‘People shouldn’t be falling off unsafe scaffolding. They shouldn’t be dying of asbestos-caused mesothelioma — not in the United States. We should be past that by now,” says attorney Jon Gelman. Like his father before him, Gelman has dedicated his career to worker safety and just compensation. Whether you have labored at Ground Zero, in Iraq, or simply in today’s normal high-tech work environment, Gelman feels that the real hazards and the sources of aid provided are remaining largely ignored.
To help bring some long overdue awareness of occupational dangers and their latest legal solutions, Gelman is moderating the New Jersey Institute of Continuing Legal Education’s seminar, “This Year in Workers’ Comp — Top Issues and Cases” on Tuesday, July 8, at 4 p.m. at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. Cost: $169. Visit www.njicle.com, or call 732-214-8500.
Presenters include attorney Stephen Embry, past president of Workers Injury Law Advocacy Group, Embry & Neusner; Nancy Johnson of Weston Stierli McFadden & Capotorto; Edward Magram of Smith Goldstein Magram Berenato & Michaud; Edgar Romano, president-elect of Workers Injury Law Advocacy Group, Brecher Fishman Pasternack Heller Walsh & Tilker; and Mark Setaro of Weber Galagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Nealty.
Gelman grew up in Paterson, listening to tales of worker comp injustices that came through the law offices of his father and uncle. Upon entering Rutgers University, his mind was set. He majored in political science, graduating in l967, and went straight to John Marshal Law School in Chicago.
After earning his law degree in l971, Gelman returned home and entered the family law firm. Shortly afterwards he launched his own practice in Wayne, where he continues to practice today. Gelman has written the book on his specialty — literally, including Worker’s Compensation Law, volumes 38, 39, and 39A New Jersey Practice. In short, he is the attorney other attorneys turn to as the final voice on workers’ comp advice.
Gelman sees workers’ compensation laws as a dynamic set of rules that move and restructure with the needs of the times. “It’s beyond fussing with a few percentage fractions,” he says. “This year has seen some enormous changes in the law and most business people and lawyers aren’t up on it yet.”
WTC health watch. This autumn will mark the seventh anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. The debris is long cleared, but the destructive diseases linger on. The estimated half million residents, Trade Center occupants, rescue workers, and volunteers in the area faced a dust cloud of airborne toxins that were largely new to researchers. “This is very scary stuff,” says Gelman. “The explosions’ by-products heated many carcinogens to an unseen level. Dioxins, PCBs, glass dust, and more became synergistically blended to cause diseases we’ve never seen and often do not know how to treat.”
Until now registration for medical monitoring has been confined to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Now the federal government is expanding the 9/11 Compensation Act to track and register 9/11 health victims nationwide. Mount Sinai and Bellevue medical centers, which have served as the core of post 9/11 treatment, will be aided by a new federal agency set up by the administration.
Says Gelman, “This work needs be done. The new act establishes six facilities, and includes the monitoring of children, in whom cells are growing faster than adults.” Those wanting to register for free monitoring can visit www.nycosh.org.
Iraq victims aid. Not many people had heard of the Defense Based Compensation Act until 2005, when the daughter of American truck driver Tony Johnson sued Haliburton for the wrongful death of her father. Haliburton, as the primary logistical supporter of America’s troops in Iraq, hired hundreds of truck drivers like Johnson to drive throughout the nation’s war zones. The company was charged with deliberately and recklessly placing Johnson in harm’s way.
Haliburton argued that Johnson was covered by the Defense Based Compensation Act, which acts as a workers’ comp for non-military personnel working in such situations. “The problem is that the workers involved must be registered,” says Gelman. “They are returning with disabilities and nobody has told them they qualify for this coverage. Certainly Blackwater and Haliburton aren’t informing them.”
Videos are watching. Americans have become inured to being ever on camera. In l949, when George Orwell’s novel “1984” declared “Big Brother is watching,” most people felt horrified. Now they pass the proliferation of workplace spy cameras without a blink.
While employers and shop owners may no longer hide their video cameras, they may place them anywhere they want. Now insurance companies have joined the video taping explosion. “These firms are trying to put the fear of video into people — make them feel ever-spied upon, so they won’t file claims,” says Gelman. “Of course, honest insurers have the right to prevent ripoffs and false claims, but a technical problem has arisen.”
The problem is this: Most endless-loop surveillance videos are of poor, grainy quality to begin with. So was that person really carrying a package out of the office? If not, it can certainly be made to seem so with merely a few magical touches in Photoshop. And courts frequently cannot tell when a video has been altered. Thus, the strictures on when videos may be used as evidence have increased. Even as viable workplace tools video tapes are is being called into question.
Gelman ticks off other questions on his fingers: Does being in prison cancel disability benefits? Can a person cancel or carry over an insurance policy as he changes employment? What are the ways to maximize death benefits? As with most areas of law, workers’ compensation is a broad blanket, trying to serve thousands of dissimilar, individual cases. It will be twisted and pulled to fit as we discover old, unaddressed needs, or as new ones develop.
Employers are beginning to fall into line with creating a safe and justly recompensed workplace. Rare, and fortunately few, are those who view an arm sacrificed for the company’s productivity as an annoyance unworthy of compensation. Says Gelman, “As American jobs begin to return to America we are going to want to give our workers the secure advantage of knowing that they are well cared for and treated.”