How to Get Your Life Back on Track After a Work-Related InjuryBy Gabriel Levin on November 21st, 2018
Work-related injuries and illnesses severely damage the lives of workers and their families. Despite regulations that require safety trainings, protective gear, and special certifications, 12,300 workers receive a job-related injury every single day. That’s one injury every seven seconds. So, in the time it takes you to read this page, twenty workers have sustained an injury while at work and are wondering what to do next. If you’ve sustained a work-related injury, you are not alone. People in all types of jobs are at risk of injuring themselves in the workplace, and often don’t know what to do when it happens.
Pennsylvania law requires that employers maintain a safe working environment for their employees and provide pertinent workplace safety trainings. Despite ongoing initiatives by federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace injuries in Pennsylvania have increased slightly—from 166,114 incidents annually to 174,216—during the past three years. For individuals involved in workplace accidents, one is too many. Lasting effects from work-related injuries can continue to affect families well into the future; financial and emotional issues may linger long after the physical injury heals. In addition to financial difficulties, injuries often create an emotional strain on workers and their families. Lost wages increase stress at home, put unnecessary strain on personal relationships, and can lead to severe depression.
From Start to Finish
Although victims of workplace injuries and illnesses are not required to have legal representation to file a personal injury claim, having an attorney on your side can prove extremely beneficial. Pennsylvania’s personal injury and workers’ compensation laws are complex and ever-changing. Working with an experienced lawyer ensures that you won’t miss important dates or deadlines. Let your attorney focus on the legal complexities while you focus on recovering from your injury.
At the Levin Law Firm, our experienced attorneys aggressively defend the rights of injured workers. Our nationally recognized attorneys are ready to assist you and your family during this difficult time. If you have been denied workers’ compensation benefits, think you’re receiving less than you deserve, or have questions about how to file a claim, we can help. We understand how to deal with the unexpected, so you don’t have to.
Your Employer Has Legal Responsibilities if You Are Injured on the Job
Pennsylvania law requires employers to post a list of the names and phone numbers of at least six physicians whom they have selected to treat workplace injuries. Employers are also required to inform employees, in writing, that in the event of an accident, they must use one of these designated medical professionals for all treatment within 90 days from the date of any accident. After the initial 90-day treatment period, employees have the option of choosing their own doctor. If an injured employee does opt to use a personal physician, the employee must notify the employer at least five days prior to any appointment.
Employers are also required to post the name, address, and contact telephone number of their workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
Employers are required by law to provide their employees with a safe place of employment, including safety training that complies with the company’s injury and illness prevention programs.
The Scope of Workplace Injuries
Numerous environmental conditions can result in work-related injuries and workers’ compensation claims. Hearing loss, respiratory problems, weather-related injuries, and allergic reactions can all result from prolonged exposure to unsafe conditions. Environmental conditions that may lead to workplace injuries include:
- Sight and visibility limitations
- Ambient temperature fluctuations
- Sound pollution
- Air pollution, including the presence of toxic fumes or vapors
- Water pollution
- Poor housekeeping
- Overcrowded work area
- Use of personal protective equipment that restricts human senses
Working with heavy machinery, at heights, and with electricity often results in work-related injuries, including:
- Muscle tears
- Falls resulting in fractures
Additionally, human factors, such as acts of violence or motor vehicle accidents caused by negligence, may result in work-related injuries. While some physical injuries are self-limiting and short-lived, some are complex and even fatal. For example, concussions, traumatic brain injuries, amputations, and mesothelioma have life-changing implications for victims and families
The Effects of Your Injury Can Extend to Your Family
A work-related injury can impact a victim’s entire family. Beyond the financial implications of lost productivity, and the possible permanent loss of gainful employment, the emotional—and sometimes even physical—repercussions on spouses and children can be devastating. A study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health revealed that family members of severely injured workers filed significantly more personal healthcare claims for fractures, sprains, joint dislocations, and other muscle and bone or “musculoskeletal” disorders than family members of non-severely injured workers, likely because those injured required physically demanding help after their injuries.
Workers’ Compensation Claims May Be Complicated
Some workers’ compensation claims are straightforward. When a workplace injury clearly stemmed from a specific on-the-job accident, employers and their workers’ compensation insurance carriers rarely deny claims.
However, most workers’ compensation claims are complex, especially those that deal with a repetitive stress injury, a work-related illness, or any other injury that may be difficult to directly link to specific environmental conditions. Insurance carriers and the attorneys that represent them are not on your side; their singular focus is to ensure that each claim settles for the least amount of compensation possible.
The more complex a workers’ compensation claim, the more difficult it can be to handle alone. Complex claims may involve sending written demand letters, negotiating with insurance companies and their attorneys, and arguing your case in court. Deadlines must be met, and certain steps must be taken. Hiring an attorney who has experience representing individuals in contested workers’ compensation claims can help you understand the process and ensure that you receive maximum compensation given your circumstances.
How Your Attorney Will Help
Retaining an experienced attorney to assist you with your workers’ compensation claim can have numerous benefits. Your attorney may:
- Act as your liaison with the workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
- Gather medical evidence.
- Arrange and recommend medical treatment.
- Depose medical experts.
- Represent you in any workers’ compensation hearings.
- Negotiate a fair settlement.
At the Levin Law Firm, our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys understand the process and what evidence you must present to maximize recovery. Hiring an attorney will provide you and your family with a significant advantage. While we cannot guarantee a favorable result in your case, we can promise to defend your rights every step of the way. We will work hard to determine the full extent of your injuries, your past and future medical expenses, and what claims you may be eligible to file.
Third Party Claims and Other Potential Benefits
Depending on the specifics of your case, you may be entitled to pursue a third-party personal injury claim against someone, other than your employer, whose negligence contributed to your injury. For example, other individuals involved in your accident, such as drivers of vehicles in auto accidents or the manufacturers of faulty equipment, may have some responsibility. Third party personal injury claims present an opportunity to pursue additional compensation, as these claims may include pain and suffering.
There are numerous instances in which you may be able to file a third party claim, including:
- If you were injured by a defective product.
- If you were injured by a toxic substance.
- If your employer’s intentional conduct caused your injury.
- If your employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance.
- If a third party caused your injury
Your Rights and Responsibilities as an Injured Worker
Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation laws are intended to protect all workers. Individuals who sustain an injury while at work, or who become ill due to unhealthy workplace conditions, may be eligible to seek:
- Medical care paid for by the employer
- Temporary or permanent disability benefits
- Supplemental job displacement benefit
- Death benefits payable to qualified family members
Injured workers should notify their employers as soon as possible following an accident or discovery of a job-related illness. State law requires victims to notify their supervisors within 21 days from the date of the accident or discovery. Under certain conditions, there may be a 120-day time limit to report.
If you suffer a workplace injury or illness, keep detailed records following your accident. Having specific documentation to support your claim will maximize your chance of successfully defending against any insurance company disputes or denials. You should attempt to gather the following:
- Accident reports
- Claim forms
- Doctors’ reports
- Contact information for potential witnesses
- Correspondence with your employer or the insurance company
- Acceptance or denial letter from the insurance company
- Forms filed with the state workers’ compensation agency
Although workers’ compensation claims do not include pain and suffering, you should still maintain a pain journal to document the severity of your injuries and how they impact your ability to function. Pain journals are particularly helpful when an insurance company disputes the seriousness of an individual’s injuries, or if a third party claim is involved.
Common Defenses Raised by Employers
Workers’ compensation claims result in considerable costs for employers and their insurance carriers. In an effort to mitigate liability, your employer may claim that you did not sustain your injury within your scope of employment. However, if your injury occurred on company property, during a business trip, in a corporate vehicle, or while running an errand at the request of your employer, your injuries are most likely work-related.
An employer attempting to deny liability may also claim that:
- You were operating as an independent contractor.
- Your injury is the result of a preexisting condition.
- You engaged in willful misconduct.
- You were working while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Never Say Never
In some instances, you may be able to reopen a previously closed workers’ compensation claim, including when:
- Your injury exacerbates over time.
- Your light duty alternate job no longer exists.
- New evidence is found to justify your claim.
- New evidence shows your award was inadequate or unjust.
- Fraud is discovered.
Appealing a Denial
Don’t be deterred if your employer denies your claim. Many employees with legitimate workers’ compensation claims receive denial notices. Insurance adjusters may deny a claim because it lacks sufficient medical information to prove a workplace injury, or if the adjuster determines that the claimed injury is more severe than the actual injury. However, a denial is often subjective, and can be disputed with a second medical opinion. An experienced attorney will review your application and determine what additional supporting information it needs. If you believe your claim was denied in error, you have an absolute right to appeal. Reasons for denial may include:
- You did not report your injury in time.
- You did not file your claim in time.
- Your employer disputes the claim.
- Your injury is not compensable.
- There is insufficient evidence that your injury is work-related.
An appeal can be time-consuming and complex. If you want to appeal a denial, you should consult an experienced attorney who understands what evidence you need to support an appeal.
When You Are Ready to Return to Work
Under Pennsylvania law, your employer must notify you within seven days if it intends to suspend your disability benefits upon your return to work. Thus, you have a limited amount of time to decide whether you want to return to:
- Regular work – Your old job
- Modified work – Your old job, with some changes that allow you to work
- Alternative work – A new job with the same employer
If you think that you might need special workplace accommodations when you do return to work, you should consult an attorney about how to make such a request. Individuals injured in an accident may need:
- Job restructuring
- An ergonomic evaluation of the workstation to adjust for physical limitations
- New equipment and necessary training
- A part-time work schedule
Do Not Accept Too Little
It’s difficult to predict the value of a Pennsylvania workers’ compensation claim. Some variables in making that determination include your long-term prognosis, need for future treatments, and level of compensation at the time of the accident. Consider whether you have a single, specific injury that is expected to resolve with treatment, or one that has the potential for cumulative problems requiring long-term treatment.
Contact The Levin Law Firm
Workers’ compensation claims are complex and require the assistance of an experienced attorney. At the Levin Law Firm, our legal team regularly represents individuals in workers’ compensation cases. Our attorneys are tenacious, determined, and dedicated to the aggressive pursuit of justice for all victims of workplace injuries in Pennsylvania. We understand the state’s workers’ compensation system. Call us today at (215) 825-5183, or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.