Monday, March 16, 2009

Do I Have a Case? Workers Compensation Guide

Many jobs are dangerous, and pose a significant risk to your life and health every day. Unfortunately, risks are often unknown to employees, and employees who do know usually don't have the luxury of finding a different job. Workers' compensation exists to protect the rights of employees who are injured or killed on the job.

Most people aren't aware of what to do and what not to do if they are injured at work. If your employer is denying you benefits, this guide presents some key factors that can determine whether your case for workers compensation is valid.

Did you report the injury immediately?

Perhaps the single most important factor in workers compensation cases is the timing of the injury report. You must report your injury as soon as possible after the incident occurred. While notifying the company in writing is best, simply telling your supervisor verbally that something happened often makes or breaks a case. You must report your injury within 21 days to have the strongest case, although your case may still hold if the injury is reported within 120 days. Nevertheless, the absolute best course of action is to report your accident and injury the same day they occurred to your supervisor or manager!

If you were injured last year but your symptoms just appeared, the clock starts on the day your symptoms became apparent. Thus, you should still notify your supervisor if symptoms have appeared that may be a result of an injury or exposure that occurred a long time ago. Nevertheless, if you suffer an injury, however minor you think it is, even if you do not miss time from work, and even if you receive no medical treatment, it is very important to still report your accident on the same day it occurred to protect your rights in the future!

Did you recognize your injury for what it was?

Many people know that losing a finger or an arm in an industrial accident is an injury, but many injuries and diseases are less obvious. For example, if you gradually lose 10% of your hearing or more, you may be able to prove that your hearing loss was caused by your work environment. In addition, certain occupational diseases may be compensated.

Likewise, an exacerbation of an existing injury is often basis for compensation. If you were being treated for heart problems, and lifting boxes during your job precipitates a heart attack, you are still entitled to compensation. If your employer attempts to block compensation by claiming that you had an "existing illness," contact an attorney immediately.

Did you comply with your employer's doctors?

Your employer has the right to require you to select a doctor from a list for your treatment. You must be treated by a doctor from that list, and you may not visit your own doctor unless allowed to do so by your employer. On the other hand, the employer may not tell you which doctor on the list to select - you can be treated by any of the doctors. Also, doctors sometimes don't ask whether your injury was related to work and patients forget to mention that it was. Make sure that your doctor knows that your injury occurred at work. However, if your employer fails to comply with certain workers' compensation rules, you may be able to treat with your own doctor immediately. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

Follow the doctor's instructions. Take all medications, participate in physical therapy, and visit the doctor regularly. If you don't, the employer may refuse payment on the grounds that you did not follow the doctor's orders.

Did you sign a Final Receipt?

A Final Receipt is a form that certifies that you have recovered fully from your injuries and that you are able to resume normal duties as if you had not been injured. Often, employers will try to get you to sign a Final Receipt at the time you return to work.

You should contact an attorney before signing a Final Receipt or any other document. For example, you may still be eligible for benefits if you must work reduced hours as a result of your injury. If you still have pain, or if there are lasting scars, signing a Final Receipt will require you to file a petition to reopen your case if you need to pursue further action.

Did you submit to a medical examination?

Employers and insurance companies may request that you submit a a medical examination in order to continue receiving benefits. However, it's possible the doctor performing the examination will declare you fit to work and stop your benefits. You may have a right to refuse such an examination, and should talk to an attorney about your options should an exam be requested.

Did you work somewhere else after you were injured?

Taking another job, even if it is part-time or "on the side," can reduce or stop your compensation payments. Working in another job, especially if you are performing functions that are similar to those expected at your previous position, can indicate that you are fit to return to full employment and no longer require compensation.

There are notification requirements in some cases of taking employment, and failure to file a report can result in legal jeopardy. Contact an attorney before you take in any outside income from any job, no matter how minor, to determine if doing so would result in lowering your benefits or if notification is required.

Did you make an attempt to gain employment?

If you are physically able to return to work, the law requires that you try to obtain a job that is within your limitations. You are required to apply to jobs at other companies recommended by the employer's rehabilitation counselor. You must be truthful at these job interviews and make an effort to become employed. You should keep a record of every job to which you applied, including the dates and times of interviews, to back up your case if the employer decides to stop benefits. Before talking to a rehabilitation counselor, or an insurance adjuster, contact an attorney immediately.

Did you watch what you say to your employer?

What you say to your employer can be very important in workers' compensation cases. For example, if you are planning to retire and state that you have no plans of ever working again, your employer can use your statement in court against you to stop compensation.

Did you investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident?

Immediately after an incident occurs, evidence is often present that can back up your case. Often, the evidence will reveal exactly who is at fault for the accident. If there are witnesses to the incident, obtain their names and contact information. If possible, take pictures of the scene or have someone else do so.

Evidence tends to disappear over time. The scene is cleaned up, the equipment involved is used by other people, witnesses forget, and so on. It is important to gather as much information about the incident as soon as possible in order to prevent information from being lost that could help you.

You may also be able to sue someone other than your employer for negligent conditions. An attorney can assist you in determining who else can be sued in relation to the incident.

This guide is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide advice for any specific case.

I encourage you to contact me at 215-641-1192 to discuss your personal case for free.

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