Sustaining an on-the-job injury can be a traumatic and life-changing event
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Sustaining an on-the-job injury can be a traumatic and life-changing event. At a minimum, it will cause disruption and frustration to your normal daily routine. More likely than not, if you are injured at work in Alabama your claims and rights will be controlled by the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act. At Swiney & Bellenger, our attorneys have overseen most all types of claims found in this area of law. This can be a complicated and confusing experience and an injured worker is almost always better off with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can navigate these waters.
If you are injured at work, the first thing you need to do is notify your supervisor or someone in management at your company as soon as possible after the injury. Next, you need to tell your employer that you want to make a claim for workers’ compensation benefits and that you need to be examined by a physician. Under the law, your employer is supposed to complete a First Report of Injury and it has the right to select the physician who will conduct the requested examination.
Once you are evaluated by a physician, he or she may assign you work restrictions. If so, your employer can either accommodate your restrictions and allow you to return to work or you will be taken off work and paid 66 and 2/3% of the gross average wages you earned in the 52 weeks prior to the date of your injury, subject to minimum and maximum rates set by the Alabama Department of Labor. If you have not been employed with your employer for 52 weeks, your wages will either be averaged over the time period you have worked for the employer, or the wages of a comparable co-employee may be used as a model for your average weekly wage. These payments from workers’ compensation are typically paid weekly or bi-weekly.
Should you become dissatisfied with the physician selected by your employer, Alabama law entitles you to request what is referred to as a panel of four physicians. A list of four physicians of the same specialty as the physician with which you are dissatisfied, will be compiled and from that list you are allowed to select your new physician. Unless surgery is ordered at some point during your claim, this panel of four is the only one you will receive.
While there are many, many things that can take place during your medical treatment for your work injury, at some point your physician will place you at maximum medical improvement, which means that although you may need future care, the physician feels that your condition has plateaued, or you have recovered as much as he or she believes is possible. At this point, if you have sustained permanent impairment because of your injury, an impairment rating given in a percentage form will be assigned to you and it will be determined whether you possess any permanent restrictions as well.
If you have permanent impairment and restrictions, the question must be asked of your employer as to whether it has a job for you that can accommodate your restrictions. If an accommodated position is offered to you, you should at least attempt it because a refusal of same could jeopardize benefits or compensation to which you may be entitled. If your employer is unable to provide you with a job that fits within your restrictions, you may have what is known as a vocational impairment and could be entitled to additional compensation and in some instances vocational rehabilitation and/or retraining.
Once it is determined whether you can return to work or not, your claim is typically ready for settlement discussions. You will be involved in these discussions, and they may take place informally between your attorney and the insurance company and/or their lawyer. If a reasonable settlement can be reached, it must be approved by either an ombudsman from the Alabama Department of Labor or a state circuit court judge. If a reasonable settlement cannot be reached, we typically will file a lawsuit on your behalf for workers’ compensation benefits, and any other claim you may have, in circuit court. If a lawsuit is filed, that does not mean your case will never settle, and many do settle during a lawsuit, but we always prepare to go the distance should your case require a trial or even an appeal.
Although this is a complicated and confusing process, we will be with you each step of the way. At Swiney & Bellenger, our attorneys have handled thousands of workers’ compensation cases during their combined 38 years of experience. If you are injured on-the-job, contact us today and we will be glad to provide a free consultation and analysis of your claim. We look forward to the opportunity to assist you with your case.