I talk to injured workers in Alabama every day. If you are hurt on the job, you are likely entitled to work comp benefits. Those benefits should provide needed medical care and compensation. Too often, they do not. Alabama law is very unfair. Injured workers face many problems.
I could write a book discussing the many ways our work comp laws are unfair to injured workers. I have discussed many of those issues in prior articles on this blog. Today, I want to focus on five early mistakes injured workers make that can harm their claims.
The Worker Does NOT Report The Accident (IN WRITING) In A Timely Manner
Alabama work comp laws require injured workers to provide timely notice of their accident in writing. You need to give notice immediately. If you delay, you risk going beyond the very short time limitations.
While our work comp laws say the notice needs to be in writing, courts have allowed oral notices. But, there is a huge problem with oral notices. Employers can easily dispute them. I’ve seen it many times – The supervisor “cannot recall” being told of the accident. Maybe the supervisor just has a bad memory. Or, maybe the company knows it can dispute your claim by conveniently forgetting you told the boss! Don’t take a chance on some oral notice. Unless you have something in writing, a court may not believe you. Notify the company in writing of your accident and condition as soon as possible.
Alabama provides a standard form to report work-related accidents. The form is referred to as the Employer’s First Report of Injury. You can easily find a copy online. HERE is a link to a page with the Alabama Department of Labor where you can copy the form.
The Worker Does NOT Report All Injuries
I deal with this issue frequently. Here is one example of how it happens. The client fell from a ladder. He landed on hard concrete. Maybe his shoulder pops and now he cannot lift his arm. But, his back is also hurting. The company doctor focuses on the shoulder but ignores the sore back. Months later, that back problem is worsening. But, the worker did not report the issue because all the focus was on the incapacitating shoulder injury.
Here is another example. You injure your knee. You see the doctor. You require crutches. Then, you hobble and limp for months and months while undergoing physical therapy and knee injections. After all that limping, your back starts to hurt. Yes, an altered gait from knee or foot injuries can cause back problems. But, you don’t tell the doctors about your now-hurting back.
The longer you wait to report a physical injury, the more difficult it will be to prove later that it relates to your accident. Don’t wait. Report your injuries to the physicians. And, make sure the physicians document the problems. Sometimes, company physicians will ignore injuries or conditions. I see that issue all the time.
The Worker Does NOT Distinguish His Current Injury From Pre-Existing Problems
Here is an example of what I mean. You suffered a work-related accident and your lower back is hurting. The company sends you to its occupational doctor. When you go to the company doctor, he learns you previously hurt your back five years earlier. So, he writes the paperwork to say you had a pre-existing injury.
That’s wrong. If you went back to work after that earlier injury without restrictions, you really don’t have a pre-existing problem under our comp laws. You need to be clear that you’ve been working with no problems since then. You need to be clear that you could fully perform your job when you had the recent accident.
Even if you still had some problems from your earlier accident, if they are worse or different in any form, distinguish them. Let the doctor know the new accident worsened, aggravated or changed your issues. Let the doctor know if the new injury hurt a different place than the earlier injury. Don’t allow a biased company doctor to simply say you were already hurt!
The Worker Does NOT Make An Effort To Return To Work If Accommodations Are Offered
I know – It can be defeating when you can barely function but are being asked to come to work, sit at a table and stare at the wall. Many insurance companies will try and make injured workers attend the job site even though they really cannot function. Yes, the insurance company probably created this temporary job just to avoid paying benefits. I get that.
Here’s the problem. Alabama law has some special provisions that allow insurance companies to deny benefits if you unreasonably refuse accommodations. You have to try, at least initially.
If you tried to return to work but hurt too badly, make sure the issues are documented. In trial after trial, I see insurance companies argue injured workers did not give a reasonable effort. The insurance company wants you to fall into that trap. I counsel my clients about these issues. You can defeat the insurance company on this issue. You just need to show you gave it a shot.
The Worker Does NOT Consult Experienced Counsel To Discuss The Benefits Owed
When you are hurt on the job, you are entitled to medical care. Many of my other articles discuss issues related to medical care. Here, I want to talk about monetary compensation for you.
Alabama law provides compensation based on certain formulas. Most people have no experience with our work comp laws until they are suddenly injured and thrust into a new world. That’s understandable. But, the compensation formulas for work comp benefits can be confusing. Don’t feel bad. I know a lot of lawyers who do not understand the formulas correctly. They should not be handling work comp cases.
I see one big problem with the formulas over and over. What is it? It involves your insurance adjuster. At some point, the adjuster is likely to call you and offer a settlement. They will tell you a number. Maybe the adjuster calculated benefits properly. Maybe the adjuster did not. Surprise! Adjusters often calculate benefits under the wrong formula. The lower formula.
Unless you talk with an experienced work comp lawyer, you are not likely to realize the adjuster’s offer is wrong. Call an experienced comp lawyer. Skilled comp lawyers typically offer free consultations. With just a few minutes of discussion, you can often determine whether the offered amount is correct. We run through calculations with people all the time.
I’ve listed in this post several mistakes that can harm your work comp case. You can find many of these issues discussed in more detail in other posts I’ve written. Hopefully, you can find the information you need.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm helps injured workers across Alabama. If you have questions about a work-related accident or injury, let us know. We are happy to discuss the issues with you.