FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The attorneys at Van Camp Law Firm will be happy to meet with you for a free initial consultation with no obligation and will handle your case on a contingency fee basis. While we are happy to answer any questions you have during that free initial consultation, we also have addressed some of the frequently asked questions below for your convenience. Please note that many of the questions you may have cannot be answered by a simple response, and many are specific to your claim. We, therefore, suggest you use this section as a reference only, and you contact our office to schedule your free initial consultation.
WHAT IS WORKERS’ COMPENSATION LAW?
The workers’ compensation law of the State of Missouri was enacted in 1926. Prior to that time when an employee was injured at work, the only remedy available was a lawsuit in civil court, which often was costly. The workers’ compensation law was passed to take work injuries out of civil court. Under the law, employers are responsible for providing a number of benefits to injured workers. In return for receiving these benefits, an employer could no longer be sued for negligence in civil court.
I WAS INJURED AT WORK. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
When you are hurt on the job, you should report the accident and your injury immediately to your employer. Not only should notice be given immediately to receive necessary medical attention, but your injury will then be on record. The Workers’ Compensation Act requires you give notice in writing within 30 days of the date of the accident. The law requires your employer to report all accidental injuries within 10 days of the date they occurred to the Division of Workers’ Compensation. If you failed to notify your employer of your injury within 30 days, you still may have a case.
I’M NOT SURE IF I SHOULD REPORT MY WORK INJURY BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO LOSE MY JOB. CAN MY EMPLOYER FIRE ME FOR REPORTING AN INJURY?
Your employer cannot fire you for reporting an injury or filing a workers’ compensation claim. If they do, you may have a civil lawsuit against your employer for wrongful termination.
WHAT BENEFITS DOES MY EMPLOYER HAVE TO PROVIDE?
When an employee is injured at work, his or her employer is responsible for providing four benefits. First, the employer should provide the injured worker medical treatment for his or her injuries; however, the employer has the right to choose the doctor or health care provider. Second, if the authorized treating physician takes the injured employee off work for more than three days, the employer must pay the employee for his or her time off work. Third, once the injured worker has been determined to be at maximum medical improvement (MMI) by the treating physician, and if the medical expert finds the employee has permanent disability associated with the work injury, the employer may be responsible to compensate the employee for either permanent partial or permanent total disability. Finally, there is a potential benefit for disfigurement for any change of appearance on an employee’s face, neck, arms or hands.
WHAT IF I MISS WORK BECAUSE OF MY INJURY?
If the treating physician chosen by the employer takes an injured employee off work for more than three days, the employer must pay the employee what is called temporary total disability, or TTD, for the time missed. If the employee misses at least 14 consecutive days of work, he or she will be compensated for the first three days as well. This compensation typically is two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wage up to a maximum amount established by the legislature. This money is paid to the employee as regular wages are paid or at least every two weeks. This benefit is tax free.
CAN I GO TO MY OWN DOCTOR?
Your employer has the right to control and direct treatment in worker’s compensation cases. If your employer refuses to provide medical treatment, you may seek treatment on your own at your own expense. If your work injury later is found to be compensable under the workers’ compensation law, the employer will be responsible for paying your medical bills if the employer refused to provide you medical treatment after written notice of your request for treatment. You should be warned, health insurance does not cover work-related injuries.
ATTORNEYS ARE EXPENSIVE. DO I NEED ONE TO FILE MY CLAIM?
You do not need an attorney to pursue benefits from your employer, file a claim for compensation, or settle your claim with your employer. However, your employer has trained specialists watching out for its interests, from their attorney(s) to the personnel department, adjuster, case manager and administrator. Our attorneys will give you a free initial consultation before you decide whether or not to hire one.
THE DOCTOR MY EMPLOYER SENT ME TO HAS RELEASED ME TO RETURN TO WORK, BUT I STILL HAVE COMPLAINTS. WHAT CAN I DO?
You have the right to seek an evaluation from your own doctor to counter the opinion of the employer’s doctor. You will have to pay for the evaluation, and most private insurance will not pay for treatment or evaluations related to work-related injuries. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will be familiar with medical and vocational experts who specialize in evaluating work related injuries.
WHAT IF I AM HURT SO BADLY I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO RETURN TO WORK?
If you are determined to be permanently and totally disabled, you will be paid 66-2/3% of your average weekly earnings the rest of your life. However, to be found permanently and totally disabled means you are unable to secure and keep any employment in the open labor market, not just the type of work you were doing when you were injured. This benefit, like other permanent disability benefits, is subject to a maximum rate, which is set by the legislature and adjusted annually.
WON’T I GET LESS AT THE END OF THE CASE SINCE MY ATTORNEY GETS A PERCENTAGE OF MY SETTLEMENT OR AWARD?
This is a frequent misconception held by employees. First of all, the employer/insurer is always represented by knowledgeable attorneys who know the real value of your case, but are paid to try to minimize the cost of a claim for the employer/insurer. Second, the judges (called administrative law judges) are not allowed to give employees legal advice since the law was changed in 2005, so they cannot tell you the value of your case or give you any legal advice. In this situation, the employee has no idea what he or she should get and often agrees to very low amounts for settlement and also may forego future medical benefits that may be appropriate. In most situations, the employee will actually end up getting more money even after the attorney’s fee has been deducted and will know the real value of his or her case as well as whether or not future medical benefits should be sought.
WHAT IS THE SECOND INJURY FUND?
Missouri’s Second Injury Fund (SIF) is funded by a surcharge paid by employers on their workers’ compensation insurance. The Missouri State Treasurer is the “custodian” of the SIF. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office defends the claims made against the Fund and has the Treasurer’s authority to settle or try cases for the Fund. For injuries before January 1, 2014, the Second Injury Fund provides for four different types of benefits. Those benefits include enhanced disability benefits, death or medical benefits if working for an uninsured employer, rehabilitation benefits for a severely injured employee, and second job wage loss benefits.
For injuries after January 1, 2014, the SIF benefits have been restricted by legislative changes. The Second Injury Fund still provides for the enhanced benefits when a current work-related injury combines with a prior disability to create an increased combined disability. The basic concept is that the whole is greater than the sum of the combined disability. The employer (at the time of the last injury) is liable only for compensation due because of the last injury. If more disability benefits are owed to the employee, either for permanent partial disability or permanent total disability, they may be paid from the SIF if an administrative law judge orders it following an evidentiary hearing (trial). The legislative changes did restrict this benefit to those cases where an employee is not able to return to work (PTD). However, these legislative changes are being challenged in the courts, and the attorneys at Van Camp Law Firm are continuing to follow these matters closely to ensure we can pursue the maximum benefits of our clients.
The Second Injury Fund may also be responsible for other benefits in limited circumstances. Contact one of our experienced attorneys to learn more about the different benefits that you may be entitled to receive.