Most employees injured at work are treated with respect and receive the benefits they deserve. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some employees are treated poorly after suffering an injury at work. They are no longer treated as part of a team. Instead, they become a liability. These situations are frustrating to an injured worker, particularly when their health and financial security are jeopardized.
This week I settled a workers’ compensation case for a client which reminded me of pro-active measures an injured worker can take to protect their right to workers’ compensation benefits regarding the reporting an injury. Although reporting a work injury might seem like a simple thing, the process an injured worker follows can have significant consequences.
#1 – Report an Injury at Work Timely.
First, it is important to timely report an injury. Late reporting, alone, can completely doom a workers’ compensation claim. In most instances, an injury must be reported within 30 days.
#2 – Report an Injury at Work Thoroughly.
An injured employee needs to be thorough in reporting each injury. Normal people tend to focus on the most serious injury suffered. For example, telling an employer “I slipped on a wet floor and fell onto my left side and hurt my shoulder” is good, but reporting that “I also suffered a cut to my elbow and a bruise on my wrist” is better. It is easier for an injured worker to get necessary medical care after thoroughly reporting all injuries. Where the initial injury report is not complete, disputes may arise about medical care for conditions not specifically mentioned in the initial report.
#3 – Report Every Injury, No Matter How Minor.
The unfortunate truth is that some injured employees are treated poorly after suffering an accident at work. In the case I recently resolved, the injured employee was hurt at work, but thought it was only a minor scratch. Little did they know, two days later, they’d be hospitalized for an infection that attacked their entire body, hospitalizing them for a week and later leading to substantial organ damage. Thereafter, they were out of work, and facing a denied claim for failure to report the injury after amassing a huge medical bill. They said the employer knew about the scratch suffered at work. The employer’s witnesses denied being told about the scratch. The large and unexpected medical bills, flowing from a relatively small injury, created a rift between the employee and the employer. The case became about whether my client was making up an injury to get large medical bills paid instead of one where the injury was reported, documented and medical care provided for a well-documented injury and its consequences.
#4 – Be Specific and Consistent When Talking to Medical Providers.
The next important step is to be specific and complete in reporting injuries to the medical providers. In this recent case, the employee went to the hospital with a serious infection. Medical treatment was focused on the infection. So were the medical providers. No one thought to note there was a scratch on the leg where the infection started. This led to issues later in the case, which could have been avoided if a complete medical history was document by the medical records.
In the end, things worked out for my client, but it was not easy. We found a different avenue for payment of the medical bills. But multiple witnesses needed to be deposed. Voluminous medical reports were reviewed in excruciating detail. We had to reconstruct the history of the case to achieve a reasonable settlement with the insurance carrier. As the Employee’s attorney, doing these activities is my job, but taking depositions costs money, as does obtaining voluminous records. But the process causes delays and frustration for the employee. Thinking back, it is hard not to imagine how much smoother the case could have gone for my client if there was better documentation of the initial injury and if the injury was better documented when my client later required serious medical treatment.
Take away: If you are involved in a work-related accident, fully report all of your injuries to your employer as soon as possible, if not immediately. Also, be certain to tell your medical providers about all of your injuries and how they are related to the work accident. Finally, be sure the medical providers correctly document your injuries. If you are sent to an authorized doctor under workers’ compensation, you should receive a form after each report. Read it and make sure it is complete. If you are represented, ensure your attorney receives a copy as soon as possible. If there are errors, it is always easier to correct them sooner rather than later. Taking these steps can make a claim go much smoother in the long run. However, if you need help navigating Florida’s workers’ compensation system, the attorneys at Dickstein Law and Appel Law Group are here to help. Give us a call and send us an email to set up a free case consultation.