You fell and injured yourself at work. You have pain and can't work effectively. You need a doctor.
What do you do?
Most often, you start a "worker's compensation" claim with the help and assistance of your employer.
Slip and falls are one of the most common types of work related accidents. According to the National Safety Council, slip and fall injuries account for over 20 percent of all workplace injuries. That's more than 1,000,000 worker's compensation claims started each year.
The majority of those injuries are minor, but a large percentage of slip and falls result in much more serious injuries: these include head trauma, disk herniations in your spine, broken bones, or burns.
With few exceptions, employers are bound by rules set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its regulations. These regulations mandate safety measures in the workplace. An investigation by OHSA can review violations and the employer can be fined.
But, slip and falls are the most common injury at work.
The most common causes of falls at work are:
- Spilled liquids
- Cracked, torn or uneven flooring
- Inadequate or non-existent warning signs
- Poor lighting
- Holes in the floor or parking lots
- Broken or uneven stairs
- Exposed cables running along the floor or ground
One of the lesser-known laws in Indiana is that a person cannot sue his or her employer directly for negligence (except in rare circumstances), if the injury occurred while working.
These laws were intended to protect employers and to entice companies to locate to Indiana so that people could be hired and the economy grow.
Worker's compensation "exclusivity" -- as the law is called -- means that an injured person can bring a worker's compensation claim and seek payment of medical bills and for permanent and temporary injuries, but typically at reduced rates set by the Indiana legislature. If you have a worker's compensation case, we might be able to help you.
But, you should do one step more. Call an attorney.
You'd be surprised how many work accidents happen on property that was owned by somebody other than the employer or on property that was to be maintained by somebody other than the employer due to a contract to maintain the area -- these are called "Third-Party Actions."
In those cases, where a slip and fall at work may result in a "third-party" personal injury claim or lawsuit against parties other than an employer, you could be entitled to payment of medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses, the full amount of lost wages, AND an amount for pain and suffering.
That's why it's so important to consult with an attorney -- even if your worker's compensation is still pending -- to determine all available rights of action.
Here's an Unfair Law -- If You Sue Somebody Else for Your Fall, The Defendant Can Still Blame Your Employer to Escape Full Responsibility for Your Damages in Indiana
Indiana has "comparative fault." In short, this means a jury decides whose fault an accident might be and divides it into percentages. In Indiana, a defendant can attempt to place fault on people/businesses that are NOT part of your lawsuit -- such as your employer. This is especially common if OSHA investigates and finds the employer did not follow safety rules. This investigation can then be used in court in the third-party action, which allows the defendant to sometimes blame the employer in any injury-producing accident. This perversely allows the defendant to lower its responsibility to pay the injured worker by blaming the employer, too -- EVEN IF THE EMPLOYEE CANNOT SUE THE EMPLOYER DIRECTLY.
An example is if you are struck by a truck in a parking lot. You can sue the truck driver and his company, for sure. But those defendants might be able to blame the store where you worked for having inadequate parking lot security or rules. I've seen it happen. It's unfair. You can't sue your employer to recover full damages, but the defendant can blame your employer to reduce your damages.
It's a hard world out there for people injured while at work.
How Worker's Compensation Works
Employees injured in workplace accidents have a right to workers' compensation benefits.
You do NOT need to prove the employer did something wrong ("negligence" not required).
An employee who contributed to the cause of his workplace injury is entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Just as it isn't necessary to prove the employer was negligent, workers' comp laws do not bar the employee from coverage if the slip and fall accident is entirely his fault.
There are a few exceptions. If actions that result in an injury are intentional (actions that have a high probability of causing injury or exhibit a "wanton disregard of probable consequences"), a work accident claim may be denied. These situations are normally found in "fraud" cases of injury or when a worker intentionally does something he knows is unsafe.
Normally, your injury alone is sufficient for you to file a workers' comp claim and receive benefits.
Benefits can include:
- Payment of Medical Bills
- Payment for Physical Therapy
- Out-of-Pocket Expenses for Medicine or Crutches or Wheelchairs/Scooters
- Lost Wages, but not at a full repayment rate (sometimes 2/3)
Medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and a portion of lost wages but workers' comp benefits do not include payment for pain and suffering (but an injury resulting in a disability may entitle the employee to a separate cash settlement award).
How to Begin Your Work Accident Claim
To begin a work accident claim, you have to file a "first report of injury" form (DWC-1) with your employer. You must enter specific information about the date, time and cause of your slip and fall accident on the form. If your injuries are serious enough to require immediate hospitalization, you may complete the DWC-1 form once you're feeling okay enough to do so.
Then, your employer will provide you with a list of "company-approved" physicians. The workers' comp insurance company of your employer then pays these physicians.
Despite obvious potential conflicts of interest, in most cases you have no choice. If you want your bills paid, you see the company's doctors. You can see your own doctor, but it might not be paid for.
Then you choose one of these physicians as your "primary treating physician."
How the Treatment Works
Your primary physician examines you and, if necessary, refers you to a specialist. These can include surgeons, podiatrists, orthopedic doctors and neurologists or other doctors whose practices are involved in the medicinal area of your injury.
If you believe your injury is much more severe than your primary treating physician is willing to acknowledge (or that your physician isn't acting in good faith), you may request a second opinion from another company-approved physician. You can see your own physician, but there's no guarantee you'll be reimbursed by workers' comp. You might be personally responsible for any fees your private doctor charges.
Your workers' comp physician determines when you've reached a level of MMI (maximum medical improvement). At that time, he can provide the "return to work" form, finding that you are able to return to duties.
How to Return to Work
Your treating physician can also diagnose:
- Temporary Partial Disability -- you can resume your former job duties only after a time period of recovery.
- Permanent Partial Disability -- you may be able to return to work, but not at your former job.
- Permanent Total Disability - you won't be able to return to your former job or do any other type of work.
Your employer may give you a different position that accommodates your disability or you may have to seek employment elsewhere if such a position isn't available.
What We Can Do for You
At Shaw Law Offices, we can certainly help you do a worker's compensation case or locate somebody who can.
But, we also investigate whether you can sue somebody else other than your employer -- these are called "Third-party Actions."
You'd be surprised how many work accidents happen on property that was owned by somebody other than the employer or on property that was to be maintained by somebody other than the employer.
In those cases, you must prove fault ("negligence"). We can help with that, too.
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We Get You Back on Your Feet.