You're entitled to workers' compensation benefits for injuries that occur on your job, whether your employer was at fault for the injury or not.
State laws vary as to the exact compensation available, but as an injured worker you may be entitled to:
- Temporary total disability while you can't work at all (some percentage of your previous actual earnings, depending on your state's laws)
- Payment of your medical bills
- Permanent partial disability
If you aren't able to work at all after your injury, you may be entitled to total disability.
State laws vary widely as to how permanent disability is determined. As crude as it sounds, in some states there are schedules that list the amount of compensation to be paid for a particular injury. For example, a certain dollar amount will be paid for the amputation of your limb at a certain joint.
In some cases, a vocational rehabilitation expert may get involved and give an opinion as to your future potential to earn compared to your earning potential prior to being injured.
Your employer's workers' comp insurance may be responsible for vocational rehabilitation training, so that you can work at some meaningful job that is geared to your current abilities.
If there are permanent restrictions, your employer is generally responsible to offer you a replacement job, if there is one available within the restrictions of what you can now do. If there are no such jobs, there is no guarantee of future employment with your employer.
Workers' comp is your exclusive remedy
, which means that you can't sue your employer, but are only entitled to benefits under your state's workers' comp laws.
In some cases, however, you can file a lawsuit against another party other than your employer. For example, you could sue the manufacturer of a dangerous machine, or the driver of another vehicle that caused the accident injuring you.
The Administrative Process
An administrative agency, not the courts, usually decides whether your worker's comp claim for benefits should be granted.
The administrative decision will be based on what's in your worker's comp file with the agency, and the evidence presented at an administrative hearing.
Your lawyer will make sure your medical records and any other necessary reports (such as a vocational rehab reports) get into your file and are explained to the administrative hearings judge.
Medical reports should include:
- How the injury is related to your employment
- The full diagnosis
- The course of treatment
- Any anticipated permanent disability
- What percentage of permanent disability the doctor expects
Make sure you provide your lawyer with all the medical information you have, so that your lawyer knows everything you do about your medical condition.
If your lawyer asks you to round up information or paperwork, make it a priority to get it done as soon as possible. Your lawyer wouldn't be asking for the information if he or she didn't see it an important.
When you don't understand a term your lawyer uses, don't be afraid to ask for an explanation. It's much better to ask questions than to make life-altering decisions without understanding all the consequences.
Keep copies of everything you send to your lawyer, and all the hearing paperwork.
Be prepared for a long wait while your workers' comp claim is processing.
While you didn't ask for a workplace injury, you can make the best of it by educating yourself to the workers' comp process and working with your lawyer for the best result.