April 30th, 2018|
If you have just been injured on or in connection with your job, the following can be used as a guide for your next steps. These steps are designed to make sure you avoid common mistakes that can hurt your chances of being properly treated and compensated.
While the internet can be a great resource, this information is being provided as generally applicable advice. Every case is different, and this guide is not a substitute for a competent, experienced lawyer. Please keep in mind that you can reach out to an attorney’s office, such as mine, for a free consultation if you’ve been hurt on the job.
Step One: Report the Injury to Your Supervisor as Soon as You Can
As soon as you reasonably can, contact your supervisor and let them know that you have been hurt. If you were rushed to the hospital right after the injury, you should try to contact your employer and report the injury as soon as you are able.
If the insurance company denies your claim, you may have to prove to a judge, in court, that you were injured on the job. If you cannot prove you were injured, you may receive no compensation in connection with your injury. One of the best places to start is by building a paper trail.
So, tell your supervisor you have been injured. Call them if you cannot speak directly with them. Whether you do or do not speak directly with your supervisor, try to send an email to your supervisor or HR explaining that you were injured, and keep a copy of that email for your own records.
If you can, take pictures of where you were injured, and take down the names of people who witnessed the injury. Try to see if there is a surveillance camera that captured the injury on camera.
Once you have notified your employer that you’ve been injured, they will generally try to fill out an incident report with you and ask that you sign it. It can be ok to sign, as long as you carefully read it over and confirm that the information is correct. Do not give in to pressure to sign something that is inaccurate. If you feel that something is incorrect, you can write corrections directly on the document before signing it.
If your boss tries to persuade you to not file an incident report or claim, this is an immediate red flag that indicates you may not be treated fairly.
Most importantly, tell the truth about what has happened. If the insurance company plans on denying your claim, one of their easiest defenses is to make you look like a liar. Your best defense against this is to always tell the truth, and to be clear about what details you do know, don’t know or don’t remember.
Step Two: Get Medical Treatment
Once you’ve notified your supervisor about the injury, your next step should be to get treatment for your injuries as soon as you can. If you go to your primary care physician 3 months after the injury, you may be forgetting important details about the injury, including when you were injured and how it happened. Delaying your care hurts your recovery, and it hurts your case.
When you are being examined by a doctor for the first time, tell them what happened. Explain to them how you were hurt. Make sure they are aware that you suffered an injury at work, as they should be explaining that in their report. How you were hurt will also give the doctor a better understanding of your current condition, so that they can provide proper medical care.
Next, make sure the doctor (and every following doctor or therapist that you see) is aware of every problem you are experiencing and have experienced since your workplace injury. Doctors are not perfect. The doctors cannot treat issues that they do not know about. If you have fallen from a ladder and broken both of your wrists, the doctor should be able to see the breaks and focus a lot of your treatment on those injuries. However, what if you’re feeling numbness in your fingertips, having nightmares, hearing ringing in your ears or having trouble controlling your bladder? You need to let the doctor know about these issues. Issues that you think may seem too insignificant to talk to the doctor about may in fact be because of something more serious than you realize.
Do not be shy. Sensitive or personal health issues which you may feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about with the doctor need to be discussed. If you’re uncomfortable bringing it up with your current doctor or nurse, you can ask for somebody else to discuss it with—maybe somebody of the same gender. No matter what has happened to you, medical professionals have likely already seen issues like yours before through training and/or experience. Your injury is not the result of a personal failing, and you will not be judged for it. All of the horrible things that can result from workplace trauma can happen to anybody. Whatever you may experience is a problem which needs to be fixed, but it can only be fixed if the doctor knows about it.
Your medical records are evidence for your case. If your records are missing complaints about certain injuries or don’t describe how or if an injury has occurred, you can find yourself having a hard time receiving benefits from your workers’ compensation case.
Step Three: Dealing With the Insurance Company
In most instances, your employer has an insurance company that provides them insurance for workers’ compensation cases. If your employer does not have insurance, they may be “self-insured” and have the money themselves, or they may be covered by the Uninsured Employer’s Fund of Virginia.
In every case, you must keep in mind that the insurance company is a profit-driven business which is looking to spend the minimum amount of money possible. In many cases, the cheapest thing to do is to provide the injured worker with medical care in order to help the injured worker recover and get back to work without needing more extensive treatment or pay for time off from work. However, when the injury is more serious, the injured worker may find that the insurance company is actively trying to cut costs, and the most effective cost cutting measure is to try and deny any responsibility for your injuries.
If you are contacted by the insurance company and asked if they have permission to take a “recorded statement,” you do not need to comply with that request. A recorded statement is when someone from the insurance company interviews you about the injury and records your statement. A recorded statement provides the insurance company with extra details and information which can (and oftentimes will) later be used against you. You are never required to give a recorded statement.
After you are injured, the insurance company must decide whether they will accept responsibility for your injury. If they have decided to accept responsibility, you should be offered a choice of at least three different doctors who can provide treatment for your injuries. This is referred to as a “panel” of doctors in Virginia. You should choose one of these doctors. After you have made your choice, this doctor and their referrals will be the responsibility of the insurance company. If you try to get your own treatment outside of this doctor, you should expect to have to pay for those costs yourself.
Step Four: Get Disability Slips From Your Doctor
Every time you see a doctor after a workers’ compensation injury, you should never leave the appointment without the doctor writing down what your medical restrictions are. Your doctor will either (1) restrict you totally from doing any sort of work, (2) restrict you from certain activities but clear you for light duty or (3) release you to return to work full duty, without restrictions.
If your doctor has restricted you to light duty (meaning you can do some work, but not all of your normal work duties), it is very important that the doctor give you clear instructions about the sorts of activities you can reasonably do at work while allowing you to recover, and without putting you at greater risk of further injury. Some examples of light duty restrictions include limits on how much weight can be lifted, as well limits on bending, kneeling, climbing, sitting or standing.
Step Five: Follow Your Doctor’s Advice and Keep Your Employer Updated
If your doctor has released you back to doing light duty or full duty work, you should let your employer know about this as soon as possible in order to see if they can provide you with work. If your doctor has released you back to full duty work, you only need to ask to return to doing the job you were doing before the injury occurred. If you were released to light duty, you need to show the doctor’s restrictions to your employer and ask them if they can accommodate those restrictions in the workplace.
If your doctor finds that you are totally disabled from work (meaning you can’t work at all—also known as temporary total disability), you should be eligible to receive workers’ compensation payments for time that you are out of work. You should let your employer know that your doctor has determined you’re totally disabled from working for the time being.
Once you have been properly released to return to your preinjury work, your only chance at being paid is by returning to work and getting paid the way you were paid before the injury. However, if you have been released by your doctor to return to light or full duty work, you need to let your employer know you are eligible to return to work (with restrictions if you’re on light duty), in order to ensure you can get paid. If your doctor has released you back to work to light duty but you do not tell your employer, you may not be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for time off of work.
If your employer says they can accept you back to work with your current restrictions, you should make sure that they are honoring those restrictions. If your doctor, for example, tells you to not do any overhead lifting at all, yet your employer asks you to stock the top shelves, you should remind your employer that your doctor has forbidden you from doing that activity. You are allowed to refuse to do activities which your doctor has advised you to not do. If you’re being asked to do something your doctor said not to do, or you are doing something you feel you cannot do, you need to notify your doctor right away.
Step Six: Follow Up With Your Doctor
The goal of medical treatment in a workers’ compensation case is to let you recover and heal from your injuries, be released from the doctor’s care and to return to your normal life feeling healthy and able to work. However, until your doctor or therapist says you are released from care and don’t need to come back to see them anymore, you should return to them for continued treatment. At the end of your appointments, your doctor should tell you how soon they want to see you again, and you should make sure to schedule your next appointment for that time.
With proper care, your condition should improve; however, there is always the possibility that your condition can get worse. The doctor needs to know about new problems which were either not there right after the original injury, or which came about afterwards as a result of the injury. If you start feeling new problems, you need to make the doctor aware of them so they can determine if those issues are related to your injury and treat them.
Continued visits to your doctor should also keep you updated about your current work status. If you are still on light duty or temporarily totally disabled (TTD) status, but do not visit your doctor for a disability slip, it can be hard to prove you are entitled to payments for periods that you are not being seen by a doctor.
Finally, you have the right to ask your doctor for referrals to different medical specialists if they are needed. If you are referred by your doctor to another specialist or treatment provider, it’s important you try to get an appointment with them as soon as possible.
Step Seven: Should you hire an attorney?
When you’re unable to get what you want, and you cannot figure out the solution yourself, it’s okay to ask for help. If you find you’re not getting what you want or need, or you feel like you’re not being treated fairly by your employer or their insurance company, you should consult with a lawyer.
Even if you feel that your employer and insurance company seem to be treating you well, you can still talk to a lawyer. Talking to a lawyer can cost you nothing beyond time, as many lawyers give free consultations. There are often benefits available to you which you are not even aware of.
If your case has been denied by the insurance company, you should definitely speak with a lawyer. This is also true if you are not being paid for time missed from work or when the insurance company is refusing to pay for or authorize medical treatment that’s been recommended by your treating doctor.
If you decide to hire an attorney in Virginia, keep in mind that you are generally only paying the attorney a percentage out of what they have recovered for you. If your attorney gets nothing for you, they do not get paid in Virginia. Every attorney’s fee must be determined and endorsed by a judge.
Step Eight: File a Claim to Protect Your Rights
Claims for Virginia workers’ compensation benefits generally must be filed within a maximum of two years of the date you were injured. In most instances, failing to file a claim within two years can prevent you from receiving any benefits. If you do not hire an attorney, you should still file a claim for benefits with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. The following link includes the form, as well as instructions: http://www.vwc.state.va.us/content/claim-benefits-form.
Hopefully, this has helped explain what your rights are if you’re injured on the job in Virginia. Remember, every case is different, and this guide is not a substitute for a competent, experienced lawyer. If you’ve been injured at work and have additional questions about your rights, you should reach out to a competent, experienced workers’ compensation attorney.
For information on workers’ compensation claims in D.C., check out my colleague David Kapson’s blog post on that topic. For information on how workers’ compensation claims work in Maryland and D.C. when you have more than one job, my colleague David Snyder has an excellent blog post you may find helpful. For information on why the workers’ compensation system is important and protects the rights of everyday, hard-working Americans, my colleague Krista DeSmyter lays out the case in a recent post that I also strongly recommend.
January 9th, 2018|
To me, the underdog is characterized by a lifelong fight. Things seem bleak, but the underdog fights to overcome. He fights and he struggles. He keeps his head down and works. Every once in a while, pop culture reminds us of how great the underdog story is: a JFK is elected or an Obama inspires us all. The Orioles beat the Yankees. But then, almost always on cue, the underdog is forced to endure more struggle. The underdog sees his fight stopped and his dream deterred.
However, what makes the underdog special is how he responds to struggle. The underdog responds to insurmountable odds by gritting his teeth and pushing forward. The underdog does not stop trying. I am intimately familiar with the underdog’s story, and it’s why I do what I do. Why? Because I am one.
I started ChasenBoscolo on March 5, 1986, to be a law firm for the underdog, by the underdog. Back then, it was just Law Offices of Barry M. Chasen, and it was just my secretary and me. My oldest son had just been born. He was two months old when I started the firm. My friends told me the timing seemed a little off, but when you’re driven by a passion and you’ve got the underdog’s fight, timing doesn’t matter.
Five years before going out on my own, when I got my first job as a lawyer, it was the first time that I had ever set foot in a law firm. I was 33 years old. I was the 19th lawyer in a firm that represented injured workers in workers’ compensation claims and plaintiffs in personal injury cases in Maryland, DC and Virginia. However, over the five years that I worked for another firm, I learned a sad truth: lawyers in the industry made decisions and gave counsel to their clients that were in the firm’s best interest rather than the client’s. The goal was to increase the fee that the firm made. That felt wrong to me. Frankly, that is wrong.
So I left and started my own firm, the firm that today is called ChasenBoscolo. I did it, no matter how odd the timing, because I was sure that I could represent my clients and do a better job than the old firm. Of the cases that I wanted to take with me, 91% of the clients elected to stay with me. They wanted me to fight for them. I was committed to working in their best interest. I was committed to a philosophy then that still guides our firm today: if you take care of the clients, the money will take care of itself.
But all of this started long before I started fighting independently for my clients. Much earlier than my career as a lawyer, I had to fight for myself. Because we don’t have all day, and because in the interest of your time, I’ve edited my first draft of this post down from nearly 5,000 words. I’ll simply share three short segments of my own “underdogging” so that you can see why the fight we take on at ChasenBoscolo really hits home for me.
I’m ten years old. I’m poor—well, my family is poor. My father, a taxi driver with an eighth-grade education, is working through the night. Last week he was robbed at gunpoint, so we don’t have any money. This week, we’ll be lucky if he brings home a hundred dollars. Me and a classmate both rip our jeans sliding into base at recess. He returns to school the next day with a new pair. I return with a patch on my ass. I realize I’m poor when my friends go to summer camp, to swimming pools and to amusement parks. I don’t do any of that. I’m lucky if my father drives us to the ocean for a day trip in his cab. Despite our poverty, my parents constantly reinforce that even though we have no money, I will get a college education. They ensure me that we will figure it out. At ten, that doesn’t mean much to me, but I feel supported.
As I get older, it means the world. I’m confident in myself because of their support. Then my father dies from a fatal heart attack on the street. He’s 51 years old. Things get worse. My mother cannot not maintain the mortgage payments on our house. It’s sold at auction and then rented back to us. Our phone service is shut off; our lights don’t turn on. I don’t know where our next meal is coming from.
I’m an underdog though. I’m a fighter. I don’t give up. Although I want to go to college, I work instead. I’m hired by the Social Security Administration as a GS-2 file clerk making $3,680 a year. I get promoted multiple times over a few years. I end up being promoted to the level of a computer programmer. I even start taking college courses at night and finish enough credits to be about a quarter of the way done. The light inside me will not flicker out.
I’m drafted into the army. The 1960s are a time of unrest. College students, African-Americans and others protest against the actions of our government. We are engaged in an unpopular war and the rights of African-Americans are being infringed from equal accommodations to voting rights to economic equality. The anti-war protests become increasingly violent with flag burnings, bombings, rock throwing. Groups like the Weather Underground, Students for a Democratic Society, The Black Panthers, The Symbionese Liberation Army and The Youth International Party are all active in the ‘60s. In the Civil Rights Movement, there is a mix of violent and non-violent protests. They are fighting for justice, equality and opposing a war that is remote to the interests of the United States and is taking place half a world away.
I am anti-war. I don’t consider moving to Canada, but I don’t understand what we’re doing in Vietnam. I keep my head down and I push myself during our basic training. I have no other choice but to fight, to do my best. I’m offered an opportunity to train to become an officer, and I take it. I understand that I may be safer as an officer than as an artillery man. Things are looking up. But of course, as always, the underdog is faced with challenges no matter how good things seem to get.
I train to be an officer, and this is how it goes: after a hard day of training, our commanders show up at our barracks and tell us to put on our full-pack uniforms. They then take us for a long run which culminates with us crawling through a muddy stream. We’re exhausted and filthy when we get back to our barracks after 11:00 p.m. The training commanders then tell us that we have an inspection at 5:00 a.m. After we’re dismissed and go inside, we discover that our bunks have been trashed and our bookcases overturned. Our foot lockers and lockers have been turned upside down. We have six hours to get everything in order, and then we’ll do it all again the next day. That seems bad to me until I get to Vietnam.
I land in Vietnam and spend a few months doing basic intelligence reporting, but then everything changes. I’m walking back to my office with my commanding officer after a meeting and suddenly a succession of rocket blasts come closer and closer. The blasts do not stop. We start to run. My ears are ringing now but it’s my heartbeat that I hear. Me and my commanding officer slide into a bunker, a hollowed-out mound of wet sand bags. We look at each other but neither of us say a thing. Our faces say enough: fear. I hear my heart beat. I hear the blasts, still louder. And then finally, just before I’m sure the next one will land on our bunker, they stop. I sit there for a long time and consider how lucky I am. Then I think about how unlucky I am. Then again—lucky.
Sometimes, for some people, the blasts don’t stop before the bunker. For me they do, and I get to come home after another year. Within 30 minutes of landing at Travis Air Force Base in the Bay area, I am called a “baby killer” by protesters outside the gates. I cannot wear my uniform off base without being subjected to a constant barrage of verbal abuse. Whenever I appear in public in uniform, I am always insulted and attacked.
It’s 2018 and I’ve survived Vietnam. I’ve finished night school at the University of Maryland University College. I’ve finished law school at night too: the University of Baltimore. I’m a lawyer. I’ve found my calling, and I’ve made a career out of it. I’ve realized that my old employers had the wrong attitude. They didn’t know what it meant to be an underdog. When I leave that firm, I take almost all of my clients with me. Since then, I’ve helped thousands of other clients. I’ve won countless cases. I’m proud of myself. I’ve grown my firm.
I’ve married the love of my life, and I have three wonderful sons who are grown themselves. They didn’t have to go to night school. I’ve provided for them in a way that they’re not the same underdog I was. But they still are underdogs in some sense. We all are in different ways.
It’s 2018, and the firm is still growing. We’re successful; we have commercials. We’re hiring lawyers and winning cases. We’re delivering justice to underdogs. I’m checking every box by the measure of conventional success. But things are not easy. We haven’t cracked a code where winning cases is easy. Let me explain why: being an underdog means that you’re fighting a beast that’s bigger than you.
It’s 2018, and judges have been “tort reformed.” They default to side on the behalf of the insurance companies—the behemoth conglomerates making more than a billion dollars a year. Case decision makers—commissioners—suffer from “compassion fatigue.” The law is not applied fairly and impartially and the law is rarely construed in favor of the injured worker. Some of this is the result of politics. Some of it has occurred because of tort reform propaganda and lies.
It’s 2018, and the deck is still stacked against the underdog. On one side, you have the little guy represented by a firm not much larger than a football team. On the other side, you have big corporations or insurance companies with virtually unlimited resources. They will always present the best evidence that money can buy. These companies on the other side make more than $250 million per quarter. In three months, they make more money to use at their disposal than we can ever dream of.
It’s 2018, and I continue to fight. I continue to fight because it’s what I know how to do. I know how to push on, hungry and in the dark: my father has died. I know how to push on, heartbeat in my throat: the blasts get closer and closer and my commanding officer and I believe that we’re already dead. And I know how to push on when I walk into the courtroom and I see both representatives of a massive insurance company who have lobbied politicians in D.C. to pass legislation that helps them win cases. I see my client who, just like me, is an underdog.
Just like me—just like all of us—my clients are pushing forward to make a better life for themselves and their families. Then they are injured in an act of negligence. When that happens, they deserve representation. They deserve someone who will show up ready to fight, someone who won’t back down from a company with deep pockets who threatens to stand in the way of justice—someone who’s seen stuff a lot tougher than the representation and evidence that money can buy.