May Day is a Reminder of Prevalence of Workplace Injuries in Nevada

May has arrived, and with it a series of notable dates. The May page of one’s yearly calendar plays home to the annual celebrations of Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day. Graduation celebrations begin in May, and enthusiasts of science fiction and pop culture try not to miss an opportunity to issue this punny greeting: May the Fourth Be With You. (Get it? It’s a Star Wars joke.) One day during this month that is more often overlooked in certain circles is the first of the month: May Day.

In modern times May 1, or May Day, is celebrated as International Workers’ Day. For over 130 years, labor organizers have used this date on the calendar to come together to highlight their struggles to organize and empower the working class. [1] As union membership has fallen and wages stagnated for many years, labor organizers revitalized the May Day celebrations to galvanize their small but enthusiastic ranks. But during this same period the view of unions has grown more contentious: while a majority of those polled express a positive attitude toward unions, the number with negative views has grown. [2] In these polarized political times, this stark contrast is likely to grow even sharper.

The origins of May Day go back centuries, reaching back at least to medieval times and even beyond. Europeans marked the start of May as the beginning of spring, and the typical manner to observe the holiday was to gather flowers and other evidence of the season’s new growth to prepare garlands, wreaths, and other festive decorations. Much of this budding greenery is adorned on a tree or pole (a Maypole, if that rings a bell) which children and other revelers dance around to celebrate the return of warmth and to beckon a long season of sunshine and fertile conditions. These ceremonial rights to bring about a productive harvest likely date back to ancient Roman and Greek practices. [3]

Because of the tensions both domestically and around the world, this year’s May Day saw a number of public demonstrations and even some violence. [4] France has been rocked by a months-long protest movement known as the Yellow Vest Movement, which have just entered their 25th week of Saturday demonstrations. As the protests have dragged on, relations with law enforcement have grown strained; video recently surfaced from May Day protests in Paris shows police using a heavy hand with some demonstrators. [5] Venezuela is in the midst of a political crisis, with two men asserting a legitimate claim to the nation’s presidency and enjoying the backing of distinct coalitions of foreign governments; in that country, the May Day demonstrations had a war-like atmosphere. [6]

All of this can re-cast the May Day celebration as an opportunity to air grievances of all kinds, and it is easy to overlook the date’s long-standing modern role as a time for reflection about the needs of workers. The modern system of workers’ compensation is a mixed blessing for the nation’s workforce. Recognizing the prevalence of workplace injuries and the need for injured workers to pursue financial compensation – after all, if you are hurt and cannot work, you cannot support yourself; this is a vital reality aside from considerations about being compensated for medical treatment, pain and suffering, and other losses from an injury – the workers’ compensation regime seeks to lower the transaction costs for both sides. Employers pay for workers’ compensation insurance, which kicks in whenever there is a covered claim. This helps the employers pay a relatively flat fee for these premiums rather than attempting to prepare for the sporadic shocks caused by high-value lawsuits. [7]

For workers, this is more of a mixed bag. For small-value claims, the ability to quickly and inexpensively obtain compensation for workplace injuries works to everyone’s benefit. The employee enjoys medical treatment and appropriate compensation in a short period of time, and the employer is not tempted to drag out the proceedings because its costs are essentially pre-paid in the form of workers’ compensation insurance. But when it comes to higher-value claims, the system does not perform as well. Nevada is one among many states with statutory caps to its workers’ compensation benefits, limiting how much claimants can receive individually [8] as well as how much money is available to entire classes of injured workers. [9] Under a 2017 decision of the Nevada Supreme Court, workers lose out in another way – even if they pursue and recover damages from a third-party tortfeasor (i.e., a party responsible for the injury distinct from the employer whose workplace practices or inadequate training may have contributed to the harm), the applicable workers’ compensation insurance carrier may have a right of subrogation against those proceeds. In other words, an injured worker who successfully recovers a judgment against a third party may have to “reimburse” the workers’ compensation insurance program out of those funds. This obviously limits the injured worker’s total net recovery, and in the extreme it can so significantly depress the incentives to pursue recovery that the injured worker may have to forgo holding that third party responsible.

As a result of these incentives and multiple, intersecting policies, it is important for injured workers to obtain proper legal guidance. Unionized workers may have a union representative to turn to, and there may be resources within the union to help with certain expenses and other relief in the short term. But in the long term, a legal remedy is often necessary to win full, fair compensation to the extent permitted under Nevada law. While the path toward recovery may be long and complicated, an experienced personal injury lawyer knowledgeable about Nevada law is a key resource along the way.










Image Credit: CPSU/CSA on Flickr

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