Mar 05, 2018 |
Work Injuries: How Did I Get Here?
Hello, my name is David Kapson, and I am an effective and experienced personal injury attorney with a proven track record of securing medical treatment and money benefits for injured workers in the DC metro area. The purpose of this blog is to provide a resource for folks who may find themselves struggling with confusing questions and difficult decisions following a life-changing accident at work. But before we get to that, let’s start with two things I love: pop culture and stories.
From Wilkes-Barre to Washington
In 1980, the band Talking Heads released their iconic single, “Once in a Lifetime.” As the opening verse unfolds, Heads singer David Byrne asks, “How did I get here?” Many people that I have met and represented over the past seven years ask themselves the same question following a life-changing injury that occurred in the course of their employment. For some, the circumstances that lead to the question, “How did I get here?” include medical expenses, difficultly getting access to medical treatment and the heavy toll of disabling injuries that keep them out of work. Oftentimes, these injuries lead to effects that ripple through the lives of the injured worker and their families, including the inability to pay bills, buy clothes and school supplies for children, put presents under the tree at holidays, or in some cases, keep a roof over their families’ heads or food in their bellies. Let me provide a few tips if you suffer a work injury and find yourself asking, “How did I get here?”
But first, let me tell you a little about how I got here. In 1980, while the Talking Heads were taking the New York City music scene by storm, my parents were getting married in a little town outside a little place called Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. This is the coal region of Pennsylvania—a blue-collar area in the Northeast where, for the most part, people made a living with their hands or their backs. Most adults I grew up around had a high school diploma, worked a trade, worked in construction and carpentry or worked in the hotel and restaurant setting. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a coal miner, starting out in underground mine shafts, and later above ground on strip mines. My mother’s brother also worked in the strip mines, and later as a carpenter where a work injury lead to his permanent and total disability. My aunt was a nurse. My grandfather on my father’s side worked for the phone company, mostly 15-20 feet above ground hanging cables on telephone poles. But I grew up running around behind the scenes of a hotel in Wilkes-Barre where both of my parents worked. In fact, it’s also where they met, but that’s another story.
My father started as a member of the banquet set-up team at the hotel. This was a physical job that required him and his co-workers to set up and break down hundreds of dining tables, chairs, and equipment in the hotel’s four large ballrooms for events like weddings, bar mitzvahs, awards dinners, meetings, etc. Eventually, after working at the hotel through college, he was able to rise through the ranks to a management position and helped to manage the hotel’s inventory supply. My mother was a banquet waitress from the time before I was born through the time I was about half way done with high school. She was then promoted to the banquet manager and began to lead a team of banquet servers and set-up workers. Today, she continues to lead the hotel’s entire banquet and catering division and is the area’s go-to person for all your wedding planning needs (plug, plug, Mom!).
My dad worked days and my mom worked nights, so most of my afternoons were spent at the hotel waiting for my dad’s shift to end and my mom’s to begin. My mom would drive me there, and my dad would take me home with him from work. I didn’t know it at the time, but my path towards helping people with work injury claims started to form when I was just a kid running around that hotel. I saw behind the scenes. I saw how physically demanding a customer service job in the hotel and restaurant industry can be. I understood the risks of how dangerous a slippery floor can be, or how a tiny mistake with a very sharp knife can change a person’s life and livelihood, or how lifting a heavy box could take a person out of work for months or even years.
Later, during high school and college, I started working at the hotel for my mom as a banquet server, and eventually as a bartender. Not only did I learn where to set the salad fork and where the bread plate goes while properly setting a table (skills I still use today to impress my wife), but I also lifted thousands of heavy trays stacked with dishes, silverware, glasses, etc. I spent many long hours and shifts on my feet and scrambling to keep the customers happy. Even as an eighteen-year-old, it was physically demanding hard work. Many of the people I worked with, especially the waitresses at that time who were in the 40s, 50s and even 60s, had made a career and supported families from the same type of work. Without my knowing, all of this experience shaped who I would become. Later, I would realize that not only did it shape me, but it shaped WHO I wanted to help in this world: honest, hardworking people who suffer a life-changing injury on the job.
My parents’ hard work gave me the opportunity to go to college and eventually law school. I sometimes tell people that I stumbled upon workers’ compensation as the area of law that I practice the most, but when I reflect, it really feels like it was my destiny all along. Now, after seven years in practice, I cannot imagine being an attorney without devoting my career to the purpose of protecting the rights of injured workers and putting their interests first.
What You Should Do if You’ve Been Hurt on the Job
So, that is how I “got here.” Let us now get to the guide or resource portion of this blog post. If you suffer a work injury and find yourself asking, “How did I get here?” remember to do these three things:
- Be honest.
- Get medical treatment.
- Attempt to return to work when medically cleared to do so.
Let’s look at each of these individually.
Sometimes, the best legal advice is the most obvious. There is a stigma in society attached to work injuries and the people who suffer them: “liars, fakers, milking the system, etc.” We have all heard it. It’s out there in the world. However, this advice is not meant for someone trying to game the system or defraud their employer by faking a work injury. It’s for the honest, hardworking person who suffers a work injury that has the potential to be life-changing.
For those people—the people I want to help—one of the most important and easiest things to do from the very beginning is to tell the truth about what happened and be honest about all of the injuries suffered as a result of the work accident. Telling the truth about what happened is important because the employer must be notified if they are going to take responsibility through the workers’ compensation system for an injured worker. In most states and jurisdictions, there is a time limit for the injured worker to report the injury to their employer in order to qualify for all of the rights and benefits associated with a workers’ compensation claim. Do not waste time. Tell the truth about what happened when notifying your employer. Even if the injury happened because it was your fault, you are not prohibited from bringing a workers’ compensation claim. It’s a no-fault system, so be honest and report truthfully.
Telling the truth should not stop after the reporting of an injury. It should continue through to all medical providers the injured worker sees for treatment following a work injury. I always tell new clients that telling the truth in this setting really has two sides. First, and most obviously, telling the truth means not lying or making up something that isn’t true. That’s the easy part: don’t lie. The second side is a little less obvious at first, but often makes the biggest difference in the end: do not hold anything back. This means paying attention to your body and telling the doctor about all of the symptoms and complaints in every part of the body injured either as a direct result or as a consequence of the work accident. Telling the doctor all of your symptoms and complaints means telling every doctor you see, whether your treating doctor, or the doctor the insurance company sends you to for an evaluation, all of the symptoms and complaints and when you experience them. For example, a person with a lower back injury may experience more pain when they have to bend, twist, stoop or when lifting. They may also experience shooting or radiating symptoms down into one or both legs when moving a certain way or performing a certain action. You may not feel this while sitting on the exam table at the moment the doctor asks, “How do you feel?” but that should not stop an injured worker from telling the doctor everything. The doctor cannot read your mind and you may not put yourself in the best position for a full recovery if you hold back when explaining to the doctor where it hurts.
Get Medical Treatment
The next simple pointer is to do what the doctor says, so you can try and get better! Another stigma or myth about a workers’ compensation claim is that it leads to a lucrative settlement or monetary award. The truth for the vast majority of people injured on the job is that the workers’ compensation system is not a solution for the rest of their lives. In fact, the longer you stay in the workers’ compensation system, the greater the chances of a poor outcome with your claim.
One way to shrink the amount of time you spend in the workers’ compensation system is to be committed to the treatment protocol outlined by your physician. That means making it to all your appointments, having honest and open dialogue with your doctor, following your doctor’s orders (i.e., physical therapy, medication, diagnostic tests like MRIs, CT-scans, etc.) and collecting the necessary paperwork and referrals from the doctor’s office to prove the insurance company a means to approve the recommended treatment. The goal here is to do as much as you can to get better and back to being yourself again. It’s not fun to be injured, so do yourself a favor and get as much treatment as you possibly can to get better!
Attempt to return to work when medically cleared to do so.
Finally, when the doctor releases you to return back to work in some capacity, make an attempt to go back to work. This is easy for injured people who make a full recovery: you get released and return to your regular, full-duty employment. For folks who are gradually released back to work with restrictions or who are facing a future of returning to the job market with permanent restrictions, the path can take some twists and turns. If you are released with some type of restriction, it is usually in your best interest to share that information with your employer and ask them whether they have work to do within those restrictions. It’s important to ask, even if you know or think you know the answer is that they don’t have work within those restrictions. In some cases, employers will offer work within the restrictions provided by the doctor, in which case I always advise my clients to give it a shot! You never know if you can actually do something unless you try, right? It may be work you can do, and in time you progress back to regular full-duty job. Or, the work might be too physically demanding, at which point your best bet is to return to the doctor to see about having the restrictions modified based on where you are in the recovery process. Generally, if your employer does not have work within your restrictions and advises you accordingly, you may still be entitled to claim workers’ compensation benefits even though you are not fully back to work.
How Injured Workers Can Find the Right Attorney
The bottom line is that the world of workers’ compensation can be difficult, confusing, and even bizarre. Hopefully this blog post shed some light on what to do to protect your rights if you are injured at work. Even if you follow these guidelines, you may still come to a point where you ask yourself, “How did I get here?” If that is the case, the best advice I can give you is to consult with an attorney who specializes in successfully handling workers’ compensation cases. I suggest to you that the measure of any attorney’s professionalism in this area is whether they are more worried about your success than you are. That is the standard I try every day to live up to for my clients, and that is the level of professionalism any potential new client should be looking for. Make no mistake—an injured worker is always better off with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney than attempting to go it alone against massive corporate insurance companies.
In closing, please allow me to offer just a little more advice about what to look for in an attorney to represent you in a workers’ compensation claim. Irrespective of number of cases they have tried, or their number of years in practice, a claimant’s workers’ compensation attorney is not worth their salt unless they do three things:
- Educate their clients about the law and the workers’ compensation system
- Advise their clients on how to navigate the workers’ compensation system
- Be willing to litigate the claim against the insurance company if a dispute arises over the client’s rights to medical treatment or money benefits
I would also encourage anyone searching for a workers’ compensation attorney to place a premium on choosing a lawyer who will protect the rights of the injured worker and put their interests first.