Three Alabama Workers’ Compensation Myths

At our office, we talk to injured workers on a daily basis. We understand workers compensation issues can be confusing. If you suffered a serious accident, you are suddenly thrust into a world of doctors and work issues. Can I get the medical treatment I need? Will my employer retaliate against me? Will I recover? Can I continue to work (or return to work)? I’ve heard the concerns and worries of injured workers for many years.

In Alabama, our work comp laws were enacted to provide certain basic benefits. This includes medical care. It also includes basic money compensation for impairments, disabilities and lost earning capacity.

Along the way, we frequently hear a number of myths about work comp benefits. What are the most common myths? Here are three:

1. My Employer Will Complete The Necessary Forms To Preserve My Claim

Notice. Some of the most common (and most devastating) mistakes by injured workers involve problems with notice. If you are injured at-work in Alabama, our workers compensation laws require you to provide notice of the accident (within a very short time).

The actual law states that notice must be in writing but our courts have allowed oral notice to your boss. I’ll tell you this — If you are relying on oral notice, you are risking your claim.

With notice, common mistakes involve either not providing immediate notice or not providing written notice. So, I’ll briefly discuss both issues.

In the immediate aftermath of an accident, many employees fail to provide notice. Maybe the employee initially thought he was ok – not hurt badly. But, the full extent of an injury is often not known in the immediate aftermath of an accident. By the time the worker realizes the extent of his injuries, it may be too late. Maybe the employee initially thought he would just handle any medical treatment through private insurance. But, that’s a big problem if he later suffers permanent impairments or disabilities from the accident. By the time the worker realizes he is not going to heal fully, it may be too late. Maybe the employee thought his or her employer would take care of him. Many employees act in good faith and expect the same from their boss. But, that’s risking a lot. By the time the workers realizes his boss is not as honest as he thought, it may be too late. Any way you view the issue — You should provide notice of your accident as soon as possible.

Sometimes employees do provide oral notice and then rely on the boss to write it down! That’s another big mistake. I’ve been practicing work comp law for over two decades. I’ve seen instance-after-instance when a boss fails to complete written forms. Then, the same boss later claims he does not remember any accident or notice. If you don’t make sure the notice is in writing, you are putting yourself in a situation where the court may have to choose between your word and that of your boss. That’s an unnecessary risk to your claim. You should provide notice IN WRITNG of your accident as soon as possible.

2. I Can Collect For “Pain And Suffering”

This is a common mistake. I hear it all the time. It’s understandable. After all, if you were hurt in a car accident or other claim caused by some negligent person, you could claim pain and suffering damages. As I write this post, we are preparing for a car accident trial next week in Huntsville where pain and suffering is the largest component of our damages. But, workers’ compensation claims are different. You cannot recover compensation in a work comp case simply for pain and suffering.

The purpose of our workers’ compensation laws are to provide medical care and to compensate employees for lost earnings or impairments. Workers compensation benefits in Alabama are based on certain formulas. These formulas consider your restrictions, ability to work, and physical impairments. If you have questions about an offer from the insurance company, let me know. I’ll give you an overview of the formulas.

You do not receive workers compensation simply for your pain or your suffering. However, pain is still important. How? Pain is important if it actually impacts your ability to work or results in physical limitations. While important, it is not a separate item of compensation.

3. My Employer Says I Cannot Get Work Comp Because The Accident Was My Fault

Over the years, I’ve had many callers tell me they were denied workers compensation because the accident was their fault. These employees made a negligent mistake and their boss (or the insurance adjuster) claimed they could not receive benefits. This is wrong. Totally wrong.

Yes, Alabama law bars claims caused by your own horseplay or by your own intentional choice to break known safety rules. But, these are narrowly construed. And, they do not prevent benefits simply because you were negligent. They require actual, intentional misconduct.

If you tripped & fell at work, accidentally ran a stop sign and had a car accident at work, or negligently did any other thing which caused your injury, you are likely entitled to benefits. If your employer claims you are barred from comp due to your own fault, talk to a skilled lawyer. Don’t simply accept a denial.

Many Myths Exist About Alabama Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Work comp myths are common. I’ve only addressed three of the most common here. If you have questions about a potential work comp claim or questions about something the insurance adjuster told you, ask an experienced Alabama workers’ compensation attorney. Your benefits are important.