When Do You Need an Attorney for Workers’ Compensation?

by Karl Voigt

When do you need an attorney for Workers’ Compensation? For those of you who read my posts on Avvo.com, you know that I am by no means a salesman for lawyers. I often encourage Workers’ Compensation claimants to stick it out, and not enter into a fee agreement with a Workers’ Compensation lawyer until they actually need one. I usually say, “you’ll know when you need one.” Lawyers costs money. The general rule is that, once you go to Worker’s Compensation court with a lawyer, 20% of your checks are going to be paid to that lawyer as a fee.

Some recent experiences have really started to change my opinion. And I’ve been practicing Worker’s Compensation law for 26 years now. I have recently seen some very poor behavior from employers and adjusters right at the beginning of the case that makes me think injured workers should have lawyers working for them from day one.

Usually, right at the inception of a claim, the insurance company doesn’t have a lawyer working on its side. There’s an insurance adjuster who makes the initial decisions. Often bad decisions – for the injured worker.

I had someone contact me recently who had just hurt his low back at work. Okay, it happens; people get hurt and that’s what Worker’s Compensation is designed to address. What supposed to happen after that is the employer reports the injury to its Workers’ Compensation insurer and the injured worker gets medical treatment. If the employee can’t work because of the injury, he gets paid wage loss benefits.

So this gentleman hurt his back, immediately told his employer, who essentially disregarded him. His employer wouldn’t even let him know who his Worker’s Compensation insurance company is.

So, after I spoke with him, I used my own resources to track down the identity of this employer’s insurer. Then I contacted that insurance company, trying to hunt down the identity of the person responsible for handling this work injury claim. “No such claim,” they said. Okay, so the employer pay no heed to the law that says that all work injuries must be reported to the carrier within 24 hours.

My efforts now forced the employer into reporting the claim and a file was opened, a claim number generated, and an adjuster assigned. Under ordinary circumstances, the claimant might have simply gone on working in pain, allowing his employer to string him along.

The worker then discussed his case with the adjuster, who actually told him he was compelled to treat with a doctor chosen essentially by her! This would allow her to “twist the arm” of a doctor who was contracted with the carrier. This doctor, knowing who buttered his bread, would be more inclined to make medical decisions favoring the employer, rather than

Before this conversation with the adjuster, we had a discussion about his medical care. Anyone who’s well-read here or on Avvo.com know about the captive period, where a carrier tries to control the initial medical care given an injured worker. Based on the facts, we had decided that he could treat with his choice of doctor. The employer posted no list of physicians from which to choose, nor had the worker signed the “rights and responsibilities” form requisite for the captive period to be enforceable. Therefore, he could not be forced to treat with a company doctor.

But for our conversation, he could have been railroaded into substandard medical care.

All this in the space of just a few days.

Well, not every case goes like this at its inception. Some go smoothly, as it should. However, I suspect more cases like go this one would have when the worker doesn’t have counsel from the start. So, it certainly can’t hurt to get counsel involved from the very beginning. It can only set you in the right direction.

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