Friday, January 29, 2010

Questions remain in gas well accident in Tuscarora Township

From the Towanda Daily Review:

TUSCARORA TWP. - An accident Thursday at the Mowry natural gas well on Clapper Hill Road sent three people to the hospital and sparked an investigation into how the incident occurred.

Although scanner reports from Wyoming County Communications termed the accident an "explosion," Brian Grove, a representative from Chesapeake Energy Corp., which owns and operates the well site, insisted that no explosion occurred during the situation. Instead, Grove explained, what occurred was a "forceful uplift in tubing," which launched sections of tubing from the well bore into the derrick.

Two employees of a contract company at the scene were transported to a local hospital for evaluation and treatment of non-critical injuries, according to the press release. They were later released after treatment. A third contractor, who also suffered non-critical injuries, was later taken the hospital for treatment as well, and remains hospitalized as of 6 p.m. Thursday.

One of the interesting aspects of the influx in gas drilling is the amount of new gas workers coming to the area. So far, in our workers' compensation practice, it appears that the drilling companies are fairly safe-- there does not appear to be a signficant amount of accidents and injuries. Hopefully, it will stay that way.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Social Security Disability Benefits

One of the biggest possible mistakes that you can make when applying for a social security disability benefit is to go through the process unprepared. The reason why this is such a big mistake is because it has the power to waste an extraordinarily large amount of your time and effort. When you file for disability, the examiners never become aware of how much time has elapsed between when you decided to file and when you actually followed through on the filing, and what this means is that there isn't a penalty for actually taking the time to put your case together. However, the day that you decide that you would like to apply for social security disability benefits should be the day that you get the ball rolling on the process.

There are a number of reasons why people put off their filing for social security. In some cases, they seem to be simply hoping that the condition they are suffering from is going to improve, or that somehow the job that they are doing is going to be able to accommodate their disability. A lot of people tend to put filing off simply because they are afraid to admit on paper that they are disabled, because to them it means that they are incapable.

Many claimants end up feeling caught up in the process because they are worried about filing for disability and becoming denied. Unfortunately, when you are denied by your SSDI or SSI application, it may mean spending a great amount more time pursuing your claim by climbing the appeals ladder. For many of those applying, this is a scary idea and it leads them to stress themselves out about applying at all. Luckily, there are ways that you can eliminate or lessen these fears and focus your attention on properly and completely preparing

When you decide that you want to apply for these SSDI and SSI benefits, the first thing that you should do is to find out more information about having someone on your side, such as an attorney or an advocate. You can file as soon as you feel that you are ready, but you should not file until you have worked with a professional and determined whether or not you are fully prepared. Your attorney or advocate will be able to tell you if he or she feels that you will qualify for disability, and will help you shape your application or appeal accordingly. With this addition of support, you should be able to go through the process much more smoothly because there will be no doubt as to whether or not you are prepared.

If you are not working because of your disabled status or condition, then it is time to find out more about applying for SSI or SSDI benefits. When you have someone that is fighting on your side with you, it will make it easier for you to prepare your case and to determine whether or not you are prepared to file your claim.

Freedom Disability offers education and representation services to people living in the US seeking help applying for Social Security Disability Benefits. For additional information please contact Freedom Disability.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Five Myth-Busters: The Fiction And The Facts About Filing For Social Security Disability Benefits

There are many misconceptions about filing a disability claim with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Here are some of them, along with their factual counterparts:

Myth #1: You can't apply for benefits until you've been disabled for a certain period of time.

-- Myth-buster: Wrong! This is perhaps the biggest misconception about applying for disability benefits. Although you must show that your medical condition is severe enough to prevent you from working for a year or longer, you can and SHOULD apply as soon as you can no longer work, or as soon as your income drops below $980 per month in 2009 ($1000 per month in 2010) because your medical condition is preventing you from working full-time. Although it might take a year or longer for your claim to be granted, your benefits will be paid retroactively from the time of your filing or one year prior to the filing date in some cases. That means that if you wait six months or a year after you've become disabled to file your claim, you may forfeit being paid for that amount of time.

Myth #2: You can't apply for benefits if you're receiving sick leave from your job, worker's comp benefits or other work-related disability benefits.

-- Myth-buster: Wrong. You can apply for Social Security Disability benefits, even if you are getting other disability benefits.

Myth #3: You can't apply for benefits if you're working even a little bit.

-- Myth-buster: You CAN apply if you're not able to do 'substantial gainful activity.' According to SSA, substantial gainful activity means that you can make more than $980 per month, as of 2009, $1000 per month in 2010. If your medical condition is causing you to work less, you can apply for benefits even if you are still working a little bit.

Myth #4: Once I start receiving disability benefits, I will lose my benefits if I ever work again.

-- Myth-buster: Not true. If you get SSD (Social Security Disability) benefits, you can work for a trial period of eight months to assess your ability to return to the workforce,without losing or decreasing your benefits. If you're receiving SSI (Supplemental Security Income), you can work permanently within certain guidelines without losing or reducing your benefits.

Myth #5: If I'm a fairly young person, I'll have a harder time qualifying for disability benefits than an older person.

-- Myth-buster: Your age makes absolutely no difference in SSA's determination of whether or not you qualify for disability benefits. All that matters is whether your medical condition prevents you from being gainfully employed.

Sharon Christie is a nurse and an attorney in Timonium, Maryland. She handles Social Security disability and serious personal injury cases. Find out more about Sharon A Christie and request her popular free book, the Unofficial Guide to Social Security Disability Claims at . You can also reach her at 410-823-8200.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Applying for Social Security Disability

Many of our clients ask us for help with applying for Social Security Disability. Below is a list of frequently asked questions about applying for SSD. If you, family member or friend has questions about Social Security Disability, contact me for a free consultation.

How can I tell if I am disabled enough to apply for social security disability benefits?

Social Security regulations make it easier to be found disabled as you get older. It becomes easier for a few people at age 45 (those unable to read English), for more people at age 50, for most people at age 55, and even more people at age 60. If you’re over age 55 and you cannot do any job you have done in the past 15 years, you should definitely apply. If you’re over age 50 and have a severe impairment that keeps you from doing all but the easiest jobs, you ought to apply.

But even if you’re a younger person, you don’t have to be bedridden in order to be found disabled. If you’re under age 45 or 50 and you cannot do your past jobs and you cannot work full time at any regular job, that ought to be enough.

How do I apply for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers three ways for you to apply for Social Security disability benefits: by telephone, in person at a local Social Security office, or via the Internet. If you want to use the Internet to apply, go to

If you want to complete an application for SSI or Social Security disability by telephone or in person, you must first telephone SSA at 1-800-772-1213. If you choose to go to a Social Security office to complete the application, the person at the 800 number above will schedule an appointment for you, give you directions to the Social Security office, and tell you what papers you need to bring along. If you want to apply by phone, you will be given a date and an approximate time to expect a phone call from someone at the Social Security office who will take your application over the phone. The application will then be mailed to you for your signature.

Do you have any advice about applying for disability benefits?

Yes. Give SSA all the information it asks for in a straightforward way. Be truthful. Do not exaggerate or minimize your disability.

Should I contact a lawyer to help me apply for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

As a rule, a person does not need a lawyer’s help to file the application. SSA makes this part very easy and, in fact, it usually will not let a lawyer (or anyone else) file the application for you.

What happens if I am denied benefits and I do not appeal within 60 days?

You’ll have to start over with a new application — and it may mean that you’ll lose some back benefits. So it’s important to appeal all denials within 60 days. It’s better if you appeal right away so that you get through the bureaucratic denial system faster. The quicker you can get to the hearing stage the better.

How do I appeal?

Your denial letter will tell you about appealing. The first appeal is called a “reconsideration.” You must request reconsideration and then, after the reconsideration is denied, you must request a hearing within the 60-day time limit.

You can appeal in one of three ways. (1) Telephone the Social Security Administration and make arrangements for your appeal to be handled by phone and mail. (2) Go to the Social Security office to submit your appeal. If you go to the Social Security office, be sure to take along a copy of your denial letter. And be sure that the Social Security representative gives you a signed copy of your appeal paper showing that you appealed on time. Or (3) appeal online at Be sure to print and retain the receipt for your appeal so that you can prove you appealed on time.

What are the biggest mistakes people make when trying to get disability benefits?

Failing to appeal. More than half of the people whose applications are denied fail to appeal. Many people who are denied on reconsideration fail to request a hearing.

Another mistake, although much less common, is made by people who fail to obtain appropriate medical care. Some people with long-term chronic medical problems feel that they have not been helped much by doctors. Thus, for the most part, they stop going for treatment. This is a mistake for both medical and legal reasons. First, no one needs good medical care more than those with chronic medical problems. Second, medical treatment records provide the most important evidence of disability in a Social Security case.

Since medical evidence is so important, should I have my doctor write a letter to the Social Security Administration and should I gather medical records and send them to SSA?

SSA will gather the medical records, so you don’t have to do that. Whether you should ask your doctor to write a letter is a hard question. A few people win their cases by having their doctors write letters. You can try this if you want to. The problem is that the medical-legal issues are so complicated in most disability cases that a doctor may inadvertently give the wrong impression. Thus, obtaining medical reports may be something best left for a lawyer to do.

When is the best time for a lawyer to get involved in my case?

Many people wait until it is time to request a hearing before contacting us to represent them. Although everyone agrees that a lawyer’s help is essential at the hearing and the great majority of people who have lawyers win their cases at a hearing, how necessary it is to have the help of a lawyer at the early stages is a subject with arguments on both sides.

More than one-third of those people who apply will be found disabled after filing the initial application without a lawyer’s help. About 15% of those who request reconsideration are found disabled at the reconsideration stage, mostly without a lawyer’s help. If you are successful in handling the case yourself at the initial or reconsideration steps, you will save having to pay attorney’s fees. It is hard to predict which cases may benefit from a lawyer’s help early on.

We never get involved when someone is just filing an application. SSA makes it difficult for a lawyer to do much at this point. As a rule, we won’t get involved in a case until after an initial denial is issued and a legal controversy exists. About once or twice per year, though, a claimant points out to us an obvious (and quite unusual) legal problem with a case. We do consider getting involved in such cases before the initial determination is issued.

If you want us to consider becoming involved in your case at the initial or reconsideration steps, please telephone us to discuss your situation. Otherwise, the best time to call us is as soon as you get the reconsideration denial.

How much do you charge?

Almost all of our clients prefer a “contingent fee,” a fee paid only if they win. The usual fee is 25% (one-quarter) of back benefits up to a maximum amount set by SSA, currently $6,000.00. That is, the fee is one-fourth of those benefits that build up by the time you are found disabled and benefits are paid. No fee comes out of current monthly benefits. In addition to the fee, you will be expected to pay the expense of gathering medical records, obtaining medical opinion letters, etc.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Explosion occurs in silo at CraftMaster

From the Towanda Daily Review:

WYSOX - About 75 firefighters from four departments responded Wednesday night to the CraftMaster plant following an explosion at around 6:30 p.m. in a storage silo at the facility.

The explosion occurred inside a silo used to store wood fiber, according to Wysox Fire Chief Chad Benjamin. CraftMaster plant manager Matt Ameigh said the dust inside the silo reached ignition point, causing the explosion.

It appears from the story that thankfully no one was injured in the explosion.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Work related auto accidents

Recently, a person contacted our Firm asking whether or not they could receive workers’ compensation benefits due to injuries from an automobile accident in which they were driving their own car but were on company time. The simple answer is yes. As long as your actions come under the category of “furthering your employers business” then you can receive workers’ compensation benefits. It does not matter whether or not you are driving your car or the employer’s vehicle when the accident occurs.

Also, it does not matter whether you were at fault or someone else was at fault. Even if you are the one who caused the accident and was negligent and caused your own injuries, you are still entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Those benefits would be wage loss, assuming that you have lost time from work, as well as the medical bills.

You may also be entitled to benefits from your own personal automobile insurance policy. You may have purchased wage loss coverage on your own personal automobile policy. If so, your auto insurance company will make up the difference that you have lost in workers’ compensation wage benefits up to the limit of the personal wage loss coverage.

Also, if the other driver was at fault, you can always pursue what is called a “third party action” against the negligent driver and receive pain and suffering money. This is always more advantageous then just strictly workers’ compensation because, under workers’ compensation, you are not compensated for any pain and suffering. In a negligence action you would be able to factor in how the injuries have affected your life.

If you have been involved in a work related automobile accident and you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at Carroll & Carroll, P.C.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Medical Expert Testimony

In a recent case that was issued by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, Southwest Airlines v WCAB, the Court addressed what constitutes expert medical testimony regarding causation.

In this case, the Claimant’s physician relied solely upon self serving statements by the Claimant regarding a head and neck injury being related to work activities. The doctor did not know of Claimant’s numerous preexisting and prior injuries to his head and neck. The workers’ compensation Judge, nevertheless, awarded benefits.

However, the Commonwealth Court reversed and stated that the basis for the doctor’s testimony was not competent and therefore the doctor’s expert testimony regarding causation was not competent.

This case is indicative of several things including what you must prove in order to win your workers’ compensation case. First, your treating physicians must give an opinion that your injury or condition is related to work activities. Second, that opinion must be competent and have a substantial basis. Usually, the basis for these opinions are the history given by the Claimant, examinations, diagnostic tests and the doctor’s own experience and education.

In the above case, it is apparent that the Claimant’s attorney did not adequately prepare the doctor regarding the issues in the case, specifically the prior injuries. If the Claimant’s attorney had prepared the doctor with the prior facts and the prior medical records and the doctor still had the opinion that the injuries were caused by the work activities then I am sure this case would not have gone up on appeal. This is a teachable moment for practicing Claimant’s attorneys in preparing their cases adequately as well as their medical experts.

Lockheed Martin to cut 1,200 jobs

From the Morning Times in Sayre, Pa:

OWEGO — When announced Nov. 17, Lockheed Martin’s merger of two Electronic Systems businesses into a new Mission Systems and Sensors (MS2) business was expected to eliminate some positions, but officials were unsure of how many.

On Wednesday, with the establishment of MS2’s structure, Lockheed Martin officials announced that this merger would eliminate 1,200 positions nationwide, but that the specific effect to the Owego plant would not be known until April, when employees are notified.

Hopefully, not many of the Owego jobs will be cut. Our area can't take any more significant job cuts.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Can a 27 year old injury be deemed work related?

In the case of Lancaster General Hospital v. WCAB (Weber-Brown) the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania decided that a claim on a twenty seven (27) year old eye injury was not beyond the three (3) year statute of limitations for work injuries.

In this case, the injured worker was exposed to a virus in his eye in approximately 1980. The claim was never formally accepted. Throughout the years, the Claimant continued to have periodic infections in the eye due to the virus he contracted at work.

In 2007, the Claimant suffered another one of the periodic infections. However, at this point, the infection could not be treated properly and the Claimant lost the use of the eye. The Claimant then filed a Petition for specific loss of the eye.

Despite the fact that it was twenty seven (27) years later, the Court said that the important date was not the exposure of the virus but rather the date of the “injury.” The Court indicated that in this particular case, the “injury” was the specific loss of the eye which occurred in 2007. As long as a Petition was filed within three (3) years of when the Claimant lost the use of the eye, then the claim would not be beyond the statute of limitations.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Abnormal Working Conditions

The Commonwealth Court decided a case recently on what constitutes an abnormal working condition. As we’ve blogged about before, an employee can claim a work related injury for mental trauma; however, the claimant must show that an abnormal working condition caused the trauma.

Merely having something bad happen at work does not necessarily translate into an abnormal working condition. For example, in prior cases, the Courts have held that a police officer suffering from post traumatic stress disorder due to being engaged in a gun battle with criminals was not an abnormal working condition because police officers often are involved in gun battles. Also, being yelled at by your boss significantly does not constitute an abnormal working condition.

In my opinion, in the case of McLaurin v WCAB (SEPTA), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania unjustifiably restricted, once again, the definition of “abnormal working conditions.” In this case, a bus driver was assaulted by several hooded young men with guns. Due to this, the claimant suffered post traumatic stress disorder as well as psychological problems.

The employer presented evidence which showed that such occurrences were not extraordinary and did happen somewhat often while being a bus driver, despite the fact that it did not happen ever to this particular bus driver. The Court held that this occurrence was not an abnormal working condition.

In my opinion, I think the Court is completely off base. The injured worker was a bus driver. He was not in law enforcement or in any type of position where he would receive the training and skills to cope with such a happening. Once again, this is evidence of the Commonwealth Court severely limiting the rights of injured workers.

Labor moves quickly on job safety, workers' rights

Do you think you would see news stories like this if more Republicans were elected? Here's a link to the AP article.

Her aggressive moves to boost enforcement and crack down on businesses that violate work place safety rules have sent employers scrambling to make sure they are following the rules.
* * *
But a November report from the Government Accountability Office suggested there is widespread under reporting of work place safety issues.