Can I settle my injury case without a lawyer?

A: A person 18 years old and older can settle their own accident case.  Once a case is settled, though, it cannot be reopened — so it’s all the more important to get it right.   Many factors need to be taken into account in determining a fair, just and rasonable settlement.  Careful consideration must be given to the chance you will need future medical care and treatment, the degree to which you have a permanent injury and how it will affect your earning capacity, and your responsibility to pay back insurance money that has already been paid out for your medical treatment.  And these are just some of the concerns that need to be addressed.  You can see that an experienced lawyer can be very helpful.  At Glass, Lebovitz, Kasheta & Bren, we can help determine a fair figure for your case and work to obtain that amount from the insurance company for you. We will stand by your side throughout the process.  At Glass, Lebovitz, Kasheta & Bren, we have a long tradition of service to our clients.  We also have a long tradition of gettingresults.

My permanent injury benefits are being paid out weekly. Is there any way I can get them all at once?

A:   Yes, but it takes a Commissioner’s approval to “commute” (change the form of ) weekly benefits to a lump sum.

There are two things to consider when asking for a “commutation” of permanent injury benefits.  First, the Commissioner does not have to agree with the request, and wants to hear a good reason the worker needs the money all at once.  Still, even if the worker’s debts have piled up and creditors are calling, the Commissioner may not approve a commutation request if the worker still does not have a steady income or a job.  Second, commutation means the lump sum will be slightly smaller than the full weekly total.  This is because the insurance company is losing a little interest on its money by paying all at once instead of doling it out in pieces each week.  Of course, to the extent the worker’s lump sum is slightly smaller, the attorney’s fee is also reduced.

What can I do if my doctor clears me for “light duty” but my employer tells me to do work I know I’m not able to do, or that I’m not supposed to do?

A:   There are two things you can do to protect yourself:

a.  Make sure the problem doesn’t come up at all.  This is clearly the best thing to do.  How do you do it?  By making sure your doctor has a pretty good idea of the physical activities your job requires and is specific about the activities he wants you to avoid.

For example, a doctor’s restriction of “no heavy lifting” is meaningless.  What’s “heavy”?  You say something is too heavy and your boss insists it’s not.  If you lift it and you’re right, you injure yourself again.  If you lift it and don’t get hurt, or you don’t lift it at all, your boss will think you just don’t want to get back to work.  On the other hand, “no lifting more than 10 pounds” sets just the kind of restriction that can protect you.  How can you get your doctor to be specific?  Ask.  And if he’s reluctant, remind him that a specific restriction keeps him from being pestered later about what he really meant his restrictions to be.

b.  You have to stand up for yourself.  This is difficult, for sure.  You’re the employee and your boss has the power to let you go.  So if you are told to disregard your doctor’s order, be firm, but be polite.  (You can see why It really helps if your doctor has given you specific restrictions.)  In the end, you have to make sure the doctor’s orders are being followed, or you risk being hurt even further.

Most employers will be sure to give you light duty work that meets the doctor’s restrictions — after all, those restrictions are meant to keep you from getting hurt again.  But if your employer is pressing you to violate your doctor’s orders, it’s a good time to call your lawyer.  If you don’t have a lawyer, you may actually find help from your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance claim representative.  The insurance company wants to save money, and it saves the most when you get well, not worse.  The claim representative may actually call your employer to explain how following the doctor’s orders will save the employer money, too.

Can I be fired if I’m out because of a work injury?

A:   The simple answer is yes.  The law does not permit you to be fired simply because you file a workers’ compensation claim — and the penalties for an employer who does this are severe.  But while a contract (like those that are negotiated by a union) or a company handbook may force an employer to keep your position open, the law does not require your employer to hold a slot open for you when you are not physically able to work at your job.

Should this keep you from making a workers’ compensation claim?  Absolutely not. Experience tells us that an employer who thinks nothing of letting you go just because you cannot do your job as you heal from a work injury is often an employer who will try to avoid his legal obligations based on technicalities.  You don’t want to find yourself fired and without compensation benefits.

My boss tells me not to go through workers’ compensation because it will raise his premiums. He says he’ll take care of me. Should I believe him?

A:   Everyone should believe that miracles happen.  But by the time you’re old enough to be working for a living, you should have stopped believing in fairy tales.

The workers’ compensation law is there to protect you because there are employers who are willing to make promises like this but who do not deliver when the time comes to pay.

We know that employers who ask you not to go through their workers’ compensation insurance carrier will often hint about firing you if you make a claim.  Unfortunately, these are often the same employers who fire an injured worker who can’t get back to full duty right away.  And firing a worker just because he files a workers’ compensation claim is against the law.

Don’t let yourself get stuck with unpaid medical bills and no income.  Make a claim.  An employer who treats you honestly, as the law demands, is an employer who follows the law — and expects you to follow the law, too.

I’ve been hurt at work — now what do I do?

A: 1.   For gosh sakes, tell someone — a supervisor or your boss is best.  There are two good reasons for this:

a.  If you don’t report your injury it is almost sure to be denied by your employer.

You may know you were hurt, and if you don’t let too much time go by, you may actually remember the date and time you were hurt.  But an employer can’t check out an unreported injury.  And the co-worker you are so sure will back you up is never paying as much attention to you as you think.

For example, if your neighbor stopped by one day to tell you for the very first time that he’d been hurt on your property a few weeks before, and he asked you for a lot of money to pay for his medical bills and time out of work, would you just reach in your pocket and start paying?  No?  Neither will your employer when you don’t report the injury and show up asking for compensation benefits.

b.  You will want a doctor to examine you, but if you’re not on the way to the hospital, you may have to start with your employer’s doctor.

Many employers now use “managed care” programs for workers’ compensation — like an HMO plan only for workers hurt on the job.  As with many HMO plans, your employer’s workers’ compensation medical plan may require you to see a particular doctor before you can be seen by a specialist.  And though you should have a choice of treating doctors, your list of approved choices may be limited (unless you’re not on the way to the hospital for an emergency).  Sometimes, even your family doctor is not part of your employer’s workers’ compensation plan, even though you can see him through your health insurance plan.

By reporting your injury, you can know where to go for your first examination and not have to find out later that your bill won’t be paid, or that your employer will not pay attention to the opinion of the doctor you decided to see.

2.   And get to a doctor at his office, a clinic or the emergency room.  Only a doctor can examine you, order treatment, or prescribe medication to help you get better as quickly as possible.  And only a doctor can tell you and your employer whether you should stay out of work, return with restrictions, or go back to full duty.

For the reasons given in #1, you should always try to tell someone you’ve been hurt.  But if you can’t, never ignore your medical needs!!

My employer is at fault for my injury. Can I sue my employer?

A: Almost always, the answer is “no.”  Why?  Before we had workers’ compensation laws, the only way an injured worker could get paid was by going to court and proving his employer was at fault.  Injured workers were left without medical care, and their families were homeless and starving long before these lawsuits every came to trial.  Finally, the legislature decided action had to be taken to protect injured workers.  Workers’ compensation laws were passed to force employers to pay compensation benefits to every worker hurt on the job — whether the injury was a true accident (no one’s fault), or even when it was the worker’s own fault.  But in exchange for making an employer pay when it was not at fault, the legislature decided that the employer did not have to pay anything more than compensation benefits when the employer was at fault.

But:  Where an employer requires the employee to perform work that exposes him to a “substantial certainty” of severe injury or death, the employer’s actions can be said to be so outrageous that a lawsuit may be possible on top of workers’ compensation benefits.  This is a very difficult standard to meet.  For this reason, these lawsuits are rare and really depend on exactly what the employer did to cause the injury or death.

I don’t want to sue my employer. What should I do?

A: You don’t “sue” your employer to get workers’ compensation benefits.  When a worker is hurt on the job, paying compensation for medical bills, lost wages and permanent disability is not an employer’s choice — it’s required.  The Workers’ Compensation Commission compares these payments to “no fault” insurance.

What is “workers’ compensation”?

A: Connecticut’s Workers’ Compensation Act has been the law for almost a century.  It recognizes your value to the state economy, your town and your family.

The law protects all people who have been hurt while working, either from a sudden event, an injury that comes from repetitive actions, or an illness caused by the work you do.

Your employer must cover all related medical costs, pay a good portion of your lost wages, and make an additional payment if you suffer a permanent disability.

Unless you hurt the same part of your body again in a new accident, this protection from your employer (or his insurance company) lasts your whole life.  And if an injury takes a workers’ life, the law requires that a surviving spouse and dependent children receive the workers’ benefits.

Do I need a lawyer for my workers’ compensation claim?

This is a good question.  You might be surprised, but our first answer is not “of course.”

Most on-the-job injuries are not serious, are witnessed or reported right away, and result in quick medical care paid for by an employer (or its workers’ compensation insurance company) that acknowledges its legal responsibility without hesitation, question or complaint.  We never shy away from talking to an injured worker with questions.  But in circumstances like these, it’s likely that no attorney needs to be hired.

On the other hand, if the injury is more serious, or if it is not witnessed or reported quickly, or if it doesn’t heal quickly, or if medical care is discouraged or not provided when you need it, or if you do not receive compensation benefits, or if you get a “Form 43” denying responsibility for your injury, call a lawyer and don’t delay. 

An attorney will help make sure you are getting the treatment you need to heal as quickly and completely as possible.  An attorney will make sure that you receive the compensation benefits you are entitled to be paid under Connecticut law.  An attorney will help you avoid the pitfalls that can severely limit or even end your entitlement to compensation benefits.  We think the biggest problem with workers’ compensation is that it should be straightforward and simple-but it’s not.

You should also know that the Workers’ Compensation Commission regulates attorney fees in compensation cases, and the fees are quite modest.  In almost all instances, the attorney fee is only 20% of some of the benefits you may receive.
For example, when your employer is making voluntary payments of weekly benefits for temporary total or temporary partial disability, an attorney may not take a fee, no matter how many calls are made to the compensation carrier about late checks.  And an attorney may not take a fee from medical benefit payments, no matter how much work is done to get you seen by a doctor or to get a medical bill paid.
In fact, the most common source of the attorney’s 20% fee is the payment made for permanent disability after you have healed.  Since healing usually takes time, the sooner an attorney is working for you, the more he or she will eventually do for the fee being earned.

Finally, because the Workers’ Compensation Act was originally intended to set up a system in which lawyers were not needed on either side, the Commissioners are quickly available to deal with any dispute an injured worker may have with his or her attorney.

Except for simple, straightforward cases, it’s always a really good idea to talk to a lawyer — it doesn’t hurt to call.  At Glass, Lebovitz, Kasheta & Bren we’re always happy to talk with a worker about a work injury, even if it’s just to discuss the need for formal representation.  And initial consultations are always free.

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