What makes this type of dilemma so concerning is that it starts to affect your life at the very moment of injury. You don’t have time to make a plan of action before the trouble starts. You are thrown right in and forced to act.
Below is a timeline of how a typical workers’ compensation case plays out. If you are dealing with a workplace injury, read on to get a good idea of what will happen next so you can make your plan of action.
Stage I – Injury
There is an accident at work. You are hurt. It is unexpected and frightening.
Most people have the same concerns — “Should I work through it?” “Will my employer fire me if I tell them I was hurt on the job?” “If I am unable to work… how will I pay my bills?”
These are all reasonable fears and concerns. However, the workers’ compensation system is setup to protect injured workers and their financial well-being while they are out of work with an injury.
Stage II – Notice to Employer
The first thing you need to do is notify your employer. It’s not only important so that treatment can begin as soon as possible… it’s also required by law. If you wait to tell your employer, you risk losing your right to medical treatment and compensation.
Stage III – Treatment
Your employer will send you for treatment with medical professionals. Remember- your employer gets an opportunity to send you to a physician of their choice under the workers’ compensation system. Quite often you will be referred to one or more specialists as the process moves along.
The good thing is you do not pay for any of the treatment. That means no co-pays, no deductibles, no medical bills, and no collection letters. In most instances you even get reimbursed for your mileage.
Stage IV – Ending Treatment- MMI
The treating physician says you have completed treatment, and there is nothing else they can do for you. This is referred to as being at maximum medical improvement (MMI). Sometimes, you are back to normal and can return to your everyday life as if the accident never happened.
More often however, you will have lingering effects from the injury. In these cases the treating physician will quantify the negative continuing effects from your injury. This is called an impairment rating. If you have full function as if you had never been injured- you would receive a 0% impairment rating. If, however, you have lost total use of the body part the impairment rating would be 100%. If you have lost partial use of the body part, then you would receive a rating between) 0% and 100%.
There are also times when you simply need more treatment, even though the treating physician says you do not. In these cases you will need to get a second opinion. Even with a second opinion, your employer and their insurance carrier may take the position that your treatment is complete and that your claim has ended.
Having a knowledgeable lawyer to guide you through this dilemma is essential.
Stage V – Determining long term effect of a work injury
Once it is determined that you are truly at MMI, it is time to figure out what permanent damage your injury has caused. Sometimes it is impairment rating provided by the physician. Other times you may have lost the ability to perform certain duties at work. This can result in a decrease in your earning capacity. Other times, your injuries will have caused you to be permanently and totally disabled.
It is your lawyer’s job to fully investigate how your specific condition affects you and your ability to put food on your table.
Stage VI – Settlement or Trial
Once you and your lawyer determine long term effects of your injury, it is time to compensate you for your resulting disability. Your lawyer will negotiate on your behalf with your employer’s insurance company and their lawyers.
However, if negotiations fail and the other side does not want to do the right thing, you can proceed to a contested hearing in front of a workers’ compensation commission who will act as the judge and jury in your claim.
THE BIG QUESTION…
When should I get a lawyer? The answer is simple — as early on in the process as possible. A lawyer can assist you at every stage of your claim. They will follow your treatment from day one, making sure all avenues are explored throughout the process.