Most laws that require employers to compensate employees for workplace injuries are enacted by state governments. Federal legislation requires workers’ compensation for employees in certain jobs, including longshore and harbor employees, workers on offshore drilling rigs and related employment, and employees who provide services to the federal government overseas. A Florida workers’ compensation attorney can advise injury victims about the specific law that governs their right to receive injury compensation.
All workers’ compensation laws operate in roughly the same way. Regardless of the kind of work an injury victim performs, it is essential to follow some basic steps to protect the right to receive compensation for a workplace injury.
Create Evidence of the Injury
Insurance companies look for reasons to deny claims. They sometimes argue that employees are making claims for injuries that are not related to work. The best way to preempt that argument is to document the work accident as soon as it occurs.
Proving that the injury is work related is easier if the injury victim immediately calls the accident to the attention of co-workers. Whether the injury is caused by a fall, by lifting heavy objects, by a collision with a forklift, or for any other reason, telling other employees about the injury as soon as it occurs will create witnesses who can support the victim’s claim.
Don’t try to “walk it off” or pretend that the injury isn’t painful. Telling co-workers about symptoms of pain may create valuable evidence that the injury occurred at work.
Taking photographs can also help document an injury. Take pictures of damaged equipment, potholes, frayed electrical cords, or other evidence of the cause of an injury. Take pictures of bruises, cuts, or other physical signs of injury. Save those photos. Metadata attached to digital photos should establish the date on which they were taken.
Report the Injury Immediately
Workers’ compensation laws usually require injuries to be reported to an employer within 30 days. Employees should never wait that long. Delayed reporting encourages insurance companies to contest claims. Making an immediate report of the injury reduces the risk that an insurer will claim that the injury is not work related.
Ask for Immediate Medical Attention
Florida’s workers’ compensation law requires employers to provide medical treatment for an injury. While federal law may allow an employee greater freedom to choose a provider, employers who are subject to Florida law are entitled to choose the doctor who will treat the injury. An injured employee should ask the employer (or the employer’s insurance company) to authorize a doctor visit so that the injury can be examined and treated.
Delaying a request for medical attention opens the door to insurance company claims that the injury occurred outside of work. Even if an injury seems minor, workers have no way to know whether symptoms might become more severe. Injuries to muscles and ligaments frequently result in nagging pain if they are not treated immediately. However, by the time the worker decides to seek treatment, it may be difficult or impossible to relate the pain to the work accident if the worker did not seek immediate treatment.
Keep All Medical Appointments
Workers with busy lives are often tempted to blow off medical appointments. Unfortunately, Florida law gives insurance companies multiple opportunities to stop paying for medical treatment. When workers miss appointments, insurers will often claim that they stopped treating because their injuries healed. Florida law encourages insurance companies to stop providing medical treatment whenever a worker misses an appointment.
Workers are particularly likely to miss physical therapy appointments. The appointments are time consuming and often painful. It is tempting to skip one. The danger is that the worker will lose the opportunity to obtain further treatment or other benefits simply because the worker missed an appointment.
It is critical for injured workers to keep every appointment for medical treatment or examination. If an emergency arises, the worker or the worker’s lawyer should immediately contact the insurer to explain the need to reschedule.
Follow All Treatment Recommendations and Limitations
Even if you don’t think you need physical therapy, you should obtain it if a doctor recommends it. Failing to follow treatment recommendations encourages insurance companies to decide that your injury has healed and to stop paying benefits.
When a doctor imposes restrictions, it is important to obey the restrictions. If the doctor tells you not to lift more than 20 pounds, exceeding that limitation might make an injury worse. Workers’ compensation might not pay benefits to someone who lifts a 40-pound bag of fertilizer at home after being told not to lift more than 20 pounds.
Workers should always assume that someone from the insurance company is watching them. Violating restrictions will encourage the insurance company to pretend that you made a fraudulent claim for benefits.
Make a Timely Claim for Benefits
In many cases, workers’ compensation benefits, including medical treatment and temporary disability payments, will be paid without the need to file a formal claim. When an injury is permanent, insurance companies are less likely to make a fair settlement. Workers with permanent injuries often need to file a claim to obtain full benefits.
Formal claims must usually be filed within 2 years of the date the injury occurred. That time limit can be difficult to compute, particularly when the injury did not occur because of a specific accident. Consulting a workers’ compensation attorney will before the 2-year deadline is the best way to protect the right to make a claim.
Seek Legal Advice
When injuries heal quickly and the worker receives medical treatment and temporary disability payments for missed work, legal advice might not be necessary. Any time an insurance company resists paying benefits, however, a worker should feel free to talk to a lawyer.
Permanent work-related injuries should result in permanent disability benefits. Insurance companies resist paying those benefits. They know that lawyers will force them to make a fair settlement, so they hope workers will accept “low ball” offers without consulting a lawyer. The outcomes of permanent disability benefit claims almost always improve when an injured worker is represented by a lawyer.