We previously blogged about the immediate steps you should take if you find yourself involved in a motor vehicle crash. This blog will focus on what you should do in the specific situation where you are injured at work or while doing something associated with your employment.
Workers’ compensation is a state-mandated insurance program that provides benefits to employees who are injured in the course of their employment. Like most states, in Illinois, an employee with a work-related illness or injury is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits without requiring that you prove your employer was negligent.
The workers compensation system is a different system than regular personal injury and generally will provide the following benefits to you; medical treatment for your injury, temporary benefits for the time you are off work because of your work related injury, permanent disability benefits if you are unable to return to your job completely or permanent partial disability benefits if you are able to return to some type of work but are unable to earn what you previously did. I will do a separate article in an upcoming edition about how the above benefits are all calculated.
Here are some steps to follow if you get hurt at work:
- Seek immediate medical attention:
Your first priority is your health and well-being. If you get injured, get medical treatment. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you are able. Follow that by getting transported to the hospital—either by ambulance or having someone drive you. If your injury does not require a trip to the Emergency Room, make sure to go see your doctor anyway and do not wait around for the injury to worsen. Establishing a chain of medical treatment from the beginning also strengthens your claim because there will be clear evidence of the injury and that it was medically-treated. Remember, when you do seek medical treatment, tell your nurses and doctor what happened and that the injury happened at work because the doctor detail your treatment in what is called a “history.” Insurance evaluators will rely upon that History when they are looking for proof of what happened.
- See your own doctor:
Following work injuries, Employers often direct you to ‘the company doctor’ or to a clinic of their choosing. Some will even claim that you must treat at their company clinic. But that is not the law in Illinois. Rather, you can treat with the doctor of your choice, not the doctor your employer wants you to see. It is important to know that there are limitations on the number of ‘second opinions’ that you can get under Workers’ Compensation law. So, you should talk to an experienced workers compensation attorney as soon as possible to educate yourself about the limitations.
If your employer is insisting that you have to treat with their choice of medical doctor, call an attorney immediately as this is not permitted under the current law in Illinois.
- Notify your employer:
As soon as possible after the injury, notify someone in a managerial or supervisory role at your employment that you have been hurt. The law allows you 45 days to notify your employer of a work related injury, but you should do it as soon as possible, even if you think the injury is minor.
Oral notification is fine but written is much better because then you have documentary evidence of the notification. A simple email or handwritten note to your immediate supervisor, detailing the date, time and a short description of what happened is sufficient to satisfy the notice requirements under the Act. Notice to a colleague or a coworker is not sufficient, it has to be given to a person who is in some type of supervisory or managerial role. If you have not formally told your employer that you hurt yourself at work within the 45 day notice period, it could prove a fatality in securing your benefits under the Act.
- Hire the right attorney, right away:
This article is intended to help an injured client take the right steps in the initial stage of an Illinois Workers’ Compensation Claim to avoid problems with your benefits, your claim, or your job. I know I say this a lot but I do so because it is so important. You should immediately secure representation if you are injured in a work related accident. Employers notify their insurance company as soon as the injury is reported. Thus, they will assign people to investigate the injury and gather information about your claim. YOU should also have someone who can explain the rules, explain your rights, and take immediate actions to protect your benefits. You work hard to provide financial security for your family. Workers’ Compensation insurance is there to provide financial protection in the event of a work injury, but those rights can be jeopardized without good advice and counsel.
Do your homework when looking for an attorney and choose one who handles Illinois work injury cases. Workers compensation is a different body of law than the law that deals with personal injury claims involving negligence. There are different nuances and considerations that only attorneys like myself and my colleagues here will know and the success of your claim will depend on how experienced your attorney is within this unique area of the law.
- Do not communicate with your employer’s insurance carrier:
After you report your injury, you will be contacted by your employer’s insurance carrier. They will express concern for your well-being. They will ask you if it is ok for them to record your statement: asking for details about what happened, when, and what your injury is. They will seek details of your medical treatment and they may even suggest one of their case managers accompany you to your doctor’s appointments. You are not legally required to speak with insurance adjusters. Remember, they do not work for you and you don’t pay the insurance premiums. They work for the insurance company—who want to minimize the amount of money that they will pay in benefits.
- Get a work status from your doctor:
Depending on the severity of your injuries, your doctor may order you not to work or restrict activities such as lifting or carrying. Every time you see your doctor, ask the doctor or nurses for a work status note before you leave the office. Make sure the note states exactly what the doctor wants and the duration of the restrictions. The note must be transmitted to your employer and their insurance carrier. If your employer can accommodate any restrictions you have, you will have to return to work. If they cannot, you will be off work and your employer will be obliged to pay benefits under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. All work status notes should be provided to both your employer and your attorne
7. Keep a journal:
I am a huge proponent of writing things down. It is the best memory tool you will ever have. Even keeping simple notes in your phone is so helpful. Start with a written account of your injury, writing down how and when you were injured, who was there, who was notified, what you were doing at the time and how you felt. Keep track of your interactions with your employer and their insurance carrier such as phone calls and face to face meetings. Write down any changes, whether good or bad, related to your injury.
If you are lucky enough to be a member of a Union, be aware that you can ask your Union representative to be present with you at any meetings your employer wants to have regarding your injury. As before though, my best advice is to have your lawyer deal with the employer and the insurance company in as many situations as possible. Your focus should be on your injury and treatment.
- Most mistakes can be fixed:
If you have made mistakes in your work related injury claim, it may not be too late. Many of my cases come with problems that were created by waiting too long to get an attorney who understands these issues. Most of these problems can be fixed by a competent attorney. Even if your case has been denied and your benefits have been cut off, you should contact an attorney who specializes in Workers Compensation as soon as possible for a consultation so that we can right the wrongs and get you all that you are entitled to under the Act.