Injured on the job in Alabama? Our work comp law requires you to notify your employer in order to receive benefits. You only have a short period of time to do so. You should notify your employer immediately in writing. To help, The Alabama Department of Labor even provides a standard form. The process should be simple? You have an accident. You tell your boss. You or your boss complete the written form. You receive work comp benefits.
In theory, it’s simple. The system was intended to be simple. In reality, it’s not always simple. Why? Some companies lie about accidents. Some companies really do NOT want to report any accidents or injuries. During the over two decades I’ve helped injured Alabama workers, I’ve tried multiple claims against a single manufacturing plant in Athens to verdict where the defense is always the same. In every single one of those cases, this employer did not report the accident when it happened. Later, the same employer lied about it. Don’t think I’m singling out one employer. I know several employers across northern Alabama who regularly refuse or fail to report accidents when they occur.
I receive several calls every month with a similar story. What is that story? The caller suffered a workplace accident. When it happened, he told the boss. But, nobody completed a written report. Sometimes, the worker initially thought he would be fine. So, he did not worry about it. Sometimes, the worker simply trusted the boss to take care of it. Several weeks later, the injured worker realized he needed medical care and asked the boss to provide a doctor. Suddenly, the boss “could not remember” any accident. Suddenly, the supervisor had no recall of any event. When that happens, your work comp claim will be denied.
What can you do? You can fight for benefits. We’ve had good success winning these cases. But, you need to realize — By not reporting the accident in writing, you are creating an issue that could prevent you from getting the work comp benefits you need. You are giving the insurance company an argument that the accident never occurred.
At this point you may be asking yourself — Would my boss really lie about the accident? I trust him. Last week, a former plant manager in Texas pleaded guilty of lying to OSHA about dangerously excessive levels of anhydrous ammonia in his facility. Anhydrous ammonia is toxic in high concentrations and can lead to serious injury or death. A few years ago, a safety manager at several TVA plants (including Browns Ferry near Athens) pleaded guilty to lying about worker injuries. These cases involved serious issues with the Federal government. If managers will lie about accidents where Federal inspectors are present, they will certainly lie about an accident involving a single worker seeking benefits at a private facility. Yes, it happens all the time.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Safety Research provided some interesting statistical information. According to the article:
The undercount of occupational injuries and illnesses in the United States has been well documented in multiple research studies over the last several decades
Estimates of accident undercounting range as high as 70%. That’s huge. While researchers noted that almost 50% of employers had some errors recording accidents, the majority of unrecorded accidents were found in just 6.6% of inspected establishments. What does that mean? Basically, a very small number of companies (<7%) were the bad apples who failed to report the majority of accidents. Like the Athens plant I mentioned earlier, it’s a few bad apples that cause most of the problems. Based on practical experience, I would completely agree with this study.
During the last two decades, I’ve tried countless work comp cases. While I’ve tried cases across Alabama, the bulk of my cases are concentrated in northern Alabama. Time after time, I see the same companies failing to report accidents and then disputing their occurrence. The same companies habitually underreport accidents. Most of the time, these companies are trying to avoid the costs of work comp claims. Or, they are trying to avoid citations by safety inspectors. I’ve written several times on this blog about experiences with chicken plants in Guntersville, Decatur and Athens. These food processors routinely ignore injury reports. You can read some of my prior articles that discuss how frequently these plants have been cited for dangerous conditions, accidents and deaths in their facilities.
Accident underreporting is a serious issue in some industries and some facilities. This bad behavior puts workers at risk. For those workers who are hurt, it can cost them needed medical and disability benefits. So, I’ll end where I started — If you are hurt on the job in Alabama, report the accident immediately in writing. Your workers’ compensation benefits depend upon it.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm helps people across Alabama with serious personal injury claims. If you have questions, give us a call. Consultations are always free and confidential.