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Construction Site Safety: Protecting Workers From Falls

The construction of a new hotel in downtown Evansville has the community buzzing with excitement. The five-story tower of rooms for lodging and convention space has been highly anticipated, discussed, encouraged, and disparaged since the beginning, and now we’re beginning to see the actual project taking shape. Like the construction of the adjacent Ford Center, the whole community will be watching the hotel project with great interest. Large construction projects attract community interest due to their size and complexity, but it’s not always easy to see the precautions that need to be taken in order to protect workers on the job. While we expect to see hardhats and steel-toed boots, there are other mandates for safety that aren’t as readily apparent. One of these mandates is the need for fall protection. Falls account for nearly 40% of fatalities in a construction zone; in 2014, there were 349 fatal falls in a construction zone – nearly one fatality per day. The next three leading causes of death in a construction zone pale in comparison: electrocution (8.5%), struck by object (8.4%), and caught in/between (1.4%). These “Fatal Four” account for more than 58% of deaths in a construction zone every year. Types of Falls The most common areas of danger contributing to falls on a construction site include: Unprotected roof edges Roof and floor openings Structural steel Leading edges (i.e., wall openings or roughed-in stairwells) Improperly constructed scaffolding Unsafe portable ladders OSHA Standards for Fall Protection The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more commonly known as OSHA, sets forth standards in most workplaces and requires employers to follow certain guidelines to protect their workers. A large section of guidelines covers aspects of the construction industry, with particular attention focused on fall prevention. OSHA’s standards include: Guardrails should be in use for work areas six feet or more above lower levels Top rail height for guardrails is 42″ above the work/walk surface Top rails should be able to withstand 200 lbs. of force outward or downward Midrails should be in use at a height of 21″ between the top rail and walk/work surface Midrails should be able to withstand 150 lbs. of force outward or downward The Purpose of OSHA’s Standards OSHA’s fall protection standards are designed to protect workers from fall hazards while on the jobsite. Employers are required to adhere to the criteria and practices for fall protection systems and to require training in the proper use of these systems. OSHA standards serve to standardize workplace safety and cover areas such as hazard assessment, fall protection, and safety monitoring systems; workers are not permitted to work on a jobsite until all walk/work surfaces have been determined to be structurally safe and sound. If a fall hazard is present on the jobsite, the employer is required to address this hazard through the use of fall prevention systems (i.e., guardrails) and/or fall arrest systems (i.e., safety harnesses/nets). The employer must also train workers in the use of these systems. We’re Here to Help A fall at a construction site can be devastating – some injured workers can find themselves unable to work for weeks, months, or even years. Others may lose their lives due to a fall, leaving their families to try and cope with a heartbreaking loss. If you have been injured in a fall on a construction site, seeking the advice of an attorney experienced in construction law will help you to receive the justice you deserve. Your attorney will examine the circumstances surrounding the fall and determine the best way to proceed in building your case. If your employer failed to provide the required protection or necessary training, you may be eligible for compensation. Don’t let a workplace fall ruin your ability to provide for your family –contact Gerling Law today!

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Work Zone Safety: Protecting Road Construction Workers

It might seem like the Tri-State has two seasons – winter and construction season. Orange barrels tend to sprout up every spring and remain visible all the way through the fall months. Tri-State drivers are accustomed to narrowed lanes, traffic cones, orange barrels, and alternate routes – so much so that we’re likely to not give construction zones a second thought as we travel through them. But for the over 140,000 road construction workers in America, construction zones can be dangerous – and often deadly. Workers in road construction zones are three times more likely to be killed on the job than their counterparts in other construction areas, and eight times more likely to lose their lives than general industry workers. And it’s not just road workers who are endangered – motorists account for 85% of fatalities in construction zones. Traffic Control in a Construction Zone Perhaps not surprisingly, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has establishedguidelines for traffic control in and around construction zones. Factors such as speed limits, warning areas, lane merging, and signage are all considered in these guidelines, which aim to standardize zones for maximum safety. Rules of the Road in Construction Zones Whether it’s a temporary or short-term construction zone such as those set up around utility work or pothole patching, or a long-term zone where an established road is being reconstructed, the rules of the road are altered and the consequences are often greater for violators. Slow down upon entering a construction zone Follow posted speed limits while traveling within the zone Resume normal speed only after signs outside the work zone advise you to do so Allow for braking space between your vehicle and the one in front of you Do not pass on the shoulder or cross the median Stay focused – resist the temptation to use your cell phone, eat, or play with the radio, Stay calm – it only takes an extra 25 seconds to cover a mile at 45mph compared to 65mph Facing the Consequences While the FHWA has established guidelines that in are in use across the nation, each state has its own set of laws outlining the consequences of motorists failing to follow work zone rules. In Indiana, fines for speeding in a work zone are significantly higher, and workers don’t need to be present for a violator to incur these fines. A first-time speeder in a work zone can expect a fine of $300, whereas a second offense will cost $500. A third offense within a three-year span nets a fine of $1000. Motorists who drive recklessly or aggressively can rack up a $5000 fine, and a motorist that injures or kills a highway worker in a work zone can expect a fine up to $10,000 and up to six years behind bars. The bottom line? That 25 seconds you would save by speeding through a work zone isn’t worth it. While no one particularly enjoys being routed through a construction zone, the fact is, the rules exist to protect both motorists and workers within the zone. Construction zones are often close quarters, with workers performing their jobs within mere feet of oncoming traffic. A worker injured by a motorist in a work zone could be unable to work for weeks, months, or even years. Some may never be able to work again. If you, a family member or a friend has been injured on the job in a construction zone, seek the advice of an attorney experienced in road construction law. Your attorney will thoroughly investigate the circumstances of your accident in order to determine the proper course of action, seeking appropriate compensation for your injuries and their aftermath. Gerling Law has extensive experience working with victims of road construction accidents, and can help you to get the justice you deserve.

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Why Does the SSA Deny Disability Claims?

You’ve heard the statistic: up to 70% of all Social Security Disability applications are denied the first time around. At first glance, it seems unfair. Doesn’t Social Security Disability exist to help people who can’t work because of an injury or illness? Don’t Social Security taxes come out of your paycheck every pay period? How can the Social Security Administration do this to a hardworking American? It’s easy to get worked up about something that appears to be a slight against you, but in truth, most claims that are denied are due to a variety of factors. You have to be prepared to see the process through to the end, which can take up to two years. Reasons Your Claim Might Be Denied You make too much money Your disability is expected to be short term (less than 12 months in duration) Your disability isn’t severe enough The SSA can’t find you You won’t cooperate with the SSA You fail to follow doctor’s orders for your treatment Your disability is a result of alcoholism or addiction You have been convicted of a crime and/or are incarcerated Your claim is determined to be fraudulent You do not have sufficient medical documentation to support your claim You haven’t been in the workforce long enough to qualify Your condition isn’t considered a disability according to the SSA guidelines The SSA determines that you are still able to work, even if it’s in a different but related job Your application is missing critical documentation If Your Claim is Denied Most people entering the SSDI process understand that there is a high likelihood their initial claim will be denied and they will need to request a reconsideration. However,up to 89% of reconsiderations are denied, for many of the same reasons as listed above. If your initial claim is denied, you may want to speak with an attorney experienced in SSDI claims before you enter the reconsideration process. Your attorney will examine your initial claim and help you to correct the issues that may be causing the denial as well as build a case that has a better chance of success. The Margin for Error With so many reasons for denial and the lengthy process that claims must follow before disability is awarded, it might seem like an impossible task to see it through to the end. Just remember, your disability claim must pass through the hands of many government representatives on its way to a final decision, and any one of them can make a mistake in handling your claim. If you are unable to continue working, your SSDI claim shouldn’t add to the stress of your situation. When you contact an attorney early in the claim process, it can mean the difference between a successful claim and a final denial

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Nursing Home Abuse: Bed Sores

Putting a loved one in a nursing home for long-term or end-of-life care is a heart wrenching decision even under the best of circumstances.You want to make sure your loved one receives the best care possible, and yet you don’t know, exactly, what to expect. Your choice of facility may be limited by insurance requirements or financial concerns, or you may not be able to keep as close an eye on things as you would like. Even though you want to trust that the facility you choose will provide the best, most attentive care at all times, the fact is that some nursing homes fall short of expectations. How do you recognize the signs of negligence in a nursing home? Pressure Ulcers A glaring sign of negligence in a nursing home setting is the presence of bed sores. Also known as pressure ulcers, bed sores are a common ailment among the bedridden and immobile, even though they are highly preventable. In 2004, 1 in 10 residents in nursing homes were affected by bed sores; the percentage was slightly higher – 14% – for those under the age of 64. What causes pressure ulcers? In general, patients who have difficulty changing positions on their own are susceptible to pressure ulcers. A pressure ulcer forms when soft tissue is compressed between a bone and a hard surface, such as a bed or chair, for an extended period of time. The lack of adequate blood flow to the site can cause the affected tissue to die,creating a lesion. This process can happen in as little as two hours for some patients. Common sites for bed sores are the back of the head and ears, shoulders, elbows, lower back and buttocks, hips, inner knees, and heels. Sores can also develop in areas where skin folds over on itself, or where medical equipment puts pressure on the skin, such as with oxygen tubing. Additional Risk Factors While individuals with limited mobility are highly susceptible to bed sores, there are other risk factors that can increase the probability a patient will develop these very painful lesions. These risk factors include: Thin, fragile, dry skin, such as associated with elderly patients Very dry/very moist skin Dehydration and/or lack of adequate nutrition Bowel or bladder incontinence Smoking Paralysis/lack of sensory perception Lack of mental awareness/lessened mental awareness Weight loss associated with illness Diabetes or vascular disease Muscle spasms The presence of these risk factors in a nursing home resident does not guarantee they will develop pressure ulcers; it is the lack of proper care that causes bed sores to form. Treating Bed Sores The first line of defense in treating bed sores is prevention. This includes regular and frequent repositioning in a bed or wheelchair, keeping the skin clean and dry, and routine examination of skin, particularly in areas where bed sores are commonly seen. Most bed sores begin as a reddened, tender area that may feel warm to the touch. Immediate care of the area can include cleansing the affected skin and use of antibiotics. Unless the affected area is treated right away, the ulcer will progress into damaged tissue. Further progression can result in dead and dying tissue, infection, and, in some cases, death. If Your Loved One Has Bed Sores Unfortunately, bed sores can develop due to a lack of proper preventative care, and can be an indication of the negligence of a nursing home toward its residents. Such facilities may be understaffed or have poor hiring practices as well as a lack of proper supervision for resident case management. And if a patient has developed bed sores, it’s possible that other forms of abuse or neglect are present at the facility. You have a right to expect a high standard of care for your loved one at a nursing home, and if you suspect that your loved one is not getting this high standard of care, you have the right to seek out answers. Seek the advice of an attorney experienced in nursing home negligence issues to get the justice that your loved one deserves.Contact Gerling Law – it won’t cost you a thing to see if we can help!

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Are You Using the Right Car Seat?

Anyone with small children knows how important it is to protect them. From the moment we bring them home from the hospital, our lives are spent in protection mode – locking up medicines and household chemicals, plugging off electrical outlets, wrapping the corners of the coffee table with foam bumpers. And when you take your little bundle of joy out on the road, you buckle them into a car seat. Car seats have been around for well over 100 years, but didn’t come into favor as a safety device until the mid-1980s. These early child restraints were rudimentary at best, and lacked the variety of features that modern seats have today. Nowadays, there are different types of seats for different ages, and sometimes it’s difficult to know which is the right seat for your child. Types of Car Seats The best car seat for your child is one that is selected based on your child’s age and size. This means that you’ll likely need a number of different seats as your child grows, before he or she is old enough and big enough to use a regular seat belt. Rear-Facing Seats The NHTSA recommends keeping your child in a rear-facing seat from birth to three years. Most new parents take their newborn home from the hospital in an infant carrier-style seat, which locks into a base installed in the car. Once your infant reaches the top range for height and weight as established by the seat’s manufacturer, you can move them into a rear-facing toddler seat. Rear-facing seats provide better support for a young child’s head and immature neck and spine. Front-Facing Seats Many parents purchase a car seat for their toddler that can be used both rear-facing and front-facing, which can save money in the long run. However, the temptation to turn your child forward facing too soon is great with such a seat. Front facing seats are designed for children ages 4-7. Booster Seats Once your child has reached the maximum height and weight for his or her front-facing seat, you can graduate them into a booster seat. A booster seat allows your child to use your vehicle’s safety belts, but gives your child a “boost” so that the safety belts are in the proper position to be effective. Booster seats are designed for use by children ages 8-12. Seat Belts Many older children look forward to the day they graduate from a booster seat to using regular seat belts like mom and dad. After your child has outgrown his booster seat in regard to height and weight, seat belts are the next step for safety as a passenger. For a child to use a regular seat belt, he or she must be at least 4’9″ and past the age of 12. Regardless if you’re a new parent or an old pro, the biggest rule to remember is that children under the age of 12 are safest riding in the back seat. It’s tempting to treat your child to a ride in the front seat the closer they get to the teenage years, but should you be involved in an accident, your car’s air bags can seriously injure or even kill a young child. Many vehicles today have a switch that allows you to disable passenger air bags in the front seat, but even with this precaution the front seat can be a dangerous place for a child. Properly Installing a Car Seat It’s estimated that three out of four car seats in use are installed incorrectly. Aproperly installed car seat is snug in the vehicle seat and you should not be able to move it more than one inch in any direction along the belt path. But not all car seats fit all vehicles. The best car seat is one that is appropriate for your child’s age, weight, and height, and one that fits securely in your vehicle. Fortunately, assistance and education in the installation of car seats is available in most communities, typically conducted by law enforcement agencies or hospitals. In Evansville, the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office provides instruction on the installation of car seats , as does St. Mary’s Health System. The Women’s Hospital at Deaconess offers a list of car seat check points for parents throughout the Tri-State. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children under the age of 14, but the use of car seats helps to reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers. Protect your most precious cargo while you travel, and use a properly installed child safety seat.

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SSDI and Fibromyalgia

Imagine a physical illness so debilitating that you’re unable to sleep, suffer extreme mood swings, and feel pain and tenderness throughout your body. Would you be able to work in such a condition? Fibromyalgia is a mysterious illness that affects quality of life as well as ability to work, and an estimated 2% of the American population is affected. Those who suffer from this disorder find that working can be difficult if not impossible, and may seek SSDI benefits. Who Has Fibromyalgia?

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Working and Applying for Social Security Disability

“Can I still apply for disability even though I’m working?” That’s a question we get asked a lot, and the short answer is “yes.” Or, more accurately, “yes, but…” We’ve already talked about how the SSDI process can be a lengthy one. SSDI decisions can be rendered in as little as 30 days or the process can take up to two years before a decision is made. In the meantime, how do you keep money coming into the household budget? After all, you still need to eat, and you still need to meet your financial obligations. A lot of people have the misconception that applying for SSDI means you can’t be working, at all, while you’re in the system to be considered for benefits. This simply isn’t true. Even if you’ve applied for SSDI and are awaiting a decision, you are permitted to have an income during the process. Working While You Wait The guidelines for how much you are allowed to earn each month while applying for SSDI are set forth by the Social Security Administration (SSA) – the current figure for 2015 is $1090 per month. While that may not be the amount you are accustomed to bringing into the household budget, it is the maximum you are allowed to earn and still be awarded SSDI. How Many Hours? The SSA will take your working hours into consideration when assessing your application for SSDI. If you are working a full 40-hour workweek, it’s likely that will be seen as a reason to deny benefits. Part-time work is generally viewed in a more favorable light, particularly if you had been working a regular full time schedule before your disability occurred. The type of part time work you do matters, too, because if it is similar or related to your previous work, the SSA may conclude that you are capable of performing your job as before. Additionally, if you had only worked part time before your disability occurred, and the SSA finds that you can still perform this work, your claim will likely be denied. It should be noted that there is no amount of work that will be ignored. The SSA will look closely at any work you perform, and working at all may raise questions about why you could not perform the same work for more hours. Past Relevant Work and Substantial Gainful Activity In considering a claim for disability, the SSA will determine if you can still perform“past relevant work” (PRW), which will include jobs that you have held in the past 15 years. They will also determine whether the work you are currently doing falls within guidelines for “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) – currently in excess of $1090 per month in 2015. It’s important to note, however, that earnings in excess of $1090 per month may not necessarily trigger a denial of SSDI – if your earnings are the result of special conditions designed to assist you in the performance of your duties- an argument can be made that without these special conditions, your income would be much lower, placing you below the $1090 threshold for benefits. Moreover, if you try to return to work, but fail at the attempt (usually if it lasts less than three months), SSA will view these efforts as an “unsuccessful work attempt” which will not hurt your claim. In some circumstances, you can even work more than three months, and an argument can be made for a trial work period. Additional income that stems from non-work sources-such as investments, interest income, or monetary gifts – do not factor into the SGA threshold of $1090 per month, and will not be counted against you in your claim. Assessing Your Ability to Work If you continue to work after you have applied for SSDI – and many people do – be aware that the work that you do will be examined to determine if you are eligible for benefits. You must be able to demonstrate that you can no longer work in the same capacity as you did before your disability began. There is a myth that you must quit working for 12 months before you can apply for disability, but in reality, most people cannot make ends meet without some income in a 12-month period. Instead, if your disability has lasted or is expected to last for 12 months or more, you may be eligible for SSDI; if you aren’t sure about the timing of your application, talking with an attorney experienced in SSDI cases will help to determine your course of action. Need help applying for SSDI? Call the Gerling Firm – it won’t cost you anything to see if we can help!

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Gun Safety is Everyone's Responsibility

We see it in the news with alarming regularity: someone accidentally shot by a gun, many times with tragic consequences. Often these news stories involve children, which makes the tragedy even more heart-wrenching. Recently, an Evansville couple was arrested after a cell phone video showed their one-year-old child holding and playing with a gun. The story was picked up by news outlets around the country, including CNN’s HLN TV news, and even though the gun did not fire while the child handled it, this frightening scenario underscores the ease with which a tragedy can happen. Kids and Guns The statistics are chilling. In the twelve-month period between December 2012 and December 2013, at least 100 children were killed in unintentional shootings, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. That’s nearly two children a week, dying needlessly. In 65% of these cases, the gun involved was a legally-registered weapon belonging to the victim’s family, and was not secured in any way, which could have prevented the shooting. A study funded by the federal government found that 8% of unintentional shooting deaths involved children under the age of six pulling the trigger. The news is filled with reports of such events, from young children finding a gun and shooting themselves or others, to teens playing around with a gun that discharges and hurts them or a friend. You’ve heard the stories. You may even know someone personally affected by such an event. While accidental gun deaths are tragic no matter who may be involved, those involving children are even more difficult to comprehend. The Debate Rages On We live in an area of the country where hunting is a significant part of our recreational culture. Guns are a part of the lives of thousands of Tri-State families. Often, it’s not a matter of if you come in contact with a gun, but when. As a nation, we struggle with balancing our Constitutionally-protected rights against the safety of individuals and the public. There is an enormous national debate taking place over the rights of gun owners as guaranteed by the Second Amendment, and while we won’t attempt to wade into this debate, both sides of the issue have strong points to make. As a law firm, we represent individuals whose lives have been turned upside down by the careless or reckless actions of another – and sometimes this includes cases involving guns. Gun cases are among the saddest cases we handle, and without a doubt, following gun safety rules could have prevented the great majority of these cases. Gun Safety Rules Regardless whether you have a handgun for home defense or a rifle for hunting, establishing and following a set of rules for the handling and storage of firearms in your home will go a long way toward preventing a gun tragedy. Some of these rules include: Store guns in a locked location, such as a gun safe or storage case, when not in use Make sure all guns are equipped with child-resistant gun locks Never store a loaded gun; always unload a gun before storing it Keep guns and ammunition stored in separate, locked locations Keep keys and combinations hidden When a gun is out of its locked storage location, always keep it in your line of sight Never leave guns unattended; do not leave guns on a nightstand, table, under your pillow, or anyplace else easily accessible to a child Know your weapon; understand how to load/unload it and practice shooting it at a controlled facility such as a firing range Never point a gun toward anyone, even unintentionally Always assume a gun is loaded Teach children to respect firearms; despite what they see onscreen, guns are not toys Provide a locked, safe place for any gun a visitor might bring into your home Make a habit of inquiring whether guns are a part of a household where your children visit or play; if so, ask about safety measures for firearms in that home Pro-gun advocates are quick to invoke the Second Amendment rights of the individual to keep and bear arms, and as attorneys, we have great respect for the rights and laws of our nation. But the right to keep and bear arms comes with an enormous responsibility to behave in a safe manner with those arms. At Gerling, we encourage you to take gun safety seriously, whether you have guns in the home or not. Tragedy can happen in the blink of an eye.

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Boating Safety and the Ohio River

One of the distinct advantages of living along the Ohio River is that we have miles and miles of open water available to us for recreation, right at our doorstep. Hot weather drives us toward the water, and the Independence Day holiday is a prime time for boating, skiing, and fishing. Many boaters are out on the water well after dark to take in a fireworks show. The Biggest Boating Day of the Year Independence Day has traditionally been the most popular day for boating in the United States, particularly because it often comes with a three-day weekend. The weather is hot, and the water is cool, and it’s hard to beat that combination for fun. But it’s also often the mostdangerous day for boating – inexperienced vehicle operators, excessive speed, and alcohol consumption can contribute to accidents and injuries, just like they do on dry land. Boating and Alcohol Don’t Mix More than 600 people lost their lives in a boating accident in 2014, and alcohol was a leading factor in nearly a quarter of these deaths. Alcohol is especially potent on the water, because the pitching and rolling motions associated with being on a boat – in addition to being physically taxing – tend to scramble a person’s equilibrium. Add bright sunshine and heat to the mix, and it further intensifies the feelings of intoxication. And it doesn’t matter if you’re at the helm or sitting in the passenger seat – the odds of death are nearly identical for both captains and passengers when alcohol is involved. Life Jackets The U.S. Coast Guard requires that a boat have one USCG-approved life jacket per person aboard. While there are no rules requiring the wearing of lifejackets while boating, the Coast Guard recommends that children wear one at all times while on the water, as well as having them easily accessible in the event of an emergency.More than 80% of people who drowned while boating in 2014 were not wearing life jackets; in order for a life jacket to be effective, it must be: USCG approved, appropriately sized for the person wearing it, in good condition, and WORN by the user. Wear a life jacket even if you know how to swim, and be aware that river currents can be stronger than you anticipate. Boating at Night What’s an Independence Day celebration without fireworks? Many people are out on the water on Independence Day to take advantage of a great view of riverfront fireworks – in fact, it may be the only day of the year they’re out on the water after dark. Safe boating after dark requires proper navigational lighting for your vessel so that others can see you in the water, but additional lights such as cabin lights or other onboard courtesy lights reduce your night vision. Speed is another concern at night, as well; in Indiana, boats on the water at night must not travel at speeds greater thanten miles per hour. Safe Boating is Enjoyable Boating No matter what your plans are for being out on the water this summer, being a responsible boater – and boat passenger – is the best way to protect the health and safety of everyone involved. In addition to wearing life jackets, avoiding alcohol, and adhering to a reasonable speed, there are other precautions you should take. Make sure your boat is properly equipped – the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers aVessel Safety Check to help determine if you have all of the necessary equipment onboard Be prepared for emergencies – check your first aid kit, make sure it’s filled and up-to-date, and know basic first aid procedures Plan for proper hydration – just because you’re out on the water doesn’t mean you won’t need water to drink, or snacks to keep your energy levels up File a float plan – tell someone on dry land where you’re headed and when you anticipate returning Keep a sharp lookout – debris in the water can damage or even capsize a boat, and sandbars can be well-hidden in shallow water Watch the weather – storms and windy conditions can occur at any time during hot, humid summer days, so know the forecast before you launch and keep an eye on the sky Be sun-smart – wear sunscreen, protect your eyes from the glare of bright sunshine bouncing off the water, and know when you’ve had enough sun for one day Practice the three Cs: courtesy, common sense, caution – a boater has many of the same vehicular responsibilities as someone in a car on dry land If you’re going to be out on the water this Independence Day – or any other day of the year – understand that a fun day on the water can turn tragic very quickly if you’re unprepared. At Gerling Law, we hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday, and many other enjoyable days out on the water!

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The SSDI Application Process

You may have heard that getting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a hard road to travel, if not practically impossible. The SSDI process can take anywhere from30 days to two years for benefits from an initial claim to be approved, and along the way there will be denials and appeals. It seems unfair – you’re hurt, or you’ve developed a mental or emotional condition that renders you unable to work, and yet you’re being denied benefits from a system that you’ve paid into all your working life. But more than two-thirds of people applying for benefits have their initial application denied. It takes perseverance to see this process all the way through, and many people give up on the process too easily. After all, when you’re hurt, you just don’t have the energy needed for this lengthy procedure. And yet, being denied benefits can negatively impact your family – if you’re unable to work, you could lose your home, become mired in deep debt, and be unable to fully enjoy life. While the path to SSDI benefits isn’t a walk in the park, it’s also not impossible – if you don’t give up before the process is finished. This is where an attorney with experience in SSDI cases can be particularly helpful. The Process The entire process from application to awarding of benefits can take up to five distinct steps before a final judgment is rendered. These steps, along with the most recent percentages of success (2013), are outlined below: Application: Allowed – 33%; Denied – 67% Reconsideration: Allowed – 11%; Denied – 89% Hearing with Administrative Law Judge (AL J): Allowed – 48%; Dismissed – 17%; Denied – 35% Appeals Council: Allowed – 1%; Dismissed – 4%; Remanded – 17%; Denied – 78% Federal District Court: Allowed – 2%; Dismissed – 9%; Remanded – 42%; Denied – 46% Appealing a Denial Most people applying for SSDI expect to be denied the first time, and understand the high likelihood of being denied after reconsideration. Nationally, approvals are granted only 11% of the time during the reconsideration stage; in the Indiana, however, it’s notably lower – only 4.8%. A hearing with the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) generally follows the denial at reconsideration, but the process is not over even after an ALJ denies the case – an attorney can continue on to the Appeals Council, Federal District Court, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. A claimant still has the opportunity for approval of benefits past that point – the chances of their case being remanded (returned) to a lower court for reexamination at the Appeals Council and Federal District Court levels are almost 60%. Why Cases Are Remanded There are numerous reasons SSDI claims are remanded to a lower court. Often, initial claims cases are reviewed by doctors with specialties completely unrelated to the case they are reviewing – for example, an OB/GYN may be making a decision on a bipolar disorder case or a case of Degenerative Disc Disease. Though all physicians enter the medical field with the same basic training, specialists train extensively in one area of expertise, rendering their judgment most effective in that area. As you might imagine, this can give judges in higher courts a reason to remand a case – in fact, Judge Richard Poser of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (which serves, in part, the state of Indiana) recently took issue with this problem. In a case presented to the Court of Appeals, Judge Posner took issue with the conclusions handed down by the ALJ and two doctors that examined the case of an individual with chronic pain seeking SSDI. The two doctors offering opinions on the case were a pediatrician and an anesthesiologist, causing Posner to write, “We note the oddity of inviting a pediatrician to opine on the medical condition of a 28-year-old woman, and likewise the oddity of asking anesthesiologists to evaluate spinal-cord problems.” More than a third of claims are denied at the ALJ level, and the errors made in these denials result in nearly half of their decisions being remanded. The most common mistake ALJs make is the denial of benefits without a thorough analysis of the case, particularly with assigning weight to treating sources. In the 7th Circuit, there have been a lot of rulings chastising the ALJs for incorrectly denying benefits. In one decision, Judge Posner threatened to start sanctioning ALJs for denying benefits without a thorough analysis of the claim. Why Representation is Important Applying for SSDI takes a great deal of patience and persistence, and having an attorney with the experience to see the process through all the way to its natural conclusion can make all the difference in your receiving benefits. An attorney with experience in the SSDI process will take a worthy case all the way to federal court and beyond if necessary. If you’re considering applying for SSDI or have just begun the process, contact Gerling Law.

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