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GOING POSTAL – What if the most dangerous place on earth is where you work?

Pleasant were the days where the most an employee worried about was dealing with pesky bosses, overbearing co-workers, grueling morning traffic, and totally unreasonable deadlines. But news stories covering people like the disgruntled New York City employee who fatally shot his co-worker and entered into a Hollywood-style gunfight with police are changing that. As a national debate rages over proposed gun control legislation, employees have been given entirely new and considerably more serious worries for their personal safety and the safety of their workplace.

November 2009 – Tragedy Strikes a Workplace

On November 5, 2009, this country witnessed one of the greatest and most jarring tragedies to occur at a workplace. You would think that one of the safest places on the planet would be a United States military base WITHIN the United States. Yet on that dark day in November, a United States Army Medical Corp officer opened fire at Fort Hood, killing 13 people and injuring more than 30 others. Many Americans began to wonder just how safe their workplace was.

“Going Postal”

Workplace violence has always been a common but hidden reality of the work environment. Yet, throughout the years, the definition of workplace violence has changed and expanded. Originally, violence in the workplace referred only to getting hurt on the job – such as when health care workers were assaulted by patients, late night convenience store employees were robbed, or taxi cab drivers were mugged by riders.It was not until 1986 when United States Postal Service worker Patrick Sherrill massacred 14 people in Edmonds, Oklahoma, shooting and killing managers, fellow workers, and members of the police, that the general public adopted a term for these killings. In ominous memory of those killed in Oklahoma, the term became “going postal.”

Occupational Hazard – Shootings at the Office

Workplace violence can range from harassment and intimidation to violence and homicide. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2007 to 2012, there were more than 10,000 occupational homicides nationwide. Specifically in 2008, shootings accounted for 80 percent of all homicides in 2008.

From a legal perspective, some may argue that simply banning guns on any work premise would go a long way towards reducing workplace violence. However, Florida employers are limited in their abilities to do so by the law – employers cannot implement a ban on having weapons on “company premises” within their workplace policies. The Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008 prohibits both public and private employers from restricting customers or employees from possessing any legally owned firearm when such firearm is lawfully possessed and locked inside a motor vehicle in a parking lot. Employers are also prohibited from asking employees and customers whether they have firearms in their cars and from searching their vehicles for weapons. However, an employer can require that guns remain locked in a vehicle and ban them from anywhere other than the parking lot.

Employer Safeguards – How Companies Minimize the Likelihood of Workplace Violence

Thus, knowing whether an employer has the proper safeguards in place is essential to understanding the safety of a work environment. No work environment will ever be guaranteed freedom from workplace violence but there are ways in which an employer can substantially reduce incidences.

An employer can effective reduce workplace violence by:

  1. Performing reference and background checks during the hiring process.
  2. Executing the best practice of establishing a zero-tolerance policy towards workplace violence against or by their employees
  3. Creating a written policy that defines workplace violence and includes specific examples of prohibited conduct. Furthermore it should also have explanations or repercussions for violations and specific reporting procedures
  4. Ensuring that all employees are educated on the policy and understand that any complaints about potential violence will be investigated and remedied promptly.
  5. Establishing a workplace violence prevent program, and incorporating it into the existing employee handbook or manual of standard operating procedures.
  6. Providing training to supervisors that helps them spot and deal with potentially violent employees.
  7. Creating a crisis plan so employees are prepared if the company experiences a threat of violence
  8. Hiring security personnel, using video surveillance and alarm systems, and limiting workplace access by the public and unauthorized individuals.

The Zero Tolerance Policy – Protecting the Employer and Employees

One of the most prominent workplace policies that have become instrumental in employment litigation with regards to workplace violence has been the implementation of the “zero-tolerance” policy. Under such a policy, individuals that engage in any type of workplace violence can be automatically terminated from the company. Under such dismissal, an employee may not be able to sue their employer for the fact that there were fired for engaging in workplace violence.

However, this policy assumes that the employees who are engaging in workplace violence are two individuals that have issues with one another. The policy does not adequately cover single employees that act aggressively to passive co-workers. Nevertheless, in situations where a single individual acts aggressively towards one or many co-workers, arbitrators have awarded leeway to the “innocent” employee or employees in cases where the act of aggression was met by an act of self defense by the victim or victims.

Case in Point – How Policies Protect Companies AND Victims

In a specific case, an employer discharged two employees that engaged in a fistfight over which employee had been assigned to perform a particular job. In doing so, the employer relied upon a zero-tolerance workplace violence policy and discharged both employees. Within the case, the union that represented Employee A argued that the employer’s decision to discharge Employee A should not stand because Employee A’s participation in the fight was merely in self-defense. They claimed that Employee B had provoked Employee A and then escalated the physical confrontation. Although Employee A had played a role in escalating the conflict and should be held culpable for his role in the violent episode, the arbitrator in that case determined that the employer did not have just cause to discharge Employee A. The arbitrator held that Employee A’s violent behavior should be excused at least to the point of allowing him to return to his job because Employee B had been the instigator of the fight.

Legal Protections for Victims – Is It Enough?

The current legal framework does not provide employees many opportunities to bring up claims in court against their employers for not stopping or preventing workplace violence. There are some type of harassments that are outlawed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but Title VII’s reach is narrow and only prohibits employment discrimination based on an individual’s race, sex, color, religion, or national origin. Since the legal options that allow for an action to be brought against the employer are limited, it is important for employees to understand the importance of the workplace safety policies that are enacted in their work environment. If history is any indication, it could save your life.

Do you think that the current legal framework goes far enough to protect employees from workplace violence? What legislation would you create to reduce the amount of workplace violence in the US? Comment below and share your perspective.

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Beware of Facebook, Twitter and Other Social Media

When bringing a personal injury claim, it is important to consider that many private aspects of your life will not remain private. Many insurance defense firms, private investigators, and defendants search and comb through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. During the discovery phase of any litigation, most courts will allow the Defense to go through your Instagram, Facebook, and other social network accounts. Just one photograph or video may be taken out of context and destroy or lower the amount of monies awarded.

Recently, a woman who brought a personal injury case in Gwinnett County, Georgia tweeted about her travels and partying during the course of her case. As a result the jury lowered their damages award. The woman, a victim of a car accident, claimed that the injuries she sustained to her arm as a result of the car accident and she was unable to perform her job duties as a hairstylist. However, the Defense attorney provided tweets and pictures of the Plaintiff having fun in New Orleans with her friends and enjoying spring break on the beach. The Plaintiff asked for $1.1 million for her injuries and received $142,000.

What is the insurance and defense attorney looking for in Social Networks?:

  • Pictures of you having fun, showing that you have not been injured, and that you have returned to your normal routine;
  • Videos of you performing acts that you now claim you have difficulty with or cannot do;
  • Statements regarding the incident or accident;
  • Potential friends to interview and depose;
  • To catch you in a lie to damage

If you are involved in any type of legal matter, including a personal injury case here are a list of tips when using social networks:

  • If you can live without Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. CLOSE DOWN YOUR ACCOUNT. This will be the safest way that you will ensure that you will not damage your case;
  • Set your settings as private as possible;
  • Ask your friends and family to not tag you in any posts or photographs;
  • Do not discuss any aspects of your case on these social networking site;
  • Do not “check-in” anywhere.

In fact, many insurers are not trying to challenge liability as must as causation and whether the victim has a permanent injury.

The Miami based attorneys at Jeffrey R. Davis, P.A. are experienced personal injury attorneys who understand the techniques used by defense attorneys and insurances. The use of social media is just one of the ways that the other side will try to lower the damages awarded to a victim of another’s negligence. If you or a loved have been injured because of the negligence of another, contact us for a free consultation to discuss your potential case.

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What to Look for in a Personal Injury Attorney – Miami

Your choice in a Miami personal injury lawyer can make a big difference in the amount of compensation you receive for your injuries, how your case is managed, and how your case is finally resolved. It is important that you obtain an experienced personal injury attorney who understands Florida law, understands the insurance companies and their strategies, and who has resources to fight for your rights successfully.

When choosing an attorney to represent your interests, you must search for an attorney that is the “right fit” for you and your case. Many personal injury cases takes months to several years to resolve. You will be working with your attorney, so it is important that you trust your lawyer and get along with your lawyer. Just alone in Florida, the Florida Bar reports that there are approximately 93,895 barred attorneys as of January 2013. There are many of attorneys to choose from – Do not sell yourself short.

What Do I Look for In a Personal Injury Lawyer?

Not every attorney is a personal injury lawyer. It is important that you ask the attorney that you are about to hire what type of law they specialize in.  I always like to compare it to medicine: You wouldn’t want a cardiologist checking out a problem with your bones. Similarly, you wouldn’t want a family lawyer handling your personal injury case.

These are the factors you should consider when picking your lawyer:

  • How many years has the lawyer been practicing?
  • Has the attorney ever been disciplined by the Floria Bar?
  • Does the attorney have a list of past results?
  • Does the attorney have a list of the past type of cases that he or she has handled successfully?
  • Will the lawyer take your case to trial?
  • What is your lawyer’s policy on communicating and speaking to clients?

The attorneys at Jeffrey R. Davis, P.A., a Miami Personal Injury law firm, specialize in personal injury cases such as workplace violence, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, and negligent security. We pride ourselves in communicating with our clients and putting our clients first. Jeffrey R. Davis has been practicing personal injury law for over 25 years. Olga Porven, a former insurance defense attorney, has the insight into what the insurance companies strategies are in defending personal injury cases.

If you or a loved on have been injured as a result of the negligence of another, contact us for a free consultation or call us at 305-704-7415.