How to Reduce the Risk of Workplace Violence

Each year, nearly 1.5 million workers are injured by violence in the workplace according to the National Crime Victimization Survey. We see it too often on television news. This article does not presume to offer an explanation for the prevalence of workplace violence or recommend remedial measures. It is only meant to contribute to an awareness of the problem and to offer some suggestions for what you can do on an individual basis to work safely.

Awareness of one’s surroundings is the single most important aspect of workplace safety. Has a co-worker been expressing her fear of an abusive and violent spouse? Do you see someone in the building who does not belong like a disgruntled former employee? Awareness of the potential for harmful situations may afford crucial time for intervention before violence occurs.

Act on your awareness. I do not suggest you confront a potentially violent individual. You may unwisely expose yourself to harm and escalate a situation. But picking up a phone and dialing 9-1-1 is action. Expressing your concerns to management about adequate security is action.

Prepare for a potential situation. In crises, people who have a plan of action are much less likely to panic. Many schools and larger workplaces have “lockdown” drills to familiarize staff as to what to do in an emergency situation. Even if your employer doesn’t have a plan, you can create a simple one on a 3×5 card, keep it in your desk drawer, and look at it from time to time. Steps to include are calling 9-1-1, identifying the closest exit or a secure hiding place, and locking doors or creating other barriers to deny an intruder entry into your workspace.

If you are in management, there are additional steps you may take to reduce the potential of violence among employees. Speak frequently with staff and make sure everyone feels they are being heard. Be alert for employees who are loners, complain often of unfair treatment and show signs of irrational behavior. Look for employees who show signs of substance abuse. Every workplace, no matter how small, should have a written workplace violence prevention policy and ensure that employees adhere to it.

In the National Crime Victimization Survey I mentioned at the beginning of this article, five of the top fifteen at-risk job categories for workplace violence are teaching positions, including elementary school teachers (No. 14). (Junior high school teachers are highest at No. 10). While it is difficult to conceive of a nurturing classroom environment having a high risk for violence, one need only recall the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Every mad act of violence cannot be prevented, but perhaps with greater awareness and preparation, more of them can.

Straight Talk on Disability Benefits

Most people who have disability benefits receive them through their employers. Generally, short term disability (STD) covers the first 26 weeks of absence from work for a disabling condition. Long term disability (LTD) may be available until age 65 for disabilities lasting longer than 26 weeks as long as the person meets the criteria for being totally disabled.

Since the terms of both STD and LTD plans may vary widely, the first essential step for anyone applying for benefits is to obtain a copy of the summary plan description (SPD). The SPD is a booklet or online document the employer must provide outlining the plan details in plain English. If you do not have a copy of the SPD, ask your human resources representative.

The second essential step when applying for disability benefits is to meet with your doctor to review the application. The doctor will be required to fill out an Attending Physician Statement. Be sure your doctor understands it is not enough to say you have a disabling condition. The doctor must be able to explain how the condition prevents you from performing the essential functions of your job.

For example, it is not enough to say someone is disabled because of low back pain. The doctor must describe how the low back pain prevents the employee from sitting at a desk long enough to work effectively, lifting objects the job demands, traveling, or other essential job functions. I recommend submitting to the insurance company with the application all the medical records supporting your application that you can gather along with a supporting letter from one or more treating physicians.

The transition from STD to LTD is a critical time to review your legal rights. Too often, employers are only too happy to encourage disabled employees to apply for LTD and then terminate their employment when they do not return to work. However, the insurance company, not the employer, determines whether LTD benefits will be granted. Employees may find themselves unemployed and without disability benefits because they failed to explore options for returning to work and the disability insurer has determined they are not disabled. The employer has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations. Do not apply for LTD until you have explored options for returning to work or your disability is severe enough that your doctors will unwaveringly agree you can no longer perform your job.

What Lawyers And Fishermen Have In Common

Dare I draw a parallel between two seemingly dissimilar pursuits as lawyering and fishing? One is an avocation practiced, for the most part, indoors. The other a recreation practiced, for the most part, out of doors. When I asked Google to compare lawyers and fishermen, the search returned only an unflattering article comparing lawyers to a certain species of fish. Wade deep into both worlds, however, and one can appreciate the traits that make a good fisherman also make a good lawyer and vice versa.

The Art of Presentation

A good fisherman knows he cannot throw anything into the water and expect a fish to bite. A fisherman practices the art of persuasion as much as any courtroom lawyer. His objective is to persuade a fish that his offering looks, smells and acts just like its natural quarry that it gulps down without hesitation. If the bait or lure presented looks or smells bad or acts unnatural, the fish will swim away. It is much the same in the courtroom. If a lawyer’s evidence looks or smells bad or seems unnatural, he is unlikely to persuade a jury to swallow his line.

Thought and preparation must precede the presentation. Careful selection of a dry fly to match the hatch along a stream is as important to the trout angler’s success as a lawyer’s selection of his words before oral argument. A novice angler often allows the line to smack the water alerting every fish present to his posturing. But the skilled placement of flies or words in an alluring manner is a sign of craftsmanship.

Perhaps there is some similarity about making a cast and making a sentence – both must be accurate, graceful, rhythmical and neat.

-John Moore

The Art of Storytelling

Good fishermen tell good stories. They draw from the richness of their experience, the humor of their gaffes, the wisdom of their years, and the beauty which inspires them. And, of course, they embellish. A fisherman’s story is a tapestry appreciated by any age. In law, storytelling is often left to trial lawyers, but find a lawyer who fishes and you will find a good storyteller.

The Quest for Your Best

There hasn’t been a fisherman in history who has won the battle with every fish he hooked, nor a lawyer that hasn’t felt the disappointment of one that got away. Success is temporary. Failure is motivation.   And learning is continual.

Optimism is fuel for the fisherman as it is for the lawyer. Each occasion is another opportunity to apply one’s skills against a worthy opponent. And as he ages, I suspect both the fisherman and the lawyer find more satisfaction in passing along his craftsmanship to another so that someone else’s life may be equally enriched.

cruise injury attorney

Cruise Injuries Create Complicated Legal Issues

Taking a Caribbean cruise this year? Traveling to an all-inclusive resort for a well-deserved vacation? Be safe. Bringing a lawsuit against a cruise line or a resort for injuries or damages occurring on board or at a foreign location is not easy.

When you purchase a cruise line ticket or book your hotel, you are probably thinking about all the fun you will have and not what can go wrong. In the fine print of your tickets and reservations, however, cruise lines and resorts insert language that limits your opportunity to sue them. The language is a contract that you agree to when you purchase the ticket and courts generally enforce it.

First, cruise lines and resorts almost always reduce the time you have to bring a lawsuit to one year instead of the two years most states allow for filing of injury lawsuits. If a passenger or guest fails to act promptly, he or she may lose the ability to sue. Second, cruise lines and resorts usually insert a “forum selection clause.” This clause requires passengers to sue the cruise line or resort in the court of its own choosing, generally a location where the law is more favorable.

In Seung v. Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Inc., the injured passenger, an elderly resident of California, filed suit against the cruise line in Florida. However, the cruise line’s forum selection clause required any legal action against the company occurring on a cruise that did not include a U.S. port to be brought in Paris, France. Unfortunately, the woman’s cruise took place in the Polynesian Islands. The Florida federal court dismissed the case. It ruled that the age and physical condition of the passenger was not a valid reason to strike the forum selection clause as unduly harsh. The court ruled the woman did not have to take the cruise and may have benefitted from a lower fare by virtue of less legal exposure to the company in French courts.

Third, cruise lines and resorts may insert a “choice of law” clause in the ticket or reservation language. While the “forum selection clause” controls where a lawsuit may be filed, the “choice of law clause” controls which country’s law may apply. The choice of law clause may have a huge impact on the amount of money an injured passenger can recover. For example, if a Liberian flagged cruise ship operating out of a U.S. port imposes Liberian law instead of U.S. admiralty law, a passenger’s damages may be limited to $70,000.00. And even U.S. admiralty law is not as favorable to a passenger’s recovery as traditional state tort law is.

In a cruise ship fiasco, passengers may recover for any physical injuries causally connected to accident. However, those who simply suffered from frayed nerves and exasperation will have a more difficult time. While they no doubt may suffer from emotional distress and disappointment of a dream vacation turned nightmare, admiralty law requires emotional distress to manifest itself in physical symptoms (e.g. vomiting, sleeplessness) before damages will be allowed.

If you have been injured on vacation, call Scott Fegley at the Fegley Law Firm, (215) 493-8287 or by email at scott@fegleylaw.com. Mr. Fegley has 30 years of accident litigation experience. We Give You Peace of Mind.

Understand Contracts Because Words Matter

Contracts, or the lack of them, can be a major legal issue for business owners. With some foresight and preparation, many contract problems can be prevented. In this legal area, an ounce of prevention may be worth thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The benefit to a well written contract is clarity. Courts will enforce a contract based on its meaning in plain English. Courts will seldom rewrite a contract because a party finds its application unexpected or unfavorable. A well written contract has a much greater chance of being enforced as the parties intended. Only when a court finds the language ambiguous or capable of differing interpretations does the court look to other evidence. In those cases, litigation gets more expensive and often winds up before a jury.

A verbal contract can be enforced by a court with some exceptions. The difficulty in enforcing a verbal contract is having to come up with the proof of its existence in the absence of ink on paper. Because the parties haven’t written down their expectations, their rights and obligations, it may be up to a judge or jury to decide if a binding contract was formed and, if so, who broke a promise.

Parties involved in business transactions should have contracts for their agreements with vendors and customers. A basic contract includes a description of the work, product, or service, a price, and a time for performance. In a dispute, courts may fill in non-essential terms if it finds a basic contract was formed. Other common terms in a contract include choice of law or jurisdiction, waiver and modification, and limited warranties.

Contracts with employees, especially those critical to your operation or in management, are worth considering. Employers often use non-competition and confidentiality agreements to prevent employees from going to competitors or starting their own competing businesses with the employer’s know-how. These “restrictive covenants” are simply a form of contract. After all, a contract can be defined simply as an agreement between two parties.

Never sign a contract without reading or understanding it. It is always good advice to seek legal counsel before signing any legal document. Even if the words seem clear to you, an experienced attorney can spot potential problems in the contract language you may not. Don’t give into pressure to sign. It may be a sign that the party who is pressuring you is not someone you want as a business partner.

Uncertainty and risk are not good for any business. Written contracts can prevent or at least help you manage uncertainty and risk when it comes to dealings with a fellow owner, another company or an employee. Call Scott Fegley at the Fegley Law Firm to you create well written contracts or review a contract presented to you. Call our Yardley, PA office at (215) 493-8287 or contact us by email at scott@fegleylaw.com. We Give You Peace Of Mind.