What are your rights in the event of an on-the-job injury?

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Answered by: David, An Expert in the Workers' Comp Category
If you have been injured on the job or know someone who has, then you are somewhat familiar with your state's workers compensation laws. Worker's Compensation benefits are not the same and somewhat limited from the damages you would expect to receive in a typical personal injury claim. Worker's compensation benefits are specific to each state and do not encompass damages like pain and suffering, loss of consortium or mental anguish, the normal damages you would expect in a typical car accident or medical malpractice claim, etc.

Benefits For A Job Injury:

Benefits you will receive for an on the job injury are specific to each state's workman's compensation laws and depending on your state the amount you can receive is spelled out in detail in the worker's compensation statutes of each state.

Do you have a job injury?

First, it has to be determined if you have an on the job injury. An on the job injury is described as an injury arising out of the course and scope of your employment. In other words, you were performing a work duty that you would be performing only because you were on or about your employer's work, and as a result you are injured. This could be a trip to the post office or falling in the company parking lot on the way to sign in for work. Keep in mind that many people have pre-existing conditions-bad knees, bad back or even a weak heart. However, the law in most states is that you still have a worker's compensation claim if your work duty aggravated your pre-existing condition causing additional damage and in essence a new injury.

Notice to your employer:

If you have or think you have an on the job injury you will have to notify your employer as soon as possible. Notice to the employer must indicate when, where,how and the nature of your injury. Usually oral notice to your supervisor or company nurse is sufficient. However, written notice is suggested. Each state has a time period of when you must give notice and failure to give notice to your employer within the time frame required in your state could bar your claim. The time frame to give notice to your employer is relatively short and usually is between one month to ninety days.

Once notice is given to the employer, then most states require that the employer give you a doctor or a panel of doctors to choose from that you will choose as the doctor that will provide an initial diagnosis and plan of care. If no choice is given then you are free to go to your own doctor. Your company can offer a choice of doctors at a later date. Your treating doctor you choose is critical as he will dictate your plan of treatment, your time off of work and if you have any permanent impairment, the doctor will assess your restrictions, any work limitations and any anatomical impairment, which will dictate the medical opinion as to any assessment for an award for any permanent disability.

The Three Types of Worker's Compensation Benefits you are entitled:

Worker's Compensation entitlements or benefits are divided into three categories. First, the employer has to pay for all your medical cost, including prescription drugs and even travel expenses if you have to travel a long distance. Secondly, the employer has to pay you a weekly benefit if you are unable to return to work. This weekly benefit is usually paid every two weeks and the amount is spelled out in your state worker's compensation statute. Each state varies in the maximum and minimum the employer has to pay you weekly while you are getting treatment and unable to work. Lastly, when the doctor releases you or when you reach maximum medical improvement, you may have a permanent impairment attributed to your job injury. At this point the employer's doctor or your doctor will have to assess your permanent impairment, if any, that you may have acquired due to your job injury, including an injury that makes a pre-existing condition worse.

What if you are permanently impaired:

If you do have a permanent impairment, then the employer would owe you an additional sum and have to compensate you, in essence, for your future lost earning capacity. The amount you would be entitled for a permanent impairment is different in each state, and many factors are relevant to determine a just amount. The permanent impairment benefit is paid to you in a lump sum or in installments over a period of time, as agreed upon. The worker's compensation statutes of each state is specific on this issue, and the worker' compensation statutes of each state have a scheduled amount for an arm, leg, finger, etc. And certain injuries are deemed injuries to the body as a whole. There are many factors in determining and assessing your award for permanent impairment, but the medical professional who have assessed your permanent impairment upon your release are key factors in your final worker's compensation award. Again, as to you specifically, how does your injury affect your ability to work in the future based on your education and work experiences.

This has been a general discussion of what to expect if you have been injured on the job. As an attorney I have handled hundreds of injured worker's claims in Tennessee and Mississippi, and I am not trying to advise you on your specific state laws. Each state is somewhat different and I advise you to consult with an experienced worker's compensation attorney in your state. Often there are disputes between the employee and employer regarding the benefits outlined above, and an attorney may be necessary to give advice and act as your advocate. Most attorneys specializing in this area work on a contingency basis and their maximum fees are regulated by the states worker's compensation statutes.

Hopefully, you never experience a job injury, but unfortunately many workers will and it is a difficult time for them and their families. Keep in mind that the worker's compensation benefits are your entitlement and are meant to provide for you and your family if you do have an on the job injury.

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