I talk to injured Alabama workers every week. The moments and days after an accident can be uncertain and difficult. You may be hurting and unsure what to do. You may have many worries and questions. Will I be able to continue working? Will my employer fire me? How will I get medical treatment? Will I be able to pay my bills? Who can I trust?
The truth — Alabama’s work comp laws favor employers. Too often injured workers suffer needles pain and disability while navigating a hostile system. Insurance company denials. Treatment delays. Biased caregivers. Hostile employers. All of these are commonplace.
Your choices and actions right after a work-related accident and injury can prevent you from getting the medical care and benefits you deserve. Here are five common mistakes workers make following a work-related accident and injury.
Failing To Provide Prompt Written Notice Of The Accident
You suffered an accident. Maybe you even told your supervisor. You are thinking, he or she will take care of it. A few days or weeks later when you ask the company for medical care, nobody remembers your accident! Wait! You told them. Over the last twenty years, I’ve heard this story countless times.
Mistakes happen. Memories fade. But, sometimes the company sees an easy opportunity to deny a claim. Why take chances? Report your accident in WRITING. The State of Alabama provides employers with a specific form for reporting work-related accidents and injuries.
Sometimes people have an accident but don’t think they are seriously hurt. So, they wait. Hopefully, they are not badly hurt. It’s not unusual to discover over the course of days or weeks that the accident hurt you worse than thought. Why take chances? Provide written notice of your accident. If you are seriously hurt, written notice is key.
Failing To Seek Medical Care (Delaying Care)
You are hurting but hope it is minor. Maybe you are thinking it will resolve in a few days by itself. Maybe you are afraid to ask for medical care, worried your employer will get mad.
If you delay seeking medical care, you are giving the insurance company a potential reason to deny your claim. When you delay or wait, some doctors will no longer give an opinion that your injury was caused by the accident. It becomes much harder to prove that the accident caused your problems. I’ve seen this issue many times. Go to the doctor. Give a clear history of the accident and what it did to you.
Trusting The Case Nurse Provided By The Insurance Company
Some insurance carriers assign case nurses (or case managers) to claims. You may receive a call from a “friendly” nurse. You may suddenly meet a “friendly” nurse at your next appointment. These case nurses are “friendly” (notice I used the word several times) and usually appear with a smile. That does not mean they are really a friend. They introduce themselves as someone who can help with your appointments. Who are they really helping?
Do I think all case nurses are bad? Absolutely NOT. Some case nurses want to help you navigate a difficult medical system. Some help tremendously. Yet, many are NOT working for you. Many are biased and working secretly to help the insurance company. They won’t tell you that.
I’ve seen bad case nurses direct injured workers to doctors who will give opinions that help the company (not you). I’ve seen bad case nurses secretly tell doctors the worker is a faker, exaggerator or drug seeker. I’ve seen bad case nurses who work to gather information from you that can later be used to defeat your claim.
What should you do? First, remember the case nurse works for the insurance company and not you. The insurer is paying her. Second, remember you may not be able to trust the case nurse. Don’t tell her your life history. Don’t discuss personal matters or prior matters or anything that is not necessary for current medical appointments. And, if the case nurse interrupts you during doctor examinations or interferes with your appointments, you can ask to meet with the doctor alone.
Thinking The Company Doctor Is On Your Side
I’m the first person to tell you — In Huntsville and Birmingham, we have some of the best doctors in the world. We have world-class surgeons. Most of these doctors care deeply about their patients.
With that said, not all doctors are on your side. A few doctors earn their living almost exclusively from work comp carriers. These doctors may ignore your symptoms or full injuries. These doctors may look for reasons to attribute your problems to some other condition or prior injury.
What can you do? If you are seriously hurt, skilled legal counsel can help. Consult one. Skilled work comp attorneys with years of experience are familiar with most area doctors (both good and bad). Avoid billboard and television lawyers who rarely (or never) prepare their cases.
When you go to the doctor, be ready to provide a clear history of the accident and how it caused or worsened your condition. If you could work fully prior to the accident, make sure you tell the doctor. Do not give bad doctors a ready excuse to blame your problems on something else.
Signing Broad Authorizations / Releases Which Allow The Insurance Company To Gather Information
What are authorizations / releases? These are forms you sign to provide permission for others to obtain your records. I’ve seen forms so broad — Insurance carriers were given permission to gather tax records, prior employment files, housing documents and other personal information that is NOT needed for your medical care. If you are presented with authorizations to sign, you should probably seek a consultation with a local work comp lawyer who can provide good advice.
Work Comp Should Cover Injured Workers!
Our work comp system was intended to provide quick medical care for injured workers. Years ago, it did. Over the last couple decades, insurance carriers have been allowed to create roadblocks and delays. It’s wrong. Our law does not punish insurance carriers for their misconduct. We should never lose sight — The system was intended to provide quick medical care so you could heal as soon as possible. The system was also intended to provide money benefits (1) while you are off work healing; and, (2) if you suffer a permanent disability after reaching maximum medical improvement. You reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) when the doctor concludes you have healed as much as possible. Because roadblocks and pitfalls have become commonplace in our system, it is important you avoid the mistakes that can quickly harm or destroy your potential claim.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we represent injured workers across northern Alabama. We have tried workers’ compensation cases to verdict in counties across the state.