WHAT IS WORKERS’ COMPENSATION LAW?
The Workers’ Compensation Law of the State of Missouri was enacted in 1926. Prior to that time when an employee was injured at work, the only remedy available was a lawsuit in civil court, which was often very costly and left many employees without medical care and other benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Law was passed to take work injuries out of civil court. Under the law, employers are responsible for providing a number of benefits to injured workers. In return for receiving these benefits, an employer can no longer be sued for negligence in civil court.
I WAS INJURED AT WORK. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
When you are hurt on the job, you should report the accident and your injury immediately to your employer. Not only should notice be given immediately to receive necessary medical attention, but your injury will then be on record. The Workers’ Compensation Act requires you to give notice in writing within 30 days of the date of the accident. The law also requires your employer to report all accidental injuries within 10 days of the date they occurred to the Division of Workers’ Compensation. If you failed to notify your employer of your injury within 30 days, you still may have a case. Please call our office to discuss.
I’M NOT SURE IF I SHOULD REPORT MY WORK INJURY BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO LOSE MY JOB. CAN MY EMPLOYER FIRE ME FOR REPORTING AN INJURY?
Your employer cannot fire you for reporting an injury or filing a workers’ compensation claim. If they do, you may have a civil lawsuit against your employer for wrongful termination. If you are worried about retaliation, please give our attorneys a call. Your consultation is completely confidential and your employer will not be notified that you have discussed your case with an attorney.
WHAT BENEFITS DOES MY EMPLOYER HAVE TO PROVIDE?
When an employee is injured at work, the employer and its insurance company are responsible for providing four basic benefits. First, the employer must provide the injured worker medical treatment for his or her injuries. Please note that the employer has the right to direct and control treatment, which means that they get to choose the doctor or health care provider. Second, if the authorized treating physician takes the injured employee off work for more than three days, the employer must pay the employee for his or her time off work. Third, once the injured worker has been determined to be at maximum medical improvement (MMI) by the treating physician, the employer may be responsible to pay financial compensation to the employee for either permanent partial or permanent total disability. Finally, the employer is responsible to pay financial compensation for any disfigurement caused to the injured employee’s face, neck, arms, or hands.
WHAT IF I MISS WORK BECAUSE OF MY INJURY?
If the treating physician chosen by the employer and its insurance company takes an injured employee off work for more than three days, the employer must pay the employee what is called temporary total disability (also referred to as TTD) for the time missed. If the employee misses at least fourteen days of work, he or she will be compensated for the first three days as well. This compensation is two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wage up to a maximum amount established by the legislature. It is also tax free and is paid as regular wages are paid or at least every two weeks.
CAN I GO TO MY OWN DOCTOR?
The employer and its insurance company have the right to direct and control treatment in workers’ compensation cases. If your employer refuses to provide medical treatment, you may seek treatment on your own at your own expense. If your work injury later is found to be compensable under the workers’ compensation law, the employer will be responsible for paying your medical bills if the employer refused to provide the medical treatment after notice of your request for treatment. You should be warned, health insurance does not cover work-related injuries. If your employer is refusing to provide treatment, that does not mean you do not have a case. Employers often hand select doctors that are sympathetic to their interests. Therefore, we encourage you to call an attorney to discuss your options.
ATTORNEYS ARE EXPENSIVE. DO I NEED ONE TO FILE MY CLAIM?
While you do not need an attorney to pursue workers’ compensation benefits, it should be noted that your employer and its insurance company have teams of specialists watching out for their interests. They have attorneys, personnel departments, adjusters, case managers and administrators all working to limit their liability. By hiring an attorney, you can help level the playing field. We offer a free consultation so you know and understand your options before deciding whether to hire an attorney. That means you pay no fees until we recover for you, and you pay nothing up front. In most situations, employees end up getting more money even after the attorney’s fee has been deducted. It is crucial that you know your rights because once you settle a claim, it cannot be reopened later if you find out you need more treatment or lose your job.
THE DOCTOR MY EMPLOYER SENT ME TO HAS RELEASED ME TO RETURN TO WORK, BUT I STILL HAVE COMPLAINTS. WHAT CAN I DO?
You have the right to seek an evaluation from your own doctor to counter the opinion of the employer’s doctor. However, you will be responsible for the costs of that evaluation. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney familiar with the medical and vocational experts who specialize in evaluating work-related injuries can help you navigate through this situation.
WHAT IF I AM HURT SO BADLY I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO RETURN TO WORK?
If you are determined by the court to be permanently and totally disabled, you will be paid two-thirds of your average weekly earnings for the time you remain disabled, which for many is the rest of your life. However, to be found permanently and totally disabled means you are unable to secure and keep any employment in the open labor market, not just the type of work you were doing when you were injured. This benefit, like other permanent disability benefits, is subject to a maximum rate, which is set by the legislature and adjusted annually. Permanent total disability claims require opinions from both medical experts and vocational experts which make them difficult to handle without an attorney.
WON’T I GET LESS AT THE END OF THE CASE SINCE MY ATTORNEY GETS A PERCENTAGE OF MY SETTLEMENT OR AWARD?
This is a frequent misconception held by employees. First of all, the employer and its insurance company are always represented by knowledgeable attorneys who know the real value of your case, but are paid to try to minimize the cost of a claim for the employer and its insurance company. Second, the judges (called administrative law judges) are no longer allowed to give employees legal advice, so they cannot tell you the value of your case. In this situation, the employee is unaware of what he or she should get and often agrees to very low amounts for settlement and also may forego future medical benefits that may be appropriate. In most situations, employees end up getting more money even after the attorney’s fee has been deducted. Your choice of a workers’ compensation attorney can be the difference between being taken care of and being taken advantage of. Our attorneys focus exclusively on workers’ compensation cases, therefore our extensive knowledge of the law ensures our client receives the best result possible. It is crucial that you know your rights because once you settle a claim, it cannot be reopened later if you find out you need more treatment or lose your job.
MY INJURY WAS SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT.
If you were injured because of someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to damages separate from the workers’ compensation law. You may have a civil case against a third party. It is important to have an attorney advise you of your rights.
WHAT IS THE SECOND INJURY FUND?
Missouri’s Second Injury Fund (SIF) is funded by a surcharge paid by employers on their workers’ compensation insurance. The Missouri State Treasurer is the “custodian” of SIF. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office defends the claims made against SIF and has the Treasurer’s authority to settle or try cases for SIF. For injuries before January 1, 2014, the Second Injury Fund provides four different types of benefits. Those benefits include enhanced disability benefits, death or medical benefits if working for an uninsured employer, rehabilitation benefits for a severely injured employee, and second job wage loss benefits.
For injuries after January 1, 2014, Second Injury Fund benefits have been significantly restricted by legislative changes. The Second Injury Fund is now only liable for permanent total disability benefits in situations where the work-related injury combines with qualifying pre-existing injuries and conditions to render the injured worker unable to compete in the open labor market. These legislative changes are being challenged in the courts, and the attorneys at Van Camp Law Firm are continuing to follow these matters closely to ensure we can pursue the maximum benefits for our clients.