Saturday, December 24, 2016

Top 10 causes of construction jobsite accidents and how to avoid them

Each year, there are thousands of injuries and triple-digit numbers of fatal accidents related to machine and equipment operation. A lot of these accidents involve the operator, but over half involve people on the ground - spotters, co-workers, laborers, shovel hands, passers-by and sidewalk superintendents who get too close. And because of the forces and physics involved, these are usually not first-aid injuries; there is often an ambulance and sometimes a coroner called to the jobsite.

A review of OSHA and MSHA Fatality Alerts & Bulletins reveals that practically all of these accidents are preventable. Safety awareness and caution when performing the most routine operation are characteristics of a good operator. Yet, if you take a few moments to read a few of the fatality reports at the above web sites, you will find operators with decades of experience on the list.

Before we take a look at the list of Top 10 causes of jobsite accidents and how to avoid them, we need to offer some reminders about operator training. This is usually a topic where the owner says, "Oh, my guy has been running that machine for X amount of years; he knows all there is to know." And that may very well be the case. It does not, however, fulfill your obligation under OSHA, MSHA or the rules of civil liability known as Tort Law.

All operators must have identifiable and verifiable training on the machine or equipment. Most equipment dealers will provide this training as part of their customer service, and you need to take advantage of it. We're not talking about a semester credit course, but there is a Student Workbook, a video and usually a quiz. There is also a practical section where the student will operate the machine to confirm understanding of key controls and functions. A Certificate of Completion will then be issued.

The larger or more complex the machine, the more in-depth the training should be. Remind me, how much did that rig cost? And you're going to try to skimp on the training? Better keep reading.

1. Getting on and off equipment
Getting on and off the machine is the No. 1 cause of injury to equipment operators, forklift drivers and truck drivers, any one of whom will readily share their "learning episode." It happens a lot.

First, check your gloves and boots. Clean the mud off before climbing, and use "high grip" gloves for a secure hand hold. Next, use a three-point stance going and coming. Use large size hand and foot holds. Securely engage the entire hand and foot, avoiding a toe-hold or finger-hold grip. Use a step ladder for access when no hand or foot holds are provided. Avoid carrying objects while climbing.

If the machine needs additional hand holds or steps installed, do it. Operators come in different sizes. Make it as easy and safe as possible to ascend/descend. Avoid the need to stretch by putting the grab rails where they're easy to securely reach.

When exiting the machine, correct practice is to lower yourself in a controlled manner - never jump!

2. Loading/unloading equipment
Even on level ground, there is a risk of machine roll-over during loading or unloading. Make sure you are centered on the ramps and stay straight. Allow enough room to maneuver the trailer and machine, which is sometimes difficult on tightly compressed jobsites.

Use a spotter for guidance. Make sure the machine clears the ramps before turning. Keep people away from the sides of the machine during loading/unloading.

Check the trailer deck, clearances and stability. Review your lock-out/tag-out plan to be sure the machine is at "Zero Energy State" when stowed.
Use proper tie-down procedures. If using compression chain binders, use caution when opening the handle. The load may shift just enough to add tension to the chain and the handle may spring open. Use safety tie wires or switch to ratchet binders.

3. People crowding the work area
Ask any backhoe operator what their biggest headache is and they will tell you without hesitation - people on the ground crowding the machine. People love to stand at the edge of the hole and watch the dirt being moved. There is usually no reason for them to be there, just force of habit. But why create an exposure to injury when none needs to exist?

People on the ground must stay well away from the machine operating area. Review this important point at safety meetings. Foremen need to enforce this, not the operator.

When ready to start work, use the horn to warn people to stay back; stop the machine if needed; and always check your back before backing up the machine.

4. Machine swing radius
Swing radius accidents are common. How do you think all those scrape marks got on that counterweight? Unfortunately, they are also usually fatal when people are involved.

Thus, it's important to rope off the swing radius around the machine or otherwise secure it. Allow no spectators; use a spotter to keep all people clear.

5. Operation on slopes
Caution is always required when operating on slopes. You might make it up the slope with a load, but coming down is another story! Know the limits of the machine, allow for surface conditions and don't push it.

6. Overhead/buried obstructions
Be aware of overhead obstructions and underground utilities, including electrical lines, water, sewer, gas, telecom, etc.

Definitively mark or warn of overhead lines or low clearances. When digging, call Dig Safe or whichever agency has jurisdiction. Continue to use caution even after underground lines are marked, since errors in marking are common. Be prepared to hand dig when it's getting close.

Use sawhorses, signs, barrier tapes, etc., to indicate obstructions. Take no chances.

7. Backing
Reverse motion on anything in this industry is fraught with peril. Backup alarms on construction machinery are basically cosmetic devices in terms of assuring a clear backside. As such, operators need to positively assure that no one or nothing is behind them. This is achieved by getting out and looking.

Always check the machine perimeter before moving. When vision is impaired, have a spotter (in high-visibility apparel) guide you.

Use wide angle mirrors. The new generation of machines is fitted with best viewable surface mirrors. Keep them clean and adjusted.

Use rear-mounted cameras and/or rear-mounted presence-sensing alarms. 

Presence-sensing alarms are becoming more reliable as technology improves. 

The equipment industry recognizes the urgency of the problem and will find technical solutions to address chronic people behavior problems.

8. Machine upset
If a piece of equipment starts to tip, your seat belt becomes your lifeline. Yet, the list of excuses for failure to use seat belts or harnesses is amazingly long. Most operators would make great fiction writers with the excuses they can come up with. If it weren't so grim, we should offer to add their reasons to their obituary.

Always use a seat belt. A professional operator will not have to be reminded of this bed-rock rule. Wear the belt even with the cab door closed. It decreases how much you will bounce around in the cab during normal operations, and may help you control the machine in a borderline upset situation.

In addition, operators need to understand the machine's stability characteristics on all surface types and conditions. Check to see if the equipment manufacturer or dealer offers an instructional video.

9. Instability or loss of load
Moving dirt or bulk materials is fairly straightforward. It becomes more complex when you try to use the hoe as a crane, or otherwise become creative in finding new applications. The best pipe layers in the world might only be "fair" when it comes to rigging. All rigging attachments for lifting must be engineered for safety. Be sure to use:

  • oversized fittings
  • positive locking attachments
  • safety latches on all hooks
  • correct lifting angles on chains or cable bridles
  • properly inspected nylon slings
  • abrasion and cut protection on sharp edges and masonry
  • spreader beams to provide correct lifting geometry
Keep all people well clear of a load being lifted or handled. Either get the guys out of the trench, or send them to a safe distance when the pipe is being placed. Never lift a load over people.

A lot of serious accidents also occur when trying to use one machine to do multiple functions. Rough-terrain forklifts, skid steers and similar multi-use machines are versatile, but are often pushed beyond their limits for expediency. Operators need to understand that there are limitations that must be observed and safety is primary.

10. Lock-out/Tag-out
Most mechanics will tell you a horror story or two that illustrates why OSHA made the lock-out/tag-out (LOTO) rule. Any raised load (or object, such as the bucket or attachment) is subject to LOTO provisions.

All pinch points on a machine must be identified and protected (guarded) when possible. The minimum warning is a pictorial decal advising of the hazard. If a dump body has a safety "crutch," make sure it is functional and used.

Refueling, service personnel and mechanics need to use positive means to assure their safety while servicing or working on the machine, i.e., wheel chocks, steering wheel covers with LOTO Warning imprint and LOTO locks, tags and hardware configured to the machine.

Review manufacturer directions for safety in all cases, even if this is the fifth generation of machine you bought from the same manufacturer. There are illustrations and directions in all manuals to point out safety features, do's and don'ts, good practices/bad practices, efficiency measures, etc.

Safety focus
The equipment and machinery produced today are the safest and most reliable ever made. To get the most out of these tools and ensure your employees' safety, a comprehensive safety program should not only be in place on all your jobs, it should be relevant, timely, frequently referenced and backed up by top management. Keep your operators and ground crews informed of the hazards they face (i.e., by reading the machine manual), keep them motivated and aware and recognize their accident-free achievements.


10 Most Common Construction Site Accidents

Construction workers have a highly dangerous job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, there were 774 deaths due to construction site accidents, accounting for more than 18 percent of all on-the-job fatalities that year. Additionally, statistics show that four in every 100 construction workers is non-fatally injured on the job annually.

These staggering numbers reflect a very high-risk work environment. Surrounded by building materials, tools, and machinery, construction workers can find themselves facing hazards at any given moment. The most common construction site accidents include: 

1. Falls from high heights or scaffolding – Construction workers are often required to work at very high heights, on scaffolding and ladders, in windows and on roofs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these accidents account for 34 percent of all on-the-job deaths of construction workers.

2. Slips and falls – From stray tools and materials to uneven ground or holes, there are many hazards on a construction site that could lead to a dangerous slip, trip, or fall.

3. Electrocutions – Due to the fact that construction sites are a work in progress, there is often exposed wiring, power lines, and unfinished electrical systems around. Coming in contact with these could lead to electrocution or shock.

4. Falling debris, materials or objects – On projects with multiple levels, it is common for falling tools, building materials, or beams to strike workers below.

5. Getting caught in-between objects or materials – Construction sites are filled with heavy machinery, tools, and materials. Often, workers find themselves stuck in between immovable objects, machinery, or fallen debris.

6. Fires and explosions – Because of unfinished piping, leaking gases, and incomplete electrical systems, fires and explosions are a common occurrence on construction sites.

7. Overexertion – Hours of hard labor, often in extremely hot or humid conditions, can cause workers to overexert themselves and even fall victim to heat stroke.

8. Machinery accidents – Construction workers use a lot of heavy machinery in their work. From cranes and bulldozers to jackhammers and nail guns, an error or accident with these tools can be very dangerous.

9. Getting hit by a vehicle – Construction sites are often located near or adjacent to roads or highways. At times, drivers can be distracted by the work, and if a driver is not looking or it is dark out, it is possible for a worker to get hit by a passing vehicle or truck. 

10. Trench collapses – Trenches are often a necessity on construction sites. If a trench collapses while a worker is inside, it could cause them to be hit with tools, machinery, or materials or bury them in the surrounding dirt.

The Consequences Unfortunately, when construction workers are injured, it not only affects their health and livelihood, it poses a challenge for their family as well. On-the-job injuries can lead to expensive medical bills and treatments, as well as lost income and earning ability if the injury keeps the victim away from work. Families can find themselves in very dire financial circumstances if they’re not careful.


OSHA's 10 most common job site violations for construction

Which health and safety violations occur most often on the job site today? With construction accounting for one in five workplace deaths in 2014, higher penalty payouts in place and new rules for tracking and recording violations looming, we asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration which rules are broken most often on construction-related projects.

As it turns out, the worst offenses have largely stayed the same over time. It should come as little surprise that fall-protection mishaps top the list. With more than 20,000 incidents reported in the last four years, it remains the leading cause of death in construction. Following close behind are faulty ladders and inefficient eye and face and head protection.

This summer, OSHA announce its interim rule raising maximum civil penalties by 78% to meet the requirements of a federally mandated increase designed to ensure that the fines reflect inflation. The rule went into effect on Aug. 1, bumping the maximum fee for serious violations to $12,471 from $7,000 and the penalty for willful and repeated violations to $124,709 from $70,000.

Meanwhile, OSHA caught flak this summer for the "anti-retaliation" provision of its new electronic recordkeeping rule. The contested portion of the rule eliminates post-accident drug and alcohol testing of involved employees, which critics say is essential to preventing future incidents but that OSHA contends is a privacy violation. Previously, companies that have conducted post-accident testing have become susceptible to higher OSHA fines. Furthermore, OSHA has said the data collected will be publicly available in an effort to draw attention to the most serious violations and the companies at which they occur. The rule goes into effect on Nov. 1.

The following data reflects the leading construction-related occupational safety and health violations since 2012. OSHA notes that the data for previous years is nearly identical, indicating that many of these violations have been decades-long struggles to improve safety practices in construction. In all industries nationwide, worker deaths are down from 38 per day in 1973 to 13 per day in 2014, according to OSHA.

Below, we've listed the leading violations for federal OSHA as well as for the overall state-plan program. 

Fall protection
Including residential construction, guard rails, portable ladders and scaffolds, this remains the most common OSHA violation among construction-related projects. Fall-related violations accounted for 359 out of 899 deaths in 2014, according to OSHA. The administration continues to respond with Local Emphasis Programs that include a focus on fall hazards in all 10 regions of OSHA governance nationwide. 

Lack of training

Another common violation among OSHA's federal program and its state-run plans relates to training, specifically having to do with properly implementing fall-protection strategies. In addition to fulfilling the training requirements, employers must either confirm in writing that a worker has completed the necessary preparation or retrain the employee. 

Eye and face protection

The requirement for workers in industries including construction to be equipped with personal protection equipment for their eyes and faces came to light earlier this year, when OSHA passed its final silica rule, reducing the allowable exposure to airborne silica dust five-fold and requiring that companies track worker exposure and offer medical exams for those exposed for lengthy periods. The rule updated OSHA's Eye and Face Protection Standard for consistency across its standards and to allow workers to use the latest protective gear. 

Head protection

Though not as common as falls, head-protection violations do occur. In February, a Norridge, IL-based roofing contractor was cited and fined $115,500 for violations including employees working sans head protection, in addition to fall hazards and operating a nail gun without proper eye protection. 

Hazard Communication

Construction sites are home to a range of materials and substances, and contractors must ensure that their related hazards are documented and shared with the rest of the project team. Communications should include standard labeling in addition to data sheets and employee training where relevant. Lead and silica dust are among the substances requiring hazard communication.

The top 10 OSHA construction standards cited by federal OSHA:

  1. Fall Protection, residential construction (1926.501(b)(13)): 19,367 violations
  2. Ladders, portable (1926.1053 (b)(1)): 7,192
  3. Fall Protection, guard rails (1926.501(b)(1)): 6,387
  4. Training Requirements (1926.503(a)(1): 6,175
  5. Eye and Face Protection (1926.102(a)(1)): 5,835
  6. Head Protection (1926.100(a)): 4,997
  7. Scaffolds, fall protection (1926.451(g)(1)): 3,708
  8. Scaffolds, aerial lifts (1926.453(b)(2)(v)): 3,438
  9. Fall Protection, low-slope roofs (1926.501(b)(10)): 3,361
  10. Scaffolds, access (1926.451(e)(1)): 2,993

The top 10 construction standards cited by OSHA state plan states:
  1. Fall Protection, residential construction (1926.501(b)(13)): 1,840
  2. Fall Protection, guard rails (1926.501(b)(1)): 1,206
  3. Training Certification (1926.503(b)(1)): 965
  4. Training Program (1926.503(a)(1)): 943
  5. Ladders, portable (1926.1053(b)(1)): 775
  6. Hazard Communication, written program (1910.1200(e)(1)): 727
  7. Fall Protection, low-slope roofs (1926.501(b)(10)): 698
  8. Head Protection (1926.100(a)): 674
  9. Fall Protection, steep roofs (1926.501(b)(11)): 571
  10. General Safety and Health Provisions (1926.20(b)(2)): 562

A 30-year-old construction worker Highbury Construction, a subcontractor for the Noble Construction Group, died after falling down an elevator shaft at an Upper East Side construction site

Construction worker dies in fall at Upper East Side construction site
Posted 12:58 PM, December 23, 2016, by Aliza Chasan, Updated at 03:54PM, December 23, 2016

A 30-year-old construction worker died after falling down an elevator shaft at the construction site. (Google)

UPPER EAST SIDE, Manhattan — A construction worker plunged down an elevator shaft and died from his injuries Friday morning, police officials said.

The 30-year-old construction worker fell down the elevator shaft from the third floor of the building at East 87th and Lexington Avenue, an NYPD spokesperson said.

However, officials from the Department of Buildings say it isn’t clear that the man fell down an elevator shaft. They are investigating the construction worker’s death as a fall, but not as an elevator shaft fall.

The construction worker was found unconscious and unresponsive in the basement of the building, police officials said. He was rushed to Lenox Hill Hospital where he died shortly after 10 a.m.

The Department of Buildings has released a full work stop order while they investigate, a spokesperson for the department said.

Police have not released the man’s name.


Worker Dies After Falling at Upper East Side Construction Site, Police Say

By Camille Bautista and Trevor Kapp | December 23, 2016 2:09pm

A 30-year-old construction worker fell to his death Friday morning at a construction site on 87th Street near Lexington Avenue, police said. 
DNAinfo/Trevor Kapp

UPPER EAST SIDE — A 30-year-old construction worker died Friday morning after falling more than three stories down an elevator shaft at an Upper East Side site, police said.

The man was on the third floor of 152 East 87th St. near Lexington Avenue around 9:20 a.m. when he plunged to the basement, an NYPD spokesman said.

The worker, whose name was not immediately released by officials, suffered head trauma. He was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital where he was pronounced dead, police said.

The city’s Department of Buildings placed a full stop-work order at the site after the fall, officials said. The property is expected to house a 19-story luxury apartment tower.

The DOB is investigating the incident as a worker-fall incident and it does not appear to be elevator related, sources said.

The victim was employed by Highbury Construction, a subcontractor for the Noble Construction Group, which is heading the project, according to police.

The U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Highbury Construction of Bronxville $4,900 in 2014 for not meeting fall protection standards at a site in Boerum Hill, records show.

Similarly, OSHA fined Noble Construction Group $3,500 in March for not meeting fall protection standards at one of its Flushing sites, according to records.

Noble Construction Group and Highbury Concrete released a joint statement on Friday afternoon, saying that everyone involved in the project is "deeply saddened by today’s event and extend our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and co-workers."

"We are working closely with all parties to determine the cause of the accident and will provide any assistance requested by investigators,” the company said.

Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, called on city officials and agencies to address construction worker fatalities.

"Today, two days before Christmas, we mourn yet another tragic fatality on a construction site in New York City. How many more workers must die before the city takes decisive action to end this travesty?" LaBarbera said.

"How many more families must be destroyed by the actions of careless developers and contractors?"

Two people were killed in a fiery car crash on Long Island

December 24, 2016 10:35 AM
Two people were killed in a fiery car crash on Long Island on Dec. 18, 2016 (Credit: Roger Stern/1010 WINS)

HICKSVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Two people were killed in a fiery car crash on Long Island, authorities say.

Nassau County police say a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee lost control while driving eastbound on Woodbury Road in Hicksville shortly after 6 a.m. Saturday morning.

The vehicle then hit a tree and went up in flames, police say.

One woman who lives nearby ran outside when she heard the noise, and saw the car explode.

“A big boom…it sounded like almost like it was combusting, you know, pressure,” she told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern. “You could see it more than you could hear it.”

She said the flames were so tall, it looked as if an entire house was on fire, Stern reported.

Two people in the car, who have not yet been identified, were pronounced dead on the scene.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Ikea will pay $50 million to the parents of three toddlers who died when its dressers toppled onto them

Ikea will pay $50 million to the parents of three toddlers who died when its dressers toppled onto them, lawyers for the families said Wednesday.

The settlement comes six months after those deaths and others prompted the unprecedented recall of 29 million Ikea dressers that the company acknowledged could tip over and injure or kill children.

Jackie Collas of West Chester, whose 2-year-old son, Curren, was crushed by an Ikea dresser in 2014, said she was relieved the fight was over. But she said the settlement does not bring closure over Curren's death.

"Your life, it will always be cut in half," Collas said Wednesday. "Even if I live until 100, it's going to be before Curren and after Curren."   But I am rich now, thanks to the big settlement.  Thank you, IKEA!

The plaintiffs also include the parents of 2-year-old Camden Ellis of Snohomish, Wash., who died in 2014, and 22-month-old Theodore McGee of Apple Valley, Minn., who died in 2015.

Their wrongful death suits, filed in Philadelphia, were part of a wave of scrutiny on Ikea and the wider danger of furniture tip-overs. The preventable threat, chronicled extensively by the Inquirer, kills scores of children and injures thousands more each year.

Consumer advocates have pushed for more stringent safety standards, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has been in talks with Ikea for more than two years to address concerns about its dressers.

It was not immediately clear if the settlement was unprecedented, but lawyers said the $50 million payout might be among the highest for a case over a child's death. The money will be split equally among the three families, with an undisclosed share going to attorneys.   These money grabbing lawyers typically receive $33 percent or more of the proceeds.  They also got rich quick.  The insurers paid the money.

Ikea has also agreed to give $100,000 to a Chicago nonprofit focused on tip-over awareness and make $50,000 donations to three children's hospitals in communities where the boys lived. One will go to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in memory of Curren Collas.

"He would be proud that we fought so hard and for him," Jackie Collas said.

In all, seven deaths have been publicly linked to unstable Ikea dressers, the first in 1989.

The three lawsuits filed in Common Pleas Court claimed Ikea had known for years of the danger posed by its dressers, yet continued to sell them. Ikea, in turn, argued the parents were negligent for not anchoring the dressers to the wall, as the assembly instructions direct.

The first of the three trials was expected to start next year.

The company instead agreed to settle weeks after turning over to the parents' attorneys the last batch from a trove of internal documents it had long fought to keep confidential, going so far as to risk being sanctioned by a judge.

Alan Feldman of Feldman Shepherd, the Center City firm that represented the families, would not discuss the contents of the records, but said they "100 percent" provided leverage in reaching a settlement.

Under the settlement, which came after two days of mediation, the families' attorneys agreed to return the files to Ikea, with the stipulation that the company not destroy them.

"That was important to us and to the families," said lawyer Daniel Mann, who also represents the parents. "In the event there are other children this happens to, their families will be able to see what we have seen."

The lawyers said they also represent three other individuals - two children and one senior citizen - who allege they were injured in tip-overs of Ikea dressers. They would not say whether they were also negotiating settlements for those cases.

Lawyers for Ikea, which has its U.S. headquarters in Conshohocken, deferred comment Wednesday to a company spokeswoman. That spokeswoman did not respond to a request to comment.

Ikea has made at least two previous payouts to the parents of children killed in tip-overs of its furniture.

In 2008, Ikea paid $2.3 million to the parents of Katie Elise Lambert, a 3-year-old Huntingdon Valley girl crushed by an Ikea wardrobe while playing in her bedroom, court records show.

The company settled another case the following year, for an undisclosed amount, filed by the parents of a 3-year old girl from Chula Vista, Calif., who died when a three-drawer Ikea dresser in her bedroom tipped onto her.

As part of the June recall, Ikea pulled from the market all of its dressers that did not meet the industry-accepted standard for stability - about half its product line. The standard is meant to ensure dressers remain upright even when not anchored to a wall.

Philadelphia Media Network, owner of the Inquirer, the Daily News, and, has filed a suit in federal court seeking records from those recall negotiations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The case is pending.

Mann, one of the families' attorneys, called the significant payout recognition that the parents were not at fault and that the company could have done more to prevent deaths.

"It reflects an admission by Ikea they did something wrong," he said. "It reflects that no matter what they say . . . about it being the responsibility of the parents to anchor their dressers to the wall, that it doesn't happen. It reflects that jurors were going to see through their arguments and blaming the parents who have suffered awful tragedies."

Of the other families in the suit, Charlie and Crystal Ellis said in a statement that the settlement was no cure for their pain, but that it gave them hope others will be spared the "unimaginable loss."

And Janet McGee said her goal was to protect other children.

"This has been a tragic, heartbreaking season for us and our family," she said in a statement. "And no amount of money will make up for the loss of our sweet little boy."

Julian Garcia-Selleck of Miami, FL was charged with insurance fraud after an investigation turned up evidence he stole nearly $100,000 from state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp

Miami man charged in fraud scheme against Citizens insurance

Julian Garcia-Selleck of Miami was booked into Guilford Knight Correctional Facility on Dec. 20 after an investigation turned up evidence he stole nearly $100,000 from state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp, according to the Florida Department of Financial Services. He is charged with one count of scheme to defraud and acting as an unlicensed public adjuster and nine counts of insurance fraud and grand theft and faces up to 30 years in prison. (PhoGuildford Knight Correctional Facility)
Ron Hurtibise Sun Sentinel

State says water-damage claims fraudster caught red-handed; case echos Citizens' warnings of high levels of fr

A Miami man has been charged with bilking South Florida's largest insurer out of nearly $100,000 with the type of water damage claims fraud that officials warn will spur years of rate hikes without new state laws.

According to a news release from the state Department of Financial Services, Julian Garcia-Selleck acted as an unlicensed public insurance adjuster between March 2012 and January 2016 when he met with homeowners seeking help in handling their insurance claims against state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Garcia-Selleck promised homeowners that he would relieve them from the stress of the claims process by filing claims on their behalf.

"He would then solicit the services of a local artist to use a caffeine-based liquid to paint what looked like water stains on the ceilings, walls, and floors of homes to either inflate the cost of existing water damage claims or in order to generate a fraudulent water damage claim," the release said.

He also enlisted public notaries to forge homeowner signatures and notarize fraudulent claims documents he later submitted to insurance companies, often without homeowners' knowledge. He cashed and kept at least $99,000 in claims checks issued by insurance companies, the release said.

Garcia-Selleck was arrested and charged with one count each of scheme to defraud and acting as an unlicensed public adjuster and nine counts each of insurance fraud and grand theft. He faces 30 years in prison.

The local artist was arrested in 2013 and four public notaries were arrested in 2015, all in connection with the case, a department spokesman said in an email Friday. The artist and three of the notaries confessed to their roles and cooperated in the investigation, the spokesman added. None of the homeowners were involved in or profited from the fraud scheme, he said.

Citizens officials have been warning for several years about water damage-related claims fraud originating and over the past two years have approved hefty premium increases they said would not have been necessary if fraud wasn't occurring.

They and other insurers want the state legislature to pass laws restricting the ability of third parties to pursue insurance benefits on behalf of policyholders. The ability to secure assignments of policy benefits gives contractors — often serving illegally in the role of unlicensed public adjuster — incentive to inflate and falsify insurance claims, causing millions of dollars in unnecessary payouts and legal costs, they say.

After 10-percent rate hikes were approved in September for Citizens customers in South Florida, Citizens CEO Barry Gilway warned of similar increases "for years to come" if the legislature fails to act.

However, plaintiffs' attorneys counter that outright fraud is far less common than the insurance industry contends. Unwarranted restrictions would hurt all policyholders by making it easier for insurance companies to underpay or deny payment for legitimate claims, they say.

Meanwhile, the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters released a statement on Friday calling the report of Garcia-Selleck's arrest "disturbing" and warning the public about allowing anyone not trained, bonded or licensed as a public insurance adjuster to represent them in claims.

"There has been a proliferation of unlicensed activity in recent years, including companies or persons calling themselves 'loss consultants,'" the statement said. "These are often former or current insurance company adjusters, contractors or remediation companies who advertise about how they can 'handle claims.'"

Public insurance adjusters [and not insurance adjusters who work for insurance companies] are the only types of adjusters permitted to represent policyholders in the claims process, the statement said, adding that policyholders can verify the license of anyone assisting them with an insurance claim at

Four Twin Cities chiropractors, Angela Schulz, 47, of Chaska Preston Forthun, 38, of Bloomington Huy Ngoc Nguyen, 42, of Brooklyn Park Adam John Burke, 32, of Minneapolis, 15 others accused of insurance fraud worth millions

Four Twin Cities chiropractors, 15 others accused of insurance fraud worth millions

Four Twin Cities chiropractors fraudulently billed auto insurance companies for millions of dollars through “nearly identical” but independent conspiracies, according to four indictments unsealed Wednesday by federal prosecutors in Minneapolis.

The four chiropractors plus 15 patient recruiters were indicted on charges of conspiring to commit health care fraud between 2010 and 2015, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger. Two other chiropractors were implicated as well.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, left, announces Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in Minneapolis that federal authorities in Minnesota have charged 21 people with conspiracy to commit health care fraud in what they describe as separate scams by six chiropractors that defrauded auto insurance companies out of more than $20 million. Listening at right is Minnesota Commerce Commishioner Mike Rothman. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, left, announces Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in Minneapolis that federal authorities in Minnesota have charged 21 people with conspiracy to commit health care fraud in what they describe as separate scams by six chiropractors that defrauded auto insurance companies out of more than $20 million. Listening at right is Minnesota Commerce Commishioner Mike Rothman. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)
More charges against more chiropractors are likely, Luger said at a news conference detailing the fraud, which allegedly totaled more than $20 million.
Luger said the chiropractors allegedly billed auto insurance companies for treatments that people who had been in accidents didn’t need and, in some cases, services they never provided. The chiropractors allegedly paid illegal kickbacks to “runners” to recruit accident victims, and some of the “runners” in turn paid kickbacks to patients to ensure that they kept coming back for unnecessary appointments, he said.

The other defendants are accused of working as “runners.” They typically made around $1,000 per patient they brought in and sometimes worked with patients to stage phony accidents so there would be police reports to back up their claims, he said.

Luger said the defendants took advantage of an opportunity for fraud in Minnesota’s no-fault auto insurance system, which requires that policies cover at least $20,000 worth of medical bills for people injured in accidents. While some runners worked for more than one chiropractor, he said, the alleged conspiracies operated independently from each other. He expects more chiropractors will be charged.

“We know that there are many more out there committing the exact same conduct,” he said. “Our investigation does not end today; this is only the beginning, and you can expect more charges in the future.”

Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime, said Richard Thornton, special agent in charge of the Minneapolis office of the FBI.

“The reality is every single person in Minnesota who owns a car is paying more for their car insurance because of this type of fraud,” he said.
The chiropractors indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud are:
  • Angela Schulz, 47, of Chaska
  • Preston Forthun, 38, of Bloomington
  • Huy Ngoc Nguyen, 42, of Brooklyn Park
  • Adam John Burke, 32, of Minneapolis
The two “runners” indicted on two counts of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud are:
  • Abdisalan Abdulahab Hussein, 48, of Minneapolis
  • Sahal Ali Warsame, 35, of Minneapolis
The 13 “runners” indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud are:
  • Yahye Mohamed Herrow, 45, of Minneapolis
  • Temitayo Ifeloju Olusholda Daniel, 35, of Minneapolis
  • Merron Redi Samuel, 36, of St. Paul
  • Abdirahun Khalif Ibrahim, 25, of St. Paul
  • Dana Enoch Kidd, 35, of Elk River
  • Samatar Hassan Omar, 28, of Edina
  • Abdinasir Mayon Abikar, 31, of Minneapolis
  • Ali M. Abikar, 28, of Edina
  • Dana Stephen Comeaux, 57, of Brooklyn Center
  • Carlos Patricio Luna, 48, of Minneapolis
  • Jerome Tarlve Doe, 52, of Brooklyn Park
  • Napolean Tutex Deah, 32, of New Brighton
  • Sammany Rathy Spangler, 27, of Woodbury
Chiropractors Marlyn Comes and Darryl Humenny were charged separately in a type of document that usually means a plea deal is in the works. They were not arrested.

Andrea Forsythe, 28, sentenced to five years for home arson in Pennsylvania and then filing fraudulent insurance claims for the contents.

Woman in Pennsylvania sentenced to five years for home arson 

December 22, 2016, Pittsburg, PA — The former nanny of Pittsburgh Penguins player Chris Kunitz was sentenced Tuesday to five years in federal prison for setting fire to her rental residence and then filing fraudulent insurance claims for the contents.

The public defender for Andrea Forsythe, 28, unsuccessfully sought a term running concurrently to one she’ll receive next month for thefts from the Penguins player and other people for whom she worked as a nanny.

She also was ordered to pay more than $179,000 restitution to the insurance companies that covered her losses in the June 23, 2014 fire in Sturgeon.
In the other cases, Forsythe was convicted of numerous crimes and will be sentenced Jan. 3 by a judge in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. Prosecutors say she stole $12,000 diamond earrings from Kunitz’s home in 2013 and sold them to jewelry stores. The earrings were a birthday present for Kunitz’s wife, Maureen.

The theft charges filed by police in Collier Township, where Kunitz lives with his wife and their children, grew out of the arson and insurance fraud investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into the Sturgeon fire.

Forsythe pleaded guilty in July to federal charges of malicious destruction of property by fire and wire fraud for burning the house, then filing fraudulent insurance claims for the contents, including some jewels she had allegedly stolen from another couple while also working as a nanny.

The other couple told investigators that an 18-karat gold diamond necklace worth about $4,400 and a gold diamond stud earring worth more than $10,000 had been stolen from them. Appraisals of those jewels were then used by Forsythe to make the fraudulent insurance claims, federal authorities contend.
As that investigation progressed, Forsythe eventually confessed to stealing the earrings from Maureen Kunitz. They were appraised at $11,900 when Kunitz bought them for his wife’s birthday sometime before she noticed them missing in September 2013.

Forsythe acknowledged stealing the diamond earrings from Maureen Kunitz’s bedroom while the couple wasn’t home, the Collier Township police complaint said. Forsythe then sold a loose diamond from one earring to a jewelry store for $2,542 and the other earring to a precious metals and jewelry store for $1,408.50.

Forsythe’s federal public defender, Jay Finkelstein, in court documents blamed the thefts on Forsythe’s allegedly abusive home life as a child. Finkelstein has a blanket policy of not commenting to the media.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon refused Finkelstein’s request to allow Forsythe’s federal sentence to run concurrently to whatever sentence she receives next month saying the theft victims “deserve their own justice, so to speak, and the court will not intervene here.”

However, the county judge could still order that sentence to run concurrent to the federal sentence. If that happens, Forsythe would get credit for serving both terms simultaneously, instead of serving them one after the other.
Forsythe’s public defender in the Allegheny County theft case didn’t immediately return a call for comment Tuesday. 

Judge Susan Ackerman, in Iowa accused of lying about daughter to get health policy; daughter claims retaliation

Crooked Judge or Retaliation? Judge Susan Ackerman, in Iowa accused of lying about daughter to get health policy.  She claims retaliation.

December 23, 2016, Iowa City, IA — An Iowa judge who was accused of insurance fraud and fired after helping expose improper influence in Gov. Terry Branstad's administration now faces a felony charge, two years later.

Susan Ackerman, former administrative law judge for Iowa Workforce Development, surrendered Wednesday on a warrant charging her with making fraudulent submissions.

A complaint unsealed Thursday alleges the 56-year-old falsely certified that her married daughter was single so that she could receive state health insurance in 2013 and 2014. Ackerman was fired over the same allegation two years ago.

Ackerman has denied any fraudulent intent, noting she asked an agency human resources employee for permission to add the daughter. Her supporters argue that her firing and the prosecution are retribution for her legislative testimony critical of Branstad and his aides in 2014.


Retaliation Claim Made Over Charges Against Former IWD Judge
Posted 7:12 am, December 21, 2016, by Sonya Heitshusen, Updated at 07:13AM, December 21, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa — A former administrative law judge for Iowa Workforce Development turned herself into authorities Wednesday morning.

Susan Ackerman is charged with filing a false document when she worked at IWD. The document was related to Ackerman’s attempt to place one of her daughters on her insurance.

Her daughter, Jennifer Koockogey, says the charges are retaliation for Ackerman’s testimony before a legislative oversight committee in 2014. Ackerman, and other IWD judges, claimed IWD Director, Teresa Wahlert tried to influence their ruling’s in unemployment appeals cases to favor businesses over employees. Ackerman was fired in January of last year, just months after her testimony and two weeks after filing a civil rights lawsuit against Wahlert, IWD, and the State of Iowa.

“I blame a very broken system,” says Koockogey, who accompanied her mother to the Polk County Jail this morning. “I believe there’s a lot of cronyism going all the way to the top of the system. When you have political appointees who aren’t in a position to really be qualified to do the jobs they’re doing and are doing them out of favoritism, that’s how you get the system now.”

Wahlert unexpectedly resigned her position in January last year, following criticism of her conduct and a Department of Labor investigation which confirmed Wahlert attempted to intimidate the judges.

The charge against Ackerman is a Class D Felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $7,500 fine.

$40.3M Settlement Reached with Numerous Defendants at the Peterson/Puritan, Inc. Superfund Site in Cumberland and Lincoln, R.I.

$40.3M Settlement Reached with Numerous Defendants at the Peterson/Puritan, Inc. Superfund Site in Cumberland and Lincoln, R.I.
Contact Information:
David Deegan (

BOSTON - A settlement estimated to be worth more than $40 million was announced today by the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Protection (RIDEM). The settlement ensures that cleanup of "Operable Unit Two" of the Peterson/Puritan, Inc. Superfund Site in Cumberland and Lincoln, R.I. will move forward.

The agreement, lodged in federal court in Providence, resolves federal and state liability claims against nearly 100 potentially responsible parties for the cleanup of the site. Under the settlement, 22 of the settling defendants will be responsible for implementation of the remedy selected by EPA in 2015. These parties will also pay for the oversight costs incurred by EPA and RIDEM. The remaining settling parties are required to make payments to a trust to be used to help pay for performance of the site cleanup.

The area being cleaned, known as Operable Unit Two, is located adjacent to the Blackstone River and contains many parcels within the Blackstone River floodplain. These parcels include the J.M. Mills Landfill, the former Nunes transfer station, and an unnamed island, all of which contain waste material. These parcels were owned and operated as a single landfill operation by Joseph and Linda Marszalkowski through their business J.M. Mills, Inc.

The selected remedy includes excavation and consolidation of contaminated soils and sediments, construction of a multi-layered impermeable cap, institutional controls and long term monitoring. The total cost for the selected remedy is estimated to be $40.3 million.

"EPA's cleanup plan for this site protects peoples' health, while at the same time it ensures the area remains aesthetically pleasing," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. "This settlement allows for the funding of our cleanup plan, and leaves those who contributed taking responsibility."

"This Consent Decree is another critical step forward in our efforts to clean up this site and hold responsible parties accountable," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "For decades, hazardous waste was being dumped at Peterson/Puritan, polluting the nearby Blackstone River, groundwater and soils. The Blackstone River Valley is home to Rhode Island's newest National Park, popular state recreational facilities, and an array of natural and historic treasures. Safeguarding this beautiful place is paramount to the health of our environment, communities, and families. We are pleased with the terms of this settlement and grateful to the EPA for its continued leadership and perseverance in this case."

The settling defendants responsible for performing the cleanup include: ACS Industries, Inc.; Alcoa Inc.; Avnet, Inc.; Clean Harbors, Inc.; Costa, Inc.; Cumberland Engineering Corp.; CVS Pharmacy, Inc.; General Cable Industries, Inc.; Hindley Manufacturing Co., Inc.; Hollingsworth & Vose Co.; International Paper Co.; KIK Custom Products, Inc.; Philips Electronics North America Corp.; Sears Roebuck & Co.; Shawmut Corp.; Supervalu Holdings, Inc.; Teknor Apex Co.; Texas Instruments Inc.; The Narragansett Electric Co.; The Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. LLC; Waste Management of Massachusetts, Inc.; Waste Management Disposal Services of Massachusetts, Inc.; Waste Management of Rhode Island, Inc.; and Wyman-Gordon Co.

Disposal activities took place from approximately 1954 to the late 1980s during which assorted hazardous wastes and hazardous substances were disposed of at the site. During this time more than 2.1 million cubic yards of waste were disposed of at the site, resulting in contamination of the soil, groundwater, surface water, and sediments. The site was listed on EPA's National Priorities List in 1983.

More information:

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. The consent decree will be available following posting on the Dept. of Justice Web site at: .

EPA information about the Peterson/Puritan, Inc. Superfund Site (