What Is Workers' Compensation?
Each state has its own workers' compensation laws to handle claims from employees who are injured on the job. These laws are strict liability - fault and negligence by the employer need not be established in order to collect benefits. However, the injury or illness has to be incurred during the course of employment in order for the workers' compensation system to provide benefits to the injured worker. Since workers' compensation law imposes strict liability on employers, it is the exclusive remedy for an employee's injuries or illnesses arising out of the course of employment.
Workers' compensation insurance is typically required by the state for every employee - although state law may provide for specific exemptions for officers/owners, small companies (those with five or fewer employees), domestic workers, farm hands, and independent contractors.
I have been injured in a work-related accident and I am receiving workers' compensation benefits. When should I consult an attorney?
It's never too soon to consult an attorney after sustaining a work related injury, even if for no other reason that to have the workers' compensation system explained to you, and what you can expect from the process. There is a substantial likelihood that the insurance company will eventually challenge a worker's right to compensation benefits, and the insurance company begins preparing a litigation strategy to get an injured worker off compensation from the time that the adjuster opens the file. Not only is it critical for the injured worker to consult an attorney as soon as possible, especially if the injury is serious, it is recommended that you get in touch with an attorney experienced in workers' compensation law.
How Do I Know That I Won't Be Cheated By An Attorney?
Most workers' compensation attorneys provide free initial consultations and will not charge a fee until the Employer/Insurance company has filed a petition to suspend, modify, and/or terminate your benefits. In addition, an attorney may not collect a contingency fee without first submitting the fee for approval before a workers' compensation judge.
Can I Pursue A Lawsuit and Claim Workers' Compensation?
Since a claim under the workers' compensation system provides the employee with a remedy for injury or illness arising out of the course of employment (strict liability - no need for the employee to prove fault or negligence of the employer), you are typically prohibited from bringing a separate lawsuit for negligence against the employer.
However, this does not preclude the bringing of a lawsuit against third parties who have culpability for the injury. For example, if you are injured at work but someone outside your company caused the accident to happen (i.e.- a wire cable installer negligently hid a wire that caused your trip and fall), you may sue the cable company.
In addition, if your employer did not carry workers' compensation coverage, you may be able to sue the employer based upon its negligence or fault for your injuries. Also, there are some harassment claims that may be brought as a State civil action or a Federal cause of action. This is becoming more common in sex harassment claims. An attorney with expertise in the workers' compensation field can help you pursue all available remedies.
My workers' compensation insurance claims adjuster has been very helpful, informative, and nice. I don't need an attorney in this situation, do I?
You most certainly do need an attorney, regardless of how nice a person the insurance claims adjuster appears to be. The problem with taking the advice of an insurance adjuster is that the adjuster's motivation for making decisions is to keep costs down and profits up. This goal is in direct conflict with the injured worker's best interests, which is to obtain the best medical care and ongoing wage loss benefits for as long as the injured worker is unable to return to work. An insurance adjuster is trained to reduce the cost of the claim any way possible, even to the extent of violating the provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act.