Monthly Archive for February, 2009

Construction Jobs that Cause the Most Injuries

Every year, hundreds of clients come to seeking attorneys for on the job construction injuries. In the past 3 years, the following are the top ten construction jobs that complained of on-site injuries (in order of frequency):

  1. Carpentersconstruction-injury1
  2. Electricians
  3. Laborers
  4. Heavy Equipment Operators
  5. Roofers
  6. Truck Drivers
  7. Welders
  8. Floorhands
  9. Piledrivers
  10. Crane Operators

In perfect world, when someone is injured at work they are compensated through workers compensation. In a perfect world they get better, come back to work and stay on their job.

As you might have guessed this is not a perfect world. An employee often can’t do the same job they did before they were injured, and the employer lets them go. Sometimes even qualifying for workers compensation is an issue.

How do construction firms get around giving their employees benefits such as workers compensation and other protections? Simple: by calling them “independent contractors.” Although it is illegal to misclassify an employee as an independent contractor, many businesses do it anyway because of the significantly lower cost of hiring them. Employers do not need to pay any benefits and owe no real obligations to independent contractors other than payment for their services.

These incentives lead many employers to falsely call their employees independent contractors. Thus when someone is injured, they are often denied workers compensation or any guarantee of a job when they recover from their injury. Although the construction industry is one area where there are many legitimate independent contractors, often these contractors will hire others and misclassify them as independent contractors themselves, when in reality there is nothing “independent” about how they are doing their jobs.

Misclassification can subject an employer to fines, extra taxes, and sometimes criminal punishment. In 2002, for instance, Fed Ex was ordered to pay over $300 million in penalties for misclassifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, and over $27 million to its drivers for lost wages and benefits

There is no law defining who is and is not an independent contractor. Instead, courts will look to a variety of factors in determining what role someone plays. Employees can ask the IRS to look into their status as independent contractors, and can also file a law suit either with the state or the federal government against their employer for lost benefits or wages.

While still a Senator, Barack Obama introduced a bill allowing employees to go through an arbitration process with their employer if they felt they were misclassified as an independent contractor. Currently nothing similar exists for employees or independent contractors other than the options mentioned above. Perhaps now that he is President (and once this whole little “Depression” thing blows over) people may soon get a much needed means of determining their status.

Not All Top States for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Have Highest Premiums

medical-malpracticeMedical malpractice claims are a significant cost in the medical industry. In the past 3 years, tens of thousands of clients have come to looking for medical malpractice attorneys. The top ten states for these claims were: 

1. California
2. Texas
3. Florida
4. New York
5. Illinois
6. North Carolina
7. Pennsylvania
8. Michigan
9. Georgia
10. Ohio

Five of the above states appear in the top ten list of states with the highest premiums as of 2005, according to a University of Michigan study. In order from highest to lowest, they are:

1. Florida
2. Michigan
3. Ohio
4. Illinois
5. New York

Ideally, premiums reflect risk. Are premiums in the above states higher than normal due to the larger number of malpractice cases? If a state like California does not even make the University of Michigan’s list, probably not. 

Premiums may have more to do with how much rather than how often. Various states have different medical malpractice laws. New York, for instance, does not cap damages in a medical malpractice case. California, on the other hand, caps non-economic damages at $250,000 dollars. If state laws expose doctors and medical organizations to heavier losses, then insurance companies may be inclined to charge higher premiums.

Higher premium costs affect the medical industry by discouraging doctors from taking jobs that might make less money, such as obstetricians. It may also prevent doctors from working in certain areas or with certain hospitals. And as usual, these high premiums translate into higher fees for customers of the dysfunctional American health care system.

As professionals with a duty to care for the health of their patients, doctors should not have to make decisions based on their risk of exposure to lawsuits. Patients, in turn, should not have to fork out more money for care to cover doctor’s outrageous premiums. Although patients and people injured by negligent medical work should be compensated, how many medical malpractice damages are inflated by high attorney fees, or motivated entirely by the prospect of a big payout from a rich insurance company? Some states allow for attorney fees as high as 50% of the damages award. All the costs of these legal battles get passed onto patients and health insurance customers. It seems the big winners in this game are the insurance companies and, as usual, the lawyers. When the real issue is between a doctor and their patient, is it fair that we are driving the economics of this relationship?

Top 10 States for Debt Consolidation

debt-consolodationAs more and more people wind up in a credit crunch, more and more people are turning to debt consolidation as a possible way out. In the past 5 years thousands of customers have come to seeking debt consolidation attorneys.

Where are most of these cases happening? Not surprisingly, states with the highest populations have the highest numbers of cases: 

 1. CA
 2. TX
 3. FL
 4. NY
 5. OH
 6. IL
 7. MI
 8. PA
 9. NJ
10. GA

Only one state, New Jersey, managed to nudge its way past its rank of 11th in population to 9th place on the list. It beat out North Carolina, who does not appear on the list despite having almost 1 million more people.

California and Florida, however, seem to top other lists that are not so dependent on population. California and Florida are ranked 2nd and 4th  in the Nation in foreclosure rates, and also top LegalMatch’s list of states with the most disproportionate percentage of total national foreclosures to total national households. California and Florida are not alone in sharing some dubious distinctions, however: Ohio and Georgia make an appearance in another unfortunate top-ten list: top-ten highest bankruptcy rates.

All too often, one financial dilemma leads to another. Although debt consolidation does not consolidate mortgage debt, many debt consolidation programs require the debtor to take out a mortgage on their home. Although lowering monthly payments on credit card debt is important, putting up your home for a mortgage should always be considered a last resort. There is the possibility that the inordinately large number of foreclosures in California and Florida has something to do with their similarly high numbers of debt consolidation clients.

More analysis would be needed to see if a true correlation between foreclosure rates and debt consolidation statistics exist. Generally, where there is one financial dilemma, there are probably others, either in the past or looming on the horizon. The states hit hardest by this financial crisis will show high numbers of bankruptcy rates, foreclosure rates, and people with debt problems. Stay tuned for more information on where these numbers are coming from, and where they may be headed.

States Hardest Hit by Foreclosures Have Fewer Owner Occupied Homes

for-rent-until-foreclosedLast year, thousands of clients came to seeking foreclosure attorneys. Data compiled from databases indicates that California and Florida are first and second in the nation for the total number of homes going into foreclosure. Florida, for instance, accounted for 15% of the total number of people seeking foreclosure attorneys through LegalMatch. Florida, however, only accounts for 8% of the total number of owner occupied homes in the United States, according to latest available data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Many other states are not far behind Florida’s unfortunate ratio. Below are some of the states with similarly disproportionate representation:

% of Total U.S. Foreclosures Reported in 2008 to LegalMatch, By State 

California 21%
Florida 15%
Arizona 3.8%
Maryland 3%
Nevada 1.7%

% of Total Owner Occupied Households in the U.S. (U.S. Census 2007 Estimates)

California 15.2%
Florida 8%
Arizona 2.5%
Maryland 2.5%
Nevada .09%

Not coincidentally, these states also represent a veritable who’s who of states on the list of Top 10 Worst Foreclosure Rates by State.

For all the states doing poorly, there are also states doing well.  New York, for instance represents 9% of the nation’s owner occupied housing units, but only accounts for 3.4% of LegalMatch customers seeking Foreclosure attorneys. Texas is similarly doing well, accounting for 5% of LegalMatch foreclosure respondents, but over 10% of U.S. owner occupied homes.

More analysis may show why these states were hit particularly hard. Some factors may include demand, differing mortgage and foreclosure policies, and vastly different housing markets. California and Florida, for instance, are always roller coaster rides for housing booms and busts. People frequently flock in and out of the states as markets rise and fall. Stay tuned for more analysis as we watch how these numbers shake out over time.

Decriminalizing Marijuana Possession Could Save Billion Annually, Data Shows

marijuanaReasonable minds may differ on the necessity of the drug war and the tactics used to fight it, but one thing is certain: it costs a heck of a lot of money. Some states are taking steps to spend their money wisely. One of these steps is de-criminalizing the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Massachusetts has already done so and Connecticut is considering following suit. Efforts to do so have failed in California, but the movement to ease the burden on our courts by removing small-time cases from the docket is gaining momentum.

How much could be saved? According to statistics compiled by LegalMatch, in 2007 44% of LegalMatch clients arrested for drug crimes were marijuana related. Federal statistics for the same period show that that 47% of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession. Nationally this works out to 775,137 marijuana possession arrests, or almost 10 times the amount of arrests for drug trafficking and sales.

Reducing the burden on our courts by shifting almost 3 quarters of a million defendants off the criminal docket could save a lot of money. Court costs for even the smallest of cases can still add up. A study of average court costs in Allen County, Indiana in 2001 show an average bill of $1,146 for processing drug offense charges. Factoring in inflation, this adds up to $1,345 in 2007 dollars. If we use this estimate for a national average (which seems on the low side as it is), that’s still over $1 billion spent simply processing marijuana possession offenses. That is not even taking into account the costs of other programs such as probation and incarceration.

Massachusetts estimates that it saves over $30 million a year by decriminalizing possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. How much can the nation as a whole save by following suit? Probably a few billion dollars. Although that may seem like chump change in the face of an $800 billion stimulus packages, that is still a lot of money that would be better spent elsewhere. In these tough economic times, we need to look everywhere we can to shed the extra fat. So let’s support a more rational criminal justice policy. It might just save you some money.