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Current Issues In Workers’ Compensation Discussed At Seminar

Earlier this month, Cumberland Law School sponsored its 26th Annual Workers’ Compensation Seminar. The speakers included a Judge on The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals and a well-known orthopedic surgeon. One of the afternoon sessions included a panel of four attorneys answering questions from the audience related to workers’ compensation in Alabama. I was honored to serve on that panel. The four of us represented diverse areas of the state. While my office is in the Huntsville / Decatur area, the other three panel members came from Dothan, Mobile, and Tuscumbia.

We discussed a number of very interesting issues and concerns related to workers’ compensation and medical issues. Three issues seemed to generate a significant discussion as well as a lot of questions. These were:

  1. Closing Medical Benefits.
  2. The Impact Of Social Media (Including Facebook) On Claims.
  3. The Future Of Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

These are significant issues impacting workers’ compensation in Alabama. The first issue involved medical benefits. The workers’ compensation laws in Alabama provide employees with rights to medical treatment in the event of a work-related injury. The system should be simple. When you report a work-related injury, your employer (through its insurance carrier) should provide treatment. Yet, the system is often far from simple. Insurance carriers frequently take advantage of injured workers and try to avoid the costs of medical care. These insurers practice a form of cost-shifting. That is, they try to shift their obligations onto families and the government.

When should a worker give up his or her right to medical benefits? The question does not have a simple answer. It involves a number of issues. This can include Medicare. In some instances, the insurance carrier manipulates the injured worker into a situation where he or she feels they have no other choice. In other instances, the worker retains an attorney who either does not truly understand this area of the law or does not place the client’s interest first. Yet, closing medical benefits in the wrong situations can leave an injured worker unable to obtain needed treatment.

I generally advise my clients NOT to close their right to medical care. In my opinion, this is an important right that should be protected. I also believe that far too often attorneys are not serving their clients properly in this complex and important area of the law.

The second issue involved social media. Social media, like Facebook, can have a huge impact on a personal injury or workers’ compensation case. I routinely include a search of social media sites as part of my case investigations. I frequently find valuable information related to defendants in personal injury cases. And, I also find valuable information concerning witnesses and even experts. It is amazing what people will post!

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Social media is both a great tool for investigation that may help your case and a bomb that can destroy your case. Attorneys who handle personal injury, workers’ compensation, and other types of litigation, need to understand the impact of social media and how to advise their clients accordingly.

The third issue involved the future of Alabama’s Act. In recent legislative sessions, we’ve seen proposals that would drastically change Alabama law. Usually, these proposals involve cutting benefits to the most disabled in our communities. These proposals are neither fair nor just to the workers who built our communities. I’ve argued extensively against these changes in previous articles and seminars. If we weaken our work comp laws, we are hurting our families, neighbors and entire communities. Our working men and women are our greatest asset.