Work injury questions and answers every American should know

Getting injured on the job can greatly impact your financial situation and personal life. As injury and disability attorneys, it is our job to understand every client’s individual situation and move forward with each claim accordingly. While it might make sense for one employee to return to work or settle his or her claim, the same advice may not be recommended to a different employee in a different situation.


What happens when someone gets injured on the job? What should they do next?


Report the injury immediately! You have 21 days to report the injury if you want your benefits to begin as of the date of your injury or report. If you report within the first 120 days, your benefits will begin running from the 60th day. If you report after the 120 days, you’re barred from benefits.


Do I need a lawyer?


It is very highly recommended that you speak with one. Workers’ compensation, Social Security disability, employment law, and long-term disability law are extremely tricky to navigate. At the bare minimum, consult with an attorney to learn your rights and options going forward. Our attorneys offer free consultations and work for you on a contingent basis. This means that the attorney is only paid if you recover compensation. If a lawyer tries to charge you for a consultation, run the other way.


What about my medical care? Am I limited to my employer’s doctors?


In order to be required to treat with an employer’s panel physician, a document must be posted by the employer in a public space at work showing the list of doctors you can choose from. At the time you’re hired, you must have been given a document to sign stating this panel list exists and that you’ve seen it. If you’re injured on the job, you must then sign a second agreement stating you have picked a panel physician from the list to treat with for 90 days. It’s exceptionally rare that all three requirements are met by employers. Even if the insurance company will not pay for doctors who are not on the panel list, you still have options. Many doctors are wiling to treat injured workers even if they may not get paid until afterwards.


How much can I earn from workers’ compensation?


The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act applies to all injuries or occupational diseases that occur during the course and scope of your employment and are related to your employment. If such an injury should cause you to go out of work, your employer must pay workers’ compensation benefits based on your Average Weekly Wage. Your Average Weekly Wage is the sum total of all your gross wages from every employer you are working for at the time of your injury, including overtime pay. Once your Average Weekly Wage is calculated, you will receive benefits based on the Workers’ Compensation Rate Schedule, usually two-thirds of your gross pay.


What if my employer offers a job to return to work?


In an attempt to either modify or suspend your workers’ compensation benefits, an employer may offer you a job to return to work, often on a light duty basis. If you feel capable of performing the job offered by the employer, and your treating physician approves the position, you are free to return to work. While you will stop receiving weekly compensation checks upon your return, or they may be less than before, the employer will remain responsible to pay for all medical treatment related to the work injury. However, if you do not feel ready to return to work in the capacity offered by the employer, the employer has the burden of proving that you are fully capable of performing all aspects of the available position before modifying or suspending your benefits.


What if I was laid off or terminated after being injured on the job?


Being laid off or terminated after sustaining a disabling work injury does not necessarily shield the employer from liability. If you were working light duty at the time of the layoff and did not lose your job due to willful misconduct, you are likely entitled to a reinstatement of wage loss benefits, and the employer will be required to cover all medical costs related to the work injury.  Our employment attorneys may also be able to help you file a case for wrongful termination.


Can I receive benefits for a repetitive trauma injury?


Workers’ compensation claims can arise from the cumulative effect of recurring trauma caused by an individual’s work duties, like carpal tunnel syndrome or knee issues. Unlike an obvious slip and fall or a direct trauma while at work, performing repetitive duties in the same postural movement over a period of time can cause injuries that an employee is not even aware of. In these cases, the last day the individual worked would be considered the date of injury.


What if a third party is also partially responsible for my work injury?


Considering the danger of using heavy equipment and machines on a daily basis, it is common for construction workers who are injured on the job to pursue third-party civil lawsuits against an entity other than the employer, such as the equipment manufacturer. However, if a third party is ultimately held responsible for the worker’s injury, then all of the benefits that were paid by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier must be paid back to the carrier out of the award or settlement amount from the third-party case—this is called a lien. The amount the workers’ compensation carrier ultimately receives from the third-party suit is reduced by the expenses and costs it took the claimant to successfully secure a sum from which the lien is to be paid. Therefore, unless the third-party recovery is substantially greater than the total workers’ compensation lien, the claimant could end up with little or no net money from the third-party lawsuit.


Am I eligible for other benefits from a work injury?


If you have been out of work or are expected to be out of work for at least twelve months and are unable to perform substantially gainful employment, you may be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits in addition to receiving workers’ compensation. It is likely, however, that the amount of Social Security disability benefits will be reduced by the workers’ compensation benefits you receive. Therefore, if you settle your workers’ compensation claim, there is a possibility that your monthly Social Security disability benefits will increase after the settlement is finalized.  If your injury is long lasting, you may also be eligible for long-term disability benefits, and our attorneys can help you determine your eligibility and navigate the process.

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