WORKER’S COMPENSATION

Worker’s Compensation claims are handled through the Industrial Commission rather than our local courts. It is very important that you obtain legal counsel for any such proceeding or claim, since the laws in this area are quite complex, and employers and insurance carriers generally know the laws fairly well, but employees usually do not.

If you are ever injured on the job (or suffer an occupational disease such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis or black lung disease), then go immediately to your own family doctor. If needed, get him/her to also refer you to a specialist. Report the injury or disease immediately to a supervisor or other appropriate personnel.

DO NOT give any recorded statement and DO NOT sign any form or statement until you first consult with an attorney. Worker’s compensation cases which are jeopardized or lost are typically those where employees have given signed or recorded statements early on without the benefit of counsel. Employers and carriers tend to be very aggressive in these matters right from the start. If possible, they will force you to be evaluated by the “company doctor” who often says that you can go right back to work. In order to avoid this predicament, it is best if you can get to your own doctor simultaneously with, or immediately before, reporting the accident. You have the statutory right to select a physician of your own choice (G.S. 97-25). However, if you do not initially, then the carrier/employer will do so. Once you go to the company doctor, you can be stuck with him/her for quite awhile. It can be very difficult to get the Industrial Commission to authorize a change of treating physicians. If you are in such a situation, and feel that your medical care is questionable, there are alternatives which we would be happy to discuss with you.

If you give a statement without a lawyer present, be sure to watch for trick questions from the interviewer. For instance, a common question is: “You were just doing your normal job in the usual way, right?” Most employees think they should answer this question “Yes”, because doing it the wrong way or some unusual way might penalize them. WRONG! In worker’s compensation, it is essential that the task was different or unusual in some way, i.e., that an accident occurred. If nothing “unusual” happened, then there was no “accident”, and you just lost your claim! There are some exceptions to this general rule, particularly in back injury, hernia, and occupational disease cases. However, the rule of thumb is almost always to stress that the accident, traumatic event, or job duties were somehow unusual and different than normal. This can be something as simple as a slip and fall, to “jerking an unusually heavy load in an awkward position.”

Your benefits do not commence until you are out of work for 8 days due to your injury. You cannot get paid for the first 7 days until you are out a full 21 days. Payment is 2/3 of your average weekly wage. Employers are supposed to calculate this on a Form 22, but they often do not bother to do so. Thus, if you had been grossing $600.00 per week, your weekly work comp benefit would be $400.00. These benefits are tax free. You can keep getting benefits until you return to work full-time. Once you reach “maximum medical improvement” (MMI) and get rated for your injury, you are also entitled to an additional payment for your permanent injury, if any.

We handle work comp cases on a contingency fee basis, i.e., if we do not win, then we do not get paid. This not only gives us incentive to win our cases, but it also spares injured workers from paying attorney fees up front.

We would be happy to discuss your case in more detail by phone or in person. There is a two (2) year statute of limitation in work comp cases, so your Form 18 normally must be filed by then to protect your claim. Don’t sleep on your rights. Get good advice. The other side always will.