NEW JERSEY LAWYER, Monday, September 15, 2003
New Advocate Emerges
By MichaelAnn Knotts
Legislation is pending to help health care workers who contract hepatitis C, allow injured workers to choose their own doctors, help firefighters stricken with cancer and increase benefits paid to the families of deceased workers.
But with New Jersey legislators focusing on such dominating issues like medical malpractice insurance, tort changes, auto insurance reform and state budget woes, among others, long pending workers compensation issues are getting overlooked, said Jersey City attorney Ricky E. Bagolie, president of the newly formed nonprofit group, Workplace Injury Litigation Group-New Jersey (WILG-NJ).
And that essentially is the reason why the group of about 15 workers compensation attorneys was formed late last year. Its goal is getting such stalled issues out of legislative committees and through both houses.
“We plan to generate interest through a grassroots lobbying effort,” explained Bagolie. He said WILG members have a large client base of union members, tradespeople and others.
“We’ll let them know what affects them and encourage them to write their state senators,” said Bagohe, recently elected to the board of directors of the national orgamzation. “Hopefully, the senators will take notice.”
He said there are about a half-dozen bills stymied in committee. They include:
- A bill aiding health care workers and others regularly exposed to blood who later develop hepatitis C. “There is no one incident they can point to and say ‘that caused it,’ “ said Bagolie. If the legislation passes, it would create a presumption the disease was contracted on the job and the burden would shift to the employer to prove it was not.
- A measure allowing injured employees to choose their own doctors. As it is, the employer, through I-IMO policies, generally selects the doctor. “The priority may be to get people back to work as soon as possible rather than to provide the best medical care,” said Bagolie.
- Legislation that would benefit firefighters who contract cancer. “It has been proven that firefighters are prone to certain types of cancers,” said Bagolie. The bill provides that if a firefighter develops one of those cancers, there is a presumption the disease is job-related.
- A bill increasing benefits received by dependents of someone who dies of a job-related injury. Although workem on temporary disability receive 70 percent of their average weekly wage, dependents of a deceased worker receive only 50 percent. Under the bill, that would be raised to 70 percent. Actually, Bagolie noted, WILG plans to lobby for 100 percent.
Meanwhile, WILG plans to participate as amid in workers comp cases that are significant enough to affect the wider population, said Bagolie.
Of particular importance to WJLG was the unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court decision that firefighters, whether paid or volunteer, may receive workers comp benefits for developing respiratory illness and lung disease resulting from on-the-job exposure to asbestos, fumes and other toxic substances.
That Feb. 11 decision, Culbert v. City of Jersey City, and its companion case, Lindquist v. City of Jersey City, reversed an Appellate Division decision denying the firefighters’ claims. Jersey City attorney James Koblin, who argued the Culbert case, is a vice president of WILG.
Other officers of the group, which was established last November, are Jersey City attorney Michael J. Dillon, vice president, and Fairfield attorney Gregory M. Jachts, secretary-treasurer.
Membership also is open to doctors, union officials and others interested in assisting injured workers.
The organization recently launched a website, wilg-nj.org, to provide information to injured workers and their attorneys.
The by-laws and aims of WLLG are based on those of the national Workplace Injury Litigation Group, which has 670 members in 50 states. However, while the national organization is a subsection of the American Trial Lawyers Association, WILG-NJ is not part of AmA, Bagolie said.
Jersey City Lawyer Wins $16.4 million Jury Award for Asbestos Victims in Brooklyn
Jersey City, NJ – May , 2006
A Brooklyn jury awarded three retired Long Island Railroad (LIRR) workers a total of 16.4 million dollars for lung disease caused by their exposure to asbestos while working for the railroad. Following an eight day jury trial before the Honorable Lawrence Knipel, Albito Velez-Zapata (age 61) of Massepequa Park, New York was awarded 8 million dollars, Lincoln Aguirre (age 61) of Deer Park, New York was awarded 6 million dollars and James Harrington (age 54) of Brookville, New York was awarded 2.4 million dollars. The consolidated claims were filed under the Federal Employee’s Liability Act (FELA), a special law designed to protect interstate railroad workers.
The workers, all machinists, represented by Alan T. Friedman of Jersey City’s Bagolie Friedman Injury Lawyers and Paul Garner, affiliated with Jersey City’s Horn Shechtman, were exposed to deadly asbestos fibers while grinding gaskets on a high revolution wire wheel and while working around contaminated rail cars and locomotives. The jury found that the railroad knew about the dangers of asbestos dust beginning in the 1930s and failed warn their workers of the dangers and failed to protect them from the deadly fibers.
LIRR argued that the dust masks were available to the workers, despite the fact that their own Asbestos Awareness Program advised that dust masks were not adequate protection for workers exposed to asbestos. This Asbestos Awareness Program was not implemented until the 1990’s, long after other industries had reacted to their asbestos problems. Additionally, the Long Island Railroad was fined by the State of New York in the 1990’s for failing to implement a Right to Know program to advise their workers of workplace hazards. A Federal law requiring this type of program had been passed in the 1980’s.
"The LIRR treated these workers as if they were expendable or disposable, just like the machines that it was their job to repair. The railroad considered them human overhead. This jury told the LIRR in a loud, clear voice that this is no way to treat your employees" said attorney Alan Friedman.
The cases, Aguirre, Harrington & Velez Zappata v. Long Island Railroad Company, Docket Nos.: 26113-96; 26112-96; 26114-96 Supreme Court of New York, Kings County, were decided on April 26, 2006. Plaintiff’s experts included Pulmonologist Dr. Victor Marcione of Jersey City, NJ and liability expert, industrial hygienist, Dr. Michael Ellenbecker of Boston, MA
This is the second time that attorney Friedman has gotten a multi-million dollar verdict against LIIRR for asbestosis and lung disease. Alan T. Friedman has been certified as a Civil Trial Attorney by the New Jersey Supreme Court and is a founding partner of Bagolie Friedman Injury Lawyers, of Jersey City & Clifton, NJ and affiliate offices in Hollywood, Florida and Brisbane, Australia.