It’s a new and growing trend. Following a work-related accident and injury, the employer sues the worker. This may seem backward. I think it is. Traditionally, an injured worker asks for benefits. If not provided, then the worker chooses whether to file suit.
So, why would some employers now decide to file suit? Why is this a new trend? Employers and their insurance carriers have several reasons to file suit against you. These reasons include:
- Choosing The Venue. In some cases, the rules allow a choice of venues (counties) where the workers’ compensation case may be filed. By filing first, the employer gets to pick the county it thinks best for its defense.
- Catching The Worker Off Guard. Once a lawsuit is filed and served, your time for response is limited. You won’t have much time. The employer/insurance carrier may want to catch you off guard before you can obtain legal counsel. At this point, even if you obtain legal counsel, that lawyer will be faced with defending a lawsuit before having an opportunity to investigate the case and injuries fully.
- Abusing The Discovery Rules. Once a lawsuit is filed, both parties can conduct discovery in an effort to prepare their cases. Discovery usually includes Interrogatories which are written questions requiring answers under oath, Requests for Production requiring a party to produce documents, and depositions where a party takes testimony before a court reporter. We recently helped an injured worker facing this scenario. The worker suffered an injury requiring surgery. Instead of approving the surgery, his employer sued him. With the suit, the employer sent Interrogatories that far exceeded the number allowed. The employer immediately began trying to get the worker’s deposition testimony as well (before he could find a lawyer). We successfully stopped these discovery abuses and eventually won the trial. How many workers lose their claims as a result of these abusive tactics?
- Reducing The Medical Costs. Medical costs are a huge issue in workers’ compensation cases. And, insurance carriers will frequently deny or delay needed medical treatment without a valid reason. By filing first, some insurance companies hope to rush the case to conclusion and obtain a quick decision finding the claim not compensable before you can obtain legal counsel.
Will this trend continue? I believe a few insurance companies view this as a cost-saving strategy. As an injured worker, what should you do if your employer or its insurance company sue you? First, seek legal counsel immediately. Your time for response is limited and your attorney may need time to investigate matters. Although your time is limited, remember that good lawyers are usually busy lawyers. Don’t pick a lawyer because he has a 24 hour phone line or time to meet immediately. You may regret picking the most available lawyer when it’s time to fight for the benefits due you. Second, if possible, do not respond to your employer’s counsel until you have obtained an attorney. I realize your time is limited. But, you can easily and quickly ruin your claim by responding to your employer’s lawsuit or discovery questions without obtaining good legal advice. Your employer’s lawyer is seeking information to defeat your claim. You should wait and let your lawyer handle these matters.