that they break the inflator itself, which is then hurled like shrapnel into the occupants of the car. There have been at least 5 deaths and over 100 injuries from these defective airbags.

2014 was an historic year for recalled vehicles. The number of cars and trucks in the U.S. that were recalled for major safety issues exceeded 60 million for the first time in history. Is it recall fatigue that’s keeping owners of these vehicles from taking action?

We may never know the answer. What GM has found out was that owners often only had their recall fixes done if they received multiple mailings, phone calls, and the promise of a free loaner vehicle while the repairs were being performed.

If you’re not certain whether your own vehicle is subject to an important safety recall, you can find out using the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s VIN search. If you’ve been injured in a car accident and wonder whether an auto defect may have been at play, you should discuss the situation with an attorney right away.

Can I get both workers’ comp and Social Security disability?

If you’ve been hurt or made ill by something at work, you apply for workers’ compensation, right? Right. If you’ve suffered a disabling injury or medical condition that will keep…

If you’ve been hurt or made ill by something at work, you apply for workers’ compensation, right? Right. If you’ve suffered a disabling injury or medical condition that will keep you from working for a year or longer, you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance, right? Right.

What if both are true? 

In Pennsylvania, people who have suffered disabling workplace injuries or illnesses qualify for disability benefits through the workers’ compensation system. If you’re completely unable to work according to American Medical Association standards, you can apply for total disability benefits — and you may also qualify for specific loss benefits if you suffer certain types of bodily harm. Temporary disability benefits are also available.

The disability benefits offered through the workers’ comp program typically include wage-loss payments as well as coverage for your medical care. You can expect to receive about two-thirds of your average weekly pay, up to a certain threshold. If you receive total disability benefits for two years, your employer can require you to get a medical evaluation to determine if you’re still totally disabled or could work with restrictions. If so, your status will change to partially disabled. Partial disability benefits last a maximum of 500 weeks (almost 10 years). However, you can also request a medical evaluation seeking a return to total disability status.

How might Social Security disability come into play?

Working people who meet the Social Security Administration’s criteria for permanent disability may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance whether or not the disability is work-related. It’s perfectly legal and appropriate to apply for both workers’ comp and SSDI.

That said, the effects of the programs aren’t quite cumulative. According to the Social Security Administration some types of benefits, including workers’ comp wage-loss benefits, will be deducted from your SSDI benefits if the total amount  you’re receiving totals 80 percent of your average earnings before you became disabled. At the same time, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry can also reduce your benefits:  If you receive SSDI, unemployment insurance, severance pay or certain other income, your wage-loss payments can be reduced by 50 cents for every dollar you receive.

A disabling injury is tough, and you’ll need all the help you can get. If you have questions about which option is likely to get you the most help, an attorney can answer them for you.

Are temporary and part-time workers covered by workers’ comp?

Yes. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act requires virtually every employer to provide workers’ comp insurance for every employee. That includes seasonal and part-time workers, as well as employees hired directly…

Yes. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act requires virtually every employer to provide workers’ comp insurance for every employee. That includes seasonal and part-time workers, as well as employees hired directly for a temporary assignment. Temp workers hired through staffing agencies are covered through the staffing agency, although the staffing agency and the client company are both responsible for the workers’ safety.

For most people, the most important issue in determining whether you’re covered by workers’ comp is whether you were legally considered to be in an employer-employee relationship when the incident occurred. If you were an employee and you were injured or developed an illness in Pennsylvania that was caused by your ordinary job duties, you’re covered unless there are unusual issues.

It doesn’t matter of the employer is a nonprofit, a corporation, an LLC, a sole proprietor or any other business structure. It doesn’t matter if you’re a family business and your only employees are family members — even kids. It doesn’t even matter if you only have one employee — you’re required to provide workers’ comp insurance.

Who isn’t covered by the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act?

The largest group of people working in Pennsylvania who aren’t covered by the PWCA are those who get compensation for workplace injuries through a different program. Most of them are federal workers and specific groups such as railroad employees; people who work at sea or on offshore facilities; longshoremen and harbor workers; and miners. Each of those groups is covered by a separate federal law.

Some people are excluded or exempt from workers’ comp for statutory reasons. Domestic workers, such as housekeepers and in-home child care workers, generally don’t get workers’ comp unless they’re employed by an agency. Many agricultural workers aren’t covered. Volunteers and some employees of religious institutions may be exempt, and some corporate officers can choose to be exempt.

What if I should be covered by my employer doesn’t have insurance?

Occasionally employers don’t purchase the required insurance but employees don’t find that out until they need it. To deal with such situations, the Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund was created by the PWCA. You file your workers’ comp claim with the fund, although the rules are slightly different. It’s important to know, for instance, that you are generally required to notify the Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund within 45 days of finding out your employer doesn’t have insurance.

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, “Workers’ Compensation & the Injured Worker,” last reviewed September 2013