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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Understanding the Difference Between Short-term and Long-term Disability in New York

I recently suffered a serious injury and I am unable to return to work – however, I’m not sure how long I will be hurt. What is the difference between long-term and short-term disability in New York? 

Disability benefits are an important and – in many cases – vital component to maintaining financial stability in the wake of a serious illness or injury.  In general, the major difference between short-term and long-term disability benefits in New York is the expected duration of the underlying condition and whether it is expected to eventually resolve. In the following, we explain the components of each benefit as well as the eligibility requirements for short-term versus long-term coverage. 

Short-term disability in New York 

If an employee is injured while not on the job (which would not be covered by New York’s workers’ compensation regulations), short-term disability benefits may be available through the New York State Department of Labor. Under its regulations, all covered employers are mandated to maintain a short-term disability policy for workers who experience an injury or illness, which provides approximately 50 percent of a worker’s average wages for up to 26 weeks. The wage amount is calculated based on a worker’s pay rate over the prior eight weeks, and the claim for benefits must be filed within 30 days of the date of the injury or diagnosis. 

If a condition is expected to last longer than 26 weeks, is considered terminal, or the applicant meets certain age criteria, long-term disability benefits may be the best option to supplement the financial loss incurred by a medical condition.

Long-term disability benefit basics 

In New York, long-term disability benefits may be available through the Office of Labor Relations. For covered employees, the option to enroll in long-term disability insurance must be made available by their employers. Under this coverage, an employee can receive 66 and two-thirds percent of their basic earnings each month – which may be reduced if the employee is deemed “partially disabled” as opposed to totally disabled. 

A partial disability is one in which, due to the illness or injury, the employee is no longer able to work on a full-time basis but can still handle part-time work at his or her current job or a different job. By contrast, an employee with a total disability is rendered unable to continue working in any capacity or in any vocation. 

For more information about the benefits available to New Yorkers facing injury or illness, please contact the disability law attorneys at the Seelig Law Offices, LLC by calling 212-766-0600 today.


Monday, June 1, 2015

NYC Mayor Proposes New Calculation for Disability Pensions

I am a recently hired uniformed employee of New York City. Are there any proposed increases scheduled for my disability pension? 

Many of New York City’s uniformed officers rely on the availability of disability pension funds in the event of an unforeseen injury or disability. With the costs of living steadily rising and disability claims congruently increasing across the city, Mayor De Blasio recently unveiled his plan to recalculate the amount available for the city’s police, firefighters, and other workers enduring dangerous and hazardous work conditions. 

Under the new plan, which covers the New York Police Department, the Fire Department of New York, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Sanitation, the calculation of disability payments would rely on the employee’s final average salary or “basic maximum salary,” whichever happens to be greater. Moreover, the calculation would remove the offset currently in place to adjust for the payment of Social Security benefits. Lastly, De Blasio proposes an updated formula to adjust for cost of living expenses. 

Using several commonplace examples, the Mayor’s office explained that many of the city’s hardworking employees would see increases as high as 65 percent. Of course, the measure will require final approval by the New York General Assembly, which meets regularly in Albany. 

Currently, disability pensions are calculated using a tiered system based on  the date the employee joined the pension system. This tiered system has caused significant conflict between the mayor and groups like the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Uniformed Firefighters Association. Another bill being considered by the legislature would restore 75% of disability pay to police and fire members. The bill should be amended to include uniform correction officers and sanitation workers.   

If you are a NYC employee and have questions about your disability benefits, we encourage you to contact the disability law attorneys at the Seelig Law Offices as soon as possible. You can reach our office by calling (212)766-0600 today. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

More Female FDNY Retirees Receive Disability Than Men

What percentage of retired firefighters receive disability pension? 

According to a review of the New York City Fire Pension Fund’s 2014 financial report, as many as 70 percent of the former FDNY female workforce is receiving three-quarters disability pension payments in retirement. Among these women is Ms. Brenda Berkman, who broke the FDNY’s gender barrier and was among the first 41 female firefighters inducted in 1982. Today, however, Ms. Berkman suffers from several post-9/11 injuries, as she was one of the brave first responders – and worked Ground Zero for several months thereafter.

The Pension Fund report included 30 retired female FDNY firefighters. Disability pension is paid to 22 of those retirees, or 73 percent, and 21 of those retirees receive an “accidental disability” pension after experiencing a job-related injury. That means 70 percent of all female retirees are getting an accidental disability pension, which represents 75 percent of the former employee’s final average salary.

Following the release of the report, some experts weighed in on the issue and noted the apparently disproportionate number of disabled female retirees versus men, a group with a 63 percent disability pension rate. Some have questioned whether the academy is properly training females for the rigors of the job position, while others are concerned whether certain tactics used in emergency response efforts are too outdated or ineffective to avoid injury.

The 9/11 tragedy triggered a swell in disability claims, ranging from severe respiratory issues to mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder. Other women have suffered severe burns, irreversible orthopedic injuries and permanent lung damage.

Of the 10,500 cadets serving in the FDNY, there are currently 44 active duty females – the most ever to serve since employment was opened to women in 1982.

Civil service employees, including firefighters, turn to Seelig Law Offices, LLC, for valued advice and effective representation when pursuing disability claims. Our attorneys have the knowledge and experience needed to guide your case successfully. Contact us today at (212)766-0600 to learn more.

Friday, May 1, 2015

SSDI Benefits Are In Danger of Shortfall

Is the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund running out of money?

The Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund (often referred to as SSDI) is an important resource for disabled workers. Reportedly, there were almost 11 million people who received benefits in December 2014. Those benefits are in danger of disappearing, however, because the Trust Fund is running out of money as early as next year. The shortfall is expected to cut benefits by almost 20 percent, making the average monthly benefit of approximately $1,000 only about $800.

In the past, shortfalls in the Disability Insurance Trust Fund or in the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (the Social Security retirement benefit) have been addressed by reallocating money from one fund to another. However, earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed a rule change that would forbid the House from transferring money between the Social Security retirement fund and disability funds.

Social Security reform is likely to be a prominent topic as presidential campaigns for 2016 elections continue to vie for attention. There are many ideas for SSDI reforms including replacing permanent benefits and continuing disability reviews with needs-based disability periods and encouraging greater use of private disability insurance.

Currently, an SSDI applicant must have a sufficient work history to qualify for benefits as well as have his or her claim reviewed by a regional Disability Determination Services office to determine whether the applicant meets the statutory definition of disability. This includes an examination of whether the applicant can participate in any substantial gainful activity (SGA), what type of physical or mental impairment exists and how long that impairment has lasted or is expected to last. Sometimes, the family members of someone receiving SSDI benefits might be eligible to receive benefits as well.

The experienced attorneys at Seelig Law Offices, LLC, can assist you with the application process for SSDI benefits as well as appeal the denial of applications. We have represented people with varied medical conditions including orthopedic conditions, neurological disorders, cancer and mental health conditions. Contact us today at (212)766-0600 for a free consultation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New FDNY Recruits Face Diminished Disability Pay

As a New York City Firefighter, am I entitled to a disability pension if I am injured on the job?

The New York City Administrative Code recognizes that firefighting in New York City is highly dangerous by including a  lifetime disability pension set at 75 percent of a firefighter’s final average salary. In a city with some of the country’s highest living expenses, this protection against financial crisis following an on-the-job injury is crucial to a firefighter's pre- and post-accident well-being.

Unfortunately, new hires do not enjoy the disability pension benefits enjoyed by veteran/Tier 2 firefighters. According to a union representing firefighters, the reduced benefits amount to only $27 per day. These newly-hired firefighters were recruited to add diversity to the department, and there are many African-American, Hispanic and female new hires. Now, the union claims the disability policy is discriminatory.

The most recent tier of reduced pension benefits came about following a veto to extend tier 2 benefits by former Governor Paterson. At that time, finances precluded extending the status quo of pension benefits to firefighters and some other municipal and state employees. The ensuing cost cutting measures include these reduced pension costs.

Mayor de Blasio's office cited fiscal concerns, stating that it would cost $40 million to provide every firefighter a 75 percent disability pension. That is precisely what UFA President Steve Cassidy is advocating for his members. Hundreds of firefighters protested recently at City Hall demanding that the pension law be rewritten. 

The attorneys at Seelig Law Offices have the knowledge and experience needed to help you with any disability case. We regularly assist FDNY members who were injured on the job, as well as handle other uniform civil service and non-uniform civil service disability claims. Contact us today at (212)766-0600 for a consultation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Police Officers and World Trade Center Injuries

Can Police Officers and Other Emergency Responders Obtain or Increase Disability Benefits Almost 15 Years After the Attacks?

Most Americans are familiar with the extensive funds amassed by various organizations for the victims of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. While much of this money was dispersed as intended, the majority of it went to individuals who were lost or injured inside the towers on the day of the attack. For hundreds of 9/11 emergency responders who suffered, and for their families, financial recourse for injuries and fatalities has come mainly from municipal pension plans and various private and work-related insurance policies.

Obtaining lump sum or ongoing compensation immediately following an accident can be difficult. Obtaining it more than a decade after the event can be even more challenging. But if a World Trade Center emergency responder experiences new, ongoing or increasing injury symptoms resulting from 9/11, he or she can pursue compensation.

An example of this type of case is one involving former NYC police officer Annmarie Sheldon. Ms. Sheldon spent 300 hours at Ground Zero in 2001, after which her health deteriorated rapidly. Under World Trade Center presumption laws, she pursued accidental disability retirement benefits from the Police Pension Fund. Fund administrators denied her request, stating there was no link between her 9/11 service and health problems. Ms. Sheldon appealed. 

Earlier this month, a judge found in favor of Ms. Sheldon, stating that the evidence shows that she “did not have fibromyalgia before September 11, 2001” and that her disabling condition developed “in the wake of her WTC exposure.” As a result of her case, Ms. Sheldon will receive an additional $2,500 per month for her WTC-related injuries. 

If you are a police officer, firefighter or other type of emergency responder currently facing injuries or questions relating to your World Trade Center service, make sure your rights to financial compensation are fully protected by contacting the New York City disability attorneys of Seelig Law Offices, LLC, in Manhattan. We have successfully fought for the rights of hundreds of injured NYC workers. Call (212)766-0600.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Police Officer Allowed to Fight Denial of Disability Benefits in Court of Appeals

If you are a uniform civil service member, is an agency denial of disability benefits final?

When it comes to New York City police, firefighters and other uniform civil service members, those injured on the job are usually entitled to some type of disability benefit.  These benefits come in grades and trouble often arises when a civil servant requests that his or her disability benefits be increased in some way.  One New York Police Department (NYPD) Officer has recently been involved in just this type of litigation.  

In 2008, a fire erupted in a New York City apartment building.  Officer Robert Pastalove arrived at the scene and immediately ran into the burning building to alert the occupants.  The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) arrived and as Pastalove exited the building he was instructed to move his car.  As he walked over to his car, two hoses laid out by firefighters unexpectedly filled up with water, causing Pastalove to trip.  He sustained injuries to his hand and wrist as a result of the fall.  

Pastalove applied for and was granted ordinary disability benefits from the NYPD.  After some time, he applied for a type of enhanced benefits from the department.  The New York City Police Pension Fund Board of Trustees took a vote and tied.  Following standard procedure, the tied vote caused the Board to deny Pastalove’s request.  

Pastalove then brought an Article 78 proceeding in the Manhattan Supreme Court.  The court denied the petition and the denial was affirmed by the Appellate Division First Department.  But, the court later granted Pastalove leave to appeal the First Department’s decision to the New York State Court of Appeals.  One justice of the Appellate Division noted that a decision like this could cause our first responders to be more reluctant to do their jobs as they might fear being injured and left without enhanced benefits.  It will be interesting to see whether the Court of Appeals agrees with this assessment.

If you are a police officer, firefighter or any other type of civil service worker, and were injured on the job, you might be entitled to disability benefits.  The New York City attorneys at the Seelig Law Offices regularly fight for the rights of injured workers.  Contact us by calling (212)766-0600 for a free consultation today.

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