The basic idea behind workers' compensation is quite straightforward: if you're injured on the job, or develop an illness as a result of your work, your employer—or, more likely, its insurer—pays you compensation. In return, you typically cannot sue your employer for additional damages.
In practice, however, workers' compensation cases can become complicated. As a result, if you're an employee who wishes to collect workers' compensation, you should hire a lawyer to help you navigate through this often-complex process.
Workers' Compensation Exceptions
The basic rule of workers' compensation is that employees are compensated for on-the-job injuries or illnesses even when the employer is not at fault —even in cases of employee negligence, for example. An obvious exception to this rule would be a self-inflicted injury. A less-obvious exception occurs in cases where the employee is injured while violating company policy. Imagine that you're an employee who's entitled to a 15-minute break, but you remain in the break room for 20 minutes and then are injured while leaving the room. Is this a violation of company policy? If the company claims that it is, you'll need a capable attorney to argue the case and demonstrate why you should still be entitled to workers' comp.
Receiving Compensation for Illness
You may imagine that workers' compensation only covers accidents. But it also covers illnesses, or injuries that occur over time, such as repetitive strain injuries. If your job involves nothing but typing and you're diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, for example, you may have little difficulty receiving compensation. But perhaps typing is only part of your job, and your employer questions whether your activities away from work caused the problem to occur. Again, in a disputed case such as this, a workers' comp attorney offers your best chance to counter the company's claim successfully.
Dealing with the Company Doctor
Whatever the medical reason for your claim, you'll likely have to be seen by the employer's physician. While the physician may offer an unbiased report, you probably don't want to trust your claim solely to the word of someone being paid by the company. A workers' compensation attorney will understand what type of medical evidence your case requires, and will likely be able to refer you to an appropriate medical specialist, if needed. The attorney will also understand how to counter a company doctor's diagnosis, should the employer's physician allege that you do not suffer from a job-related accident or illness.
To find a capable workers' compensation attorney, talk to co-workers who've been through the process, or contact your local bar association and ask for names of workers' comp attorneys (such as Lovett Schefrin Harnett).