What to Do After a Serious Work Injury: Why Hiring an Attorney is Critical

Learn what to do if you suffer a serious injury while at your job. See why you need a good workers’ comp attorney for high-dollar claims.

Serious workplace injuries can be life-changing.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a serious work injury as one that results in an amputation, in-patient hospitalization, or loss of an eye.¹

It’s almost essential to hire a skilled workers’ comp attorney following a serious injury in the workplace.

Workers’ compensation claims for serious injuries can involve large sums of money. Your employers’ workers comp insurance company will do whatever it takes to limit injury payouts to workers.

A skilled attorney will make sure you are fairly compensated for your injuries.

Top Types of Serious Workplace Injuries

Most serious workplace accidents are the result of sudden trauma. Some serious injuries, like Black Lung Disease, arise from occupational exposure to toxins.

Top serious work injuries include:

  • Electrical burns
  • Vision loss
  • Loss of hearing
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
  • Amputations
  • Mesothelioma

Top causes of serious work injuries include:

What to Do After a Serious Work Injury

1. Seek Immediate Medical Care

All workers injured on the job should seek immediate medical attention. Serious workplace injuries may require emergency medical care at the worksite.

This is not the time to be stoic or tough. Let your co-workers call an ambulance. Cooperate with emergency responders when they arrive, and let them transport you to the hospital or trauma center.

Bear in mind that after a traumatic injury, you are likely experiencing some degree of shock. You may have too much adrenaline running after a workplace accident to even feel pain. Your judgment may not be reliable, so listen to the paramedics.

Report ALL Your Workplace Injuries

Not only should you tell medical care providers exactly when, where, and how you were injured, you must also mention all your injuries.

You probably suffered some lesser injuries along with the serious injury that landed you in the hospital. It’s important for your medical records to accurately link all your injuries to the work accident.

If you wrenched your back or twisted a knee in an accident where you also lost a finger, be sure to tell your doctor.

Your employer’s workers compensation insurer won’t hesitate to deny medical coverage for injuries that aren’t clearly linked to the work accident. Get all the medical benefits you deserve by fully disclosing your injuries to your treating physician.

2. Notify Your Employer of the Incident

After you’re medically stable, report the workplace injury to your employer. Most employers know when a serious work-related accident occurs.

Workers don’t have to disclose medical details to their employer, but you should give an idea of how long your doctor expects you to be out of work. Your doctor should proved a “work note” that you can send to your boss to validate your expected absence.

Most states have strict deadlines in which injured workers have to report injuries to qualify for workers’ compensation insurance. If you miss these deadlines, you’ll lose your right to benefits.

Keep copies of your work note, emails, and other correspondence with your employer in your injury claim file.

Employer Reporting Requirements

OSHA requires all employers to notify the agency when an employee is killed on the job or suffers a serious work-related injury.

The agency says that a company has to report a serious work injury within 24 hours and job-related death within eight hours of its occurrence.

Employers can report workplace accidents or deaths to OSHA online, by contacting the nearest OSHA office, or by calling the agency’s hotline.

3. File Your Workers’ Comp Claim

Notifying your employer is not the same as filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Most employees are eligible for workers’ compensation coverage. Exceptions include independent contractors, seasonal workers, and volunteers.

Assuming you’re an eligible worker, your employer should provide the forms to get you started.

You or your attorney can fill out the paperwork and formally file the claim. The claim forms will ask for a description of what happened, when and where, and what injuries you suffered. Here again, it’s important to list all your injuries, not just the most severe.

The deadlines for filing a workers’ compensation claim generally range from one to three years after the injury. However, filing sooner rather than later gives the workers’ comp insurance company less reason to question your injuries.

Compensation for a Serious Work Injury

Workers who recover from minor on-the-job injuries can expect workers’ comp to cover injury-related medical bills from day one. Many states delay payment of replacement wage benefits for three to 14 days. States that delay wage benefits usually pay retroactively to the day of injury if the worker is unable to work beyond the delay period.

Workers’ compensation benefits include compensation for medical treatment and weekly wages.

Most minor injuries will result in a worker receiving worker’s comp benefits temporarily. However, serious work injuries can result in a permanent disability, either a partial disability or a total disability.

Permanently injured employees may opt to settle for a lump sum, with or without continuing medical benefits.

Average Payouts for Serious Work Injuries

The specific workers’ comp payout for a serious work-related incident will vary depending on the severity of the injury and the case’s particular facts.

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) maintains a database reflecting claims on workers’ compensation insurance policies in key states. Much of this data is found on the National Safety Council (NSC) website.

According to the NSC database, the average payout of all workers’ comp claims combined was $41,003.

Worker’s comp payouts increase significantly for serious workplace injuries:

  • Amputation claims paid an average of $109,926
  • Payouts for head or central nervous system injuries averaged $92,439
  • For fracture, crush, or dislocation injuries, the average claim paid $59,253

Workers’ Compensation Disability Categories

State workers’ compensation laws set forth four disability categories to help insurers determine how much they should pay injured workers for their lost wages.

Temporary Total Disability (TTD) means the worker is unable to return to work for a limited amount of time.

Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) means the worker is limited from performing some, but not all, of their work duties for a limited amount of time. The worker may return to work in a “light duty” or “seated only” capacity until they are fully recovered.

Permanent Total Disability (PTD) means the worker is unable to return to the workforce in any capacity. Workers with a PTD status may receive worker’s comp benefits for the rest of their lives. In some states, PTD benefits end when you become eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits.

Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) refers to an injury that partially impairs a worker’s ability to work in the future. Some injuries that may involve a PPD include hearing and vision loss. Worker’s who have a permeant partial disability may be offered vocation training through worker’s comp to help them return to gainful employment.

Lump-Sum Permanent Disability Settlements

Serious work injuries often leave the injured employee with a partial or total permeant disability. Partial permeant disabilities are most common.

You or your workers’ compensation attorney can ask for a lump-sum settlement after you’ve reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI means your doctor says your injury won’t get any better with further treatment. After you reach MMI, your doctor will determine an impairment rating based on the percentage of your permanent disability.

Many state workers’ compensation programs rely on a loss-of-use schedule of injuries to calculate permanent disability settlements. The schedule allocates a specific number of wage benefit weeks for each body part or function. For example, if your arm was amputated, you would have a 100% impairment rating for the loss of use of your arm.

If you were injured in the state of New York, the scheduled maximum for an arm is 312 weeks.

Your lump sum wage settlement will be calculated by using your worker’s comp weekly wage benefit (about two-thirds of your average pre-injury wage) and the impairment rating from your doctor. If you have a 100% impairment rating, you would get 312 weeks of wage benefits. If your workers’ comp weekly wage benefit is $700, your wage settlement would be 312 x $700 = $218,300.

If your permanent injury isn’t listed on your state’s schedule, your attorney can negotiate a “non-scheduled” settlement with the workers’ comp insurance company.

Most states require a judge or workers’ comp commissioner to approve lump-sum settlements, to help protect injured workers.

Family Members May Receive Death Benefits

If a worker is fatally injured on the job, their beneficiaries can receive workers’ compensation death benefits. These include compensation for funeral expenses and provide wage-loss payments to the worker’s next-of-kin.

Why You Need an Attorney for Serious Injuries

Your financial future depends on getting fair compensation for your workplace injuries from every available source.

After a serious injury, you won’t be in any shape to deal with the worker’s compensation insurance company. Let your attorney file your claim, and make sure your wage replacement benefits are correctly calculated. Insurance company errors are common, and they don’t favor the employee.

Your attorney will protect your interests if the insurance adjuster disagrees with your disability rating, and will know what to do if the adjuster schedules an IME for a second opinion.

Most injury attorneys offer a free consultation, and most states cap the amount of legal fees for worker’s compensation cases.

Claims and Lawsuits Outside Worker’s Comp

In some cases, a serious workplace injury is caused by a third party. For example, if a delivery driver is injured in a traffic accident. When another driver hits the worker’s vehicle and injures them, the other driver is considered an at-fault third party.

The worker can file a third-party claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, in addition to filing a worker’s compensation claim.

Some third-party claims can be very complicated. Work injuries caused by defective machinery or tools may be grounds for product liability lawsuits against the manufacturer, the vendor who sold the machinery, or the company that installed or serviced the machinery.

Third-party claims for serious work injuries can result in settlements or verdicts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, you’ll need a personal injury attorney to fight the at-fault party’s corporate legal team.

Third-party lawsuits can take months or even years to resolve. Worker’s compensation benefits will keep food on the table while your attorney handles your third-party actions.

At the end of the day, after you’ve recovered large sums from other sources, your attorney can handle any subrogation claims. Subrogation laws give the worker’s comp insurance company the right to be reimbursed for the money they paid on your behalf if you recover compensation from the at-fault party.

Dustin Reichard, Esq. is an experienced attorney with 20 years of work in the legal field. He’s admitted to the Illinois State Bar and the Washington State Bar. Dustin has worked in the areas of medical malpractice, wrongful death, product liability, slip and falls, and general liability. Dustin began his legal career as a JAG... Read More >>