If you suffer an injury at work, you have inadvertently entered a complicated legal field and need to speak to a workers' comp attorney.
When we think of workplace injuries, we think of police officers, fire fighters, construction workers, and high-rise window washers, right? And although not all jobs are obviously dangerous, no matter what your occupation, you could get hurt at work and find yourself needing to talk to a workers comp attorney.
Compensation for Workplace Injuries
All employers are required to purchase worker's compensation insurance to pay for an injury at work. The first rule of an on-the-job accident is that you are covered under workman's compensation laws if (1) you are an employee and not an independent contractor, and (2) you are in the course of your employment when injured, as opposed to commenting to and from work or being on your lunch break.
You do not have to prove fault to be entitled to compensation and treatment if you are hurt at work. In fact, coverage applies for all workplace injuries (as long as the two conditions above are met), even if your injury at work was your own fault.
However, just because the employing entity has you fill out a 1099 doesn't mean you are an independent contractor. There are a number of factors courts consider. In other words, you may be an employee even if the business you are working for is trying to say you aren't.
If you are involved in an on-the-job accident, you are entitled to medical care. If it is an emergency, you can seek care from any emergency room. If it is not, then you must get treatment from an approved provider in your employer's plan.
What Workers' Compensation Insurance Covers
Although coverage for workplace injuries that occur to on-duty employees is automatic, it is also limited. An injury at work entitles you to approved treatment, partial lost wages from injury-related disability, and vocational rehabilitation.
The problem with workers' compensation insurers is that they act like any other business—they want to keep their money for themselves. So they'll often reject certain treatment for an injury at work even though a doctor is recommending it. Because they don't want to pay for it. So a workplace injury attorney can appeal those decisions and make sure you're getting treated under the insurance coverage your employer has been paying for.
Additionally, if you are temporarily or permanently disabled from your injury at work, and cannot work for a time, you can get up to 2/3 of your pre-workplace injury wages. If you are permanently disabled and cannot return to your chosen occupation, the worker's compensation insurance may pay for you to get trained in a new occupation that does not require use of the injured part of your body.
Workplace Injury Pitfalls
Workers' compensation insurance is great because it almost always applies as long as you are an employee an on the clock. However, what most people don't realize is that if they suffer a workplace injury and claim workers' compensation benefits, they may also be waiving important rights. That's why it is important to speak to a workers comp attorney.
For example, if your employer was responsible for your workplace injury through some form of negligence, and you make a workers' compensation claim, you cannot now hold them accountable for negligence—no matter how good your workplace injury attorney is.
The benefit of going after your employer for negligence is that not only is all your medical covered, but you don't have to work through their system (and all the appeals your work injury lawyer is going to have to make). Additionally, 100% of all your losses are covered (as long as you aren't partially responsible for your own injuries, which would reduce the amount you're entitled to under theories of comparative negligence), including all your lost wages, and general damages, like pain and suffering, which are not available at all under worker's compensation insurance.
On the other hand, whereas workers' compensation benefits are immediate, suing for negligence takes time, which means uncertainty and stress until it's over.
If your workplace injury was caused by someone other than your employer, then your workers comp attorney can claim workers' compensation benefits for you (waiving any rights you may have had against your employer), and also go after the bigger damages through a theory of negligence against the at-fault party.
At Parry & Pfau, we know negligence. We also know workplace injury attorneys we work with often. In some cases, you'll want to hire both us and the workers comp attorney—neither of which you'll have to pay directly.