You Have the Right To Choose Your Own Doctor
The Industrial Insurance Act allows you to have a doctor of your choosing. This includes medical doctors, chiropractors, naturopaths, and Adult Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNP's). You are not required to use the “company doctor” as your attending physician.
State Law Specifies How Much Compensation You Will Get
The amount of time-loss pay you get depends on your wages on the date you were injured. You get 60% of your wages-slightly more if you are married or have children - up to a maximum amount. A dispute may arise if you were working part-time or had more than one job. You may be entitled to receive additional monetary compensation if your work injury or occupational disease leaves you with a permanent physical or mental impairment. Your attorney will help document your entitlement to this compensation.
The Extent of a Permanent Disability is Often Disputed
Deciding your level of permanent impairment may be difficult. Doctors must sift through confusing rules and regulations when rating disability. Your doctors may have a much different opinion than the Department's or employer's doctors. The Department or employer may send you to a panel exam, where their doctors may rate your disability far lower than you deserve. An attorney can help make sure you are rated fairly.
You Have Seven Years to Reopen Your Claim After it is First Closed
Under the Industrial Insurance Act, you have a right to reopen your claim for additional treatment and benefits up to seven years after the claim is first closed (ten years for eye injuries). To reopen your claim you must have proof from a doctor that your original condition has “objectively” worsened without any new injury. Applications to reopen are often denied. An attorney can appeal a denial. After seven years you may be able to reopen your claim for more treatment, but the decision is entirely up to the Department.
You May Have Frustrating Delays in Getting Your Benefits
The law states that injured workers are entitled to “sure and certain relief.” Unfortunately, this is not often the case. The system has developed into a huge bureaucracy with too few employees for the hundreds of thousands of claims being processed. The sheer volume of claims can lead to delay and confusion. Additionally, many claims managers are undertrained, and claims may be passed from one claims manager to another. As a result, injured workers can become lost in the system. An attorney can bring more attention to your claim and aid in moving the claim along to a decision, which, if unacceptable, can at least be appealed.
You May Protest or Appeal a Decision by the Department or Self-Insured Employer
Most decisions can be protested with the Department, or appealed to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. At this point you will probably need an attorney. Most workers have little knowledge of their rights under the Industrial Insurance Act. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can answer your questions. Most decisions must be protested or appealed within fairly short time periods, so you should not delay.
You Generally May Not Sue Your Employer or a Co-Employee
Employers and co-employees are immune from a lawsuit by you for their negligence. The Legislature chose long ago to limit workers to the compensation provided by the Industrial Insurance Act. The Act provides benefits regardless of fault, even if you are at fault for your injury. You may sue your employer for intentional injuries, but these are extremely rare.
You Might Be Able to Sue a Third-Party in Addition to Claiming Benefits Under Workers Compensation
If the negligence of someone other than your employer or a co-employee -- a so-called third party -- causes your injuries, you may file a lawsuit for damages in addition to your workers' compensation benefits. Common third-parties are automobile drivers, equipment manufacturers and subcontractors on construction sites. Every case that may involve a third party should be evaluated by an experienced workers' compensation attorney to see if a viable claim exists. Our office handles a great deal of third-party cases.
Your Damages in a Third-Party Case Usually Will Be More Than Your Workers' Compensation Benefits
In a civil lawsuit, you're entitled to your actual damages. Usually you will get far more than what you will get under workers' compensation. Damages include pain and suffering and lost future wages, neither of which is paid under workers' compensation. You will still get your workers' compensation benefits while your third-party case is pursued. However, you will have to pay some of the damages you receive from the third-party case back to the Department of Labor and Industries, or to your employer, if self-insured.
Experienced Injury Attorneys and Paralegals Can Help with All Parts of Your Claim
Hundreds of laws and thousands of court cases affect what compensation you will receive. An attorney who knows workers' compensation law can help guide you through the system and assert your rights. Although the system was created to protect the worker, it has become increasingly hostile to legitimate claims. Our attorneys will obtain a copy of your file and review it with you, at no charge. If you do not need an attorney, we will tell you so. However, most cases should be reviewed by an attorney so you will know about any possible legal difficulties in getting your benefits.
ALL consultations are FREE. ALL fees contingent.