During the past 12 months we have represented a handful of former Southern Bell linemen injured in the course and scope of their employment. Each was hired by Southern Bell (subsequently Bellsouth, now AT&T) in the 1970s to repair and install telecommunication cable. They started working for Southern Bell in their 20s and stayed until being forced by orthopedic conditions to retire in 2010 and later.
Their orthopedic conditions were caused by years of wear and tear from climbing telephone polls while toting heavy equipment and cable. Instead of being allowed to use ladders or hydraulic lifts, the linemen were forced to shimmy the poles like island natives gathering coconuts from tall palm trees. Boot hooks, jammed into the wood poles, kept them from falling.
Our first Southern Bell lineman case involved a 61 year old gentleman who retired after 39 years, done in by bad knees. His orthopedist was recommending total knee replacement surgery.
Common sense and experience told us that his knee problems were job related. Unless there has been acute trauma, like a football injury, repetitive trauma beyond the ordinary is the usual cause for damage of this severity at such a relatively young age. 39 years of pole climbing qualifies as beyond ordinary wear and tear.
We decided to make a claim against the company for workers’ compensation PTD (permanent total disability) and medical benefits. The case resolved at mediation.
Florida Statute 440.19 is the workers’ compensation statute of limitations. The SOL for repetitive trauma cases begins to run on the date of disability, with “Disability” defined in Florida Statute 440.02(13) as “incapacity because of the injury to earn in the same or any other employment the wages which the employee was receiving at the time of the injury.” Although our Southern Bell clients had pain for years, they continued to earn the same or higher wages until retirement. We have been able to avoid SOL problems by using each employee’s retirement date.
Even if a retirement date is outside the SOL, we might beat the SOL defense because of Southern Bell’s policy of steering its employees away from making workers’ compensation claims. Supervisors were motivated to do this by bonuses. Injured workers were told to obtain medical care through private health insurance and lost wages from private disability insurance rather than from workers’ compensation. This conduct can toll the SOL.
The injuries we have seen are not limited to the knees. We have handled cases involving severe shoulder and back problems.
If you believe that your severe medical condition may have developed from work-related repetitive trauma, please contact us for a free, confidential consultation to evaluate your case.
Contact us toll-free at 866-785-GALE or by email to learn your rights.
Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.