Last week, one of our work comp clients called with a question. “Can I ask the case nurse to step outside during my doctor appointments?” It’s a frequent question. I’ve written about case nurses several times on this blog. A few case nurses try to intrude into the examination room. This leaves many injured clients uncomfortable. I totally understand.
Since I’ve already written multiple articles about workers compensation case nurses, I decided to address a different topic. Instead, I’m going to address 12 frequent Alabama workers compensation issues. I’ll provide short tips in this post. For more information, you can read one of my longer articles which address a single issue. Here are 12 issues your Alabama work comp lawyer probably wants you to know:
1. You do NOT have to allow the case nurse (or case manager) into your doctor appointments
You are hurting. You need medical care. That’s when the case nurse appears. Maybe she calls to introduce herself. Maybe she introduces herself for the first time at one of your medical appointments.
Case nurses arrive with smiles and promises of help. For many injured people, having someone navigate a complicated medical system is a welcome help. Many injured workers are initially grateful that someone is able to help deal with medical appointment scheduling and medical treatment approval.
Is the case nurse really a friend? Maybe she is. Maybe she is not. Some case workers believe deeply in helping patients. But, others believe they are hired to help the company save money (at your expense). I’ve seen a few case nurses actively try to ruin a comp case. The problem — You won’t know whether the case nurse is friend or foe until too late.
How should you respond? If the case nurse wants to schedule appointments, that’s usually not a big deal. But, don’t tell the case nurse your life story. She may be gathering information to use against you. And, don’t let her invade the privacy of your appointments with the doctor. You are entitled to meet, alone, with your doctor.
2. Provide NOTICE to your employer of an accident as soon as possible (and do it in writing)
In Alabama, you must provide notice of a work-related accident. You must provide it quickly. Our workers compensation statute says notice must be provided in writing. However, court cases have allowed oral notice. While I’ve won oral notice cases at trial, you don’t want to be in a position where a court is questioning notice.
Do you really trust your employer to admit you provided oral notice if nothing is in writing? Do you really want a court to decide who is telling the truth on notice? Of course not. If you are hurt on the job, you need to provide WRITTEN notice. Your case can depend upon it!
3. Do NOT worry about pre-existing conditions
It’s a common story. Maybe you’ve had some back problems in the past. You are not alone. Your past problems may have even been serious. But, you were able to work. You suffer an accident and injure your back. You are entitled to work comp benefits but the insurance company wrongly denies your claim.
I see these wrongful denials all the time. You don’t have to be 100% healthy prior to your work-related accident. The law does not require it. The comp carrier should not demand it. I’ve helped numerous injured workers with this issue at trial and appeal. The primary question is whether or not your work-related accident caused, aggravated or worsened your problems.
Here are a couple of my past articles on this topic:
If you suffered an accident, you need to tell the doctor how it caused or led to your current problems. And, you need to seek skilled legal advice if the insurance company denies your claim.
4. Avoid Alabama attorneys who do NOT specialize in workers compensation claims
Several years ago, a gentleman from Decatur called about a workplace injury. He had a tough case. Not impossible but tough. To get benefits, he would have to file the case and prepare for court. I told him I was willing to work the case. A local billboard attorney told him the case was easy and promised a quick settlement. Those promises were not true. The caller chose to hire the billboard lawyer hoping for the quick settlement. Months later, while I was sitting in the courtroom in Decatur to argue another case, the same gentleman walked over to me. He told me his billboard lawyer quickly dropped the claim when it could not be settled without preparing for trial. He was left fighting the insurance company without a lawyer. It was too late to help save his case. If you are hurt on the job, you need a lawyer who knows workers compensation in Alabama. And, you need a lawyer who will prepare your case.
5. If your boss asks you to lie about the accident or injuries, do NOT do it
I’ve heard the story many times. The caller says he suffered an accident. But, the boss told him to say it happened at home. The boss says he will take care of the bills if the worker will lie. The injured worker agrees. The worker usually agrees out of fear for his or her job. Then, weeks or months later, the boss denies everything. This leaves the worker without comp benefits. And, it usually leaves the worker physically unable to continue working due to the injury. The worker then starts calling lawyers to ask if he or she has a case. It’s usually too late to help!
Never lie for your boss. It probably won’t save your job in the long run. Later, you will be left injured and unable to get the medical treatment or benefits you need.
6. You CANNOT sue your employer for its negligence
Many callers ask, “can I sue my employer or co-worker for negligence?” No, you cannot. If your employer is covered by work comp, then it (and its workers) are largely immune from negligence claims. You can only sue your employer for damages beyond work comp in very limited situations. Very limited. Most of those situations involve intentional misconduct.
This immunity does NOT extend to third parties. By third parties, I mean people or companies outside your employer. I’ll give a couple examples.
Let’s say you work as a delivery driver. You are doing your job when another driver runs a red light and crashes into you. You are hurt. You are probably entitled to work comp benefits from your employer. That’s all your employer has to provide. But, you can also pursue a case against the driver who ran the red light.
Here is another example. You are working on a construction site. Someone accidentally drops a piece of scaffold which lands on you. You suffer a head injury. You are likely only entitled to work comp benefits from your employer. Do you also have a negligence case against the person responsible for dropping the piece of scaffold on you? If the negligent person was one of your co-workers, you probably do NOT have a third-party claim. Immunity for negligence extends to your co-employees. But, if the negligent person worked for another contractor, you probably do. Every injury on a construction or industrial site should be investigated to determine if other parties are responsible. I’ve investigated many construction site accidents and injuries. In many cases, we identify potentially liable third-parties.
7. What friends, relatives or co-workers received in work comp benefits probably does NOT apply to your case
Your work comp case may be very different than your cousin’s case. Work comp benefits are based on certain formulas. Your restrictions and impairments play a part in the formulas. In many cases, your age, education and work history, also play a part. If your case involves permanent vocational disability, those factors play a tremendous part. Because of all the factors, two people with the same physical injury might be entitled to very different benefits. If you are hurt, talk to a lawyer who understands work comp benefits and how they are calculated.
8. Lawyer fees are limited to 15%
Most personal injury lawyers work based on contingency fees. That is, you only pay if successful in your case. The percentage fee varies based on the type of case. In Alabama workers’ compensation cases, that percentage is currently limited to 15%.
If you have a third-party case in addition to your comp case, the lawyer may charge a higher fee on that portion. My advice to people with potential third-party cases is to use the same lawyer for both. If a lawyer only wants your third-party case, they are not working for you. That lawyer only wants the higher fee. When you have different lawyers on different portions of your injury case, they often fail to maximize your total compensation recovery. Both cases should be prepared together so that you receive the maximum benefits possible.
9. Be aware of surveillance
Always remember, somebody may be watching! I’ve written several articles (which are published on this blog) about surveillance issues and how they impact your Alabama work comp claim.
10. Social media can ruin your case
Always remember, somebody may be snooping on your social media. If you are claiming a back injury, those facebook photos you posted may show a different story! Maybe I’m showing my age by saying Facebook. If you’re younger, that TikTok video may harm you just as much. Whatever the platform, your information and posts can be used against you in trial. Watch what you do!
11. Do NOT give the adjuster a recorded statement
Anything you say can be used against you. Some adjusters are very skilled at getting information or admissions that can ruin your claim. Why take chances in a serious injury case? Seek legal advice before giving any statement to the adjuster.
12. Do NOT sign medical authorizations giving full access to all your records
Before you sign some document allowing the insurance company to obtain all your personal information or records, consult a lawyer. While courts will often give insurance companies access to medical information, that access has limits. Some records may not be relevant to your claim. Other records may be protected from disclosure by law. You need to know your legal rights. The success of your claim is at stake!
Work Comp Benefits Are Essential To Workers. Don’t Let A Simple Mistake Ruin Your Claim!
Too often, simple mistakes harm work comp claims. Be careful. Seek good advice. Don’t make a mistake at the beginning that could ruin your claim or keep you from getting the full compensation benefits you deserve.
We are Huntsville personal injury lawyers. From our office in downtown Huntsville, we handle claims across Alabama. At the Blackwell Law Firm, we help people following a serious accident and injury. Our approach is based upon hard work and case preparation. Our consultations are always free and confidential. If you have legal questions, let us know. We are happy to answer your questions.