In my last post, I wrote about the need to notify your boss immediately, in writing, after suffering a work-related accident and injury. Alabama law requires timely written notice. You can read my past article for more information on that topic.
I thought this week I would expand on the topic and talk about six things that can harm your workers’ compensation claim at the beginning. These are problems we constantly hear from callers following a work-related accident. These are issues we frequently battle in an effort to obtain work comp benefits for our injured clients. What should you NOT do immediately following a work-related accident and injury in Alabama?
1. Do NOT Rely On Oral Notification Of The Accident! Put It In Writing!
Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act requires notice. That is, you must tell your employer about the accident and potential injury. The statute requires that you timely tell your employer in writing. Yes, our courts have allowed oral notice. But, do you rely want to rely on your boss remembering months from now that you told him about an accident? You might trust your boss but I’ve seen so many bosses claim memory loss a year later. Put it in writing!
If you want to know more about the notice requirement, you can read some of my other articles. In my article last week, I provided a lot of background on this issue and how it impacts a potential workers’ compensation claim. Keep in mind, the State of Alabama has a form to help you provide written notice.
2. Do NOT Think You Are Prevented From Receiving Workers’ Compensation Benefits Due To A Past Injury Or Condition!
Workers’ compensation benefits are intended to help. They are not limited to people who were in perfect health prior to an accident.
Insurance companies love to deny claims by telling people they had a pre-existing injury. Don’t believe the denial!!! I’ve represented injured workers for over two decades. Seek advice. If you were hurt while doing your job (even if you had significant pre-accident problems), you are probably entitled to benefits.
I’ve tried and won cases across Alabama for workers who had significant pre-existing issues. I can’t repeat it enough — Our workers’ compensation laws were intended to help workers and were never intended to apply only to people in perfect health.
3. Do NOT Wait To Seek Medical Care!
I see this issue all the time. Someone suffers a work-related accident and injury. Then, the person waits to seek medical care.
Usually, the person waits because he or she thinks it’s not that serious or that it will improve with a little rest. Maybe they think they will rest over the weekend. When the injury does not improve after a few days or weeks, they ask for a doctor. But, the boss or insurance adjuster now tells them it’s too late. It’s not too late!
Another reason some people wait is that they are afraid of being fired. If your boss is going to fire you simply for seeking medical care, he is probably going to fire you later anyway. That type of boss is not suddenly going to be helpful later when your injury requires you to miss work or seek care. Don’t wait.
Waiting makes it more difficult to heal, more difficult to get needed treatment, and more difficult to pursue your claim. It increases the chance your claim will be denied and will require a lawsuit. When you do see the doctor, it makes it more difficult for the doctor to attribute your condition back to the accident. Waiting causes many, many potential problems. If you are hurting, ask for a doctor. Don’t wait.
4. Do NOT Exaggerate Or Ignore Your Injuries!
Following a work-related injury, you are first going to provide notice to your employer. Then, hopefully, you are going to see the doctor. In both cases, do not exaggerate or ignore your injuries.
Most often, I see people who ignore one of their injuries. What do I mean? Here is an example — A worker trips over an extension cord and falls. In the fall, he hurts his knee and back. He also feels some pain in his hand because he put it out to brace the fall. But, the worker simply assumes his hand is fine. So, he only tells the employer, insurance company and doctor about his knee and back injuries. Unfortunately, in the weeks following the accident, his hand does not improve. Instead, it swells and hurts. It worsens. I’ve helped clients with similar situations on many occasions. When you ignore an aspect of your injuries, it makes the case more difficult. Don’t ignore injuries! If you are suffering from a latent injury, make sure you tell the doctor as soon as possible.
On the flip side, don’t exaggerate your injuries with the doctor. Be honest. The doctor needs to know honestly what is hurting. This is important to your care and rehabilitation. If you later need to pursue a claim, your credibility is also the most important thing to the Court.
5. Do NOT Ignore The Doctor’s Recommendations Or Orders!
Too many workers ignore the doctor’s recommendations. Sometimes, the worker ignores those recommendations with the very best intentions. But, it can devastating to your health and claim. What do I mean by ignoring the doctor with good intentions? Here is what I mean — Following an injury, most people desperately want to return to normal work. I get it. I would feel the same way. In an effort to return to work, some workers will ignore the doctor’s recommendations or restrictions. Even worse, they might try to talk the doctor into medically releasing them before they are healed. These workers often return to work too soon and hurt themselves worse. Over the years, I’ve had numerous cases where a severely injured worker talked the doctor into releasing him far too early with devastating results.
When I talk about ignoring the doctor, it’s not just the doctor’s recommendations for restrictions or limitations. It’s also the doctor’s recommended course of treatment. If the doctor recommends a specific treatment, don’t simply ignore him or refuse care. For one, Alabama law says you can be denied benefits if you unreasonably refuse care. But, the real problem is that you may be harming your potential healing.
If the doctor recommends treatment, therapy or restrictions, listen to him. Ask honest questions. Have an honest discussion. If you don’t want to undergo a specific procedure, an honest discussion with your doctor may provide alternatives. Or, the doctor may be able to address your concerns. Your long-term health, ability to work, and any work comp claim, can all be harmed if you simply ignore the doctor’s recommendations. If you feel the doctor is not listening to you or is working for the insurance company, you have options. I’m happy to discuss those options with you.
6. Do NOT Give The Insurance Adjuster A Statement Without Seeking Advice!
Face it, insurance adjusters are trained to save money. I’m not saying all adjusters are bad. But, some are. The best way to save money is to keep you from getting the medical care or benefits to which you are entitled.
Some adjusters know how to twist their questions and your answers in order to harm your claim. Why create an issue in your potential case? If the adjuster is asking for a recorded statement, you may want to first seek competent legal advice. At our office, we talk to injured Alabama workers on a daily basis.