The 7 Biggest Mistakes That Can Wreck Your Workers’ Compensation Claim
At Midwest Disability, we handle hundreds of cases, if not thousands, every year. Our Minnesota work comp attorneys have seen every mistake in the book while handling workers’ comp claims. Here are the most common mistakes that injured workers make with instructions about how to avoid them.
Biggest Mistake #1: Failing to report your work injury within 180 days.
You are a hard worker and a valuable asset to your employer. You are not trying to manipulate the system. But now you have twisted the wrong way and felt a pop in your back. It hurts a bit, but you think you can work through it. You have seen what happens when other employees report work injuries and you do not want the hassle- you just want this to go away. What do you do?
The answer is simple: ideally, you need to report your injury as soon as possible, preferably in writing, to the person designated by your employer to take such reports. However, the law in Minnesota gives you 180 days report the injury-do not wait this long.
The longer you wait to report the injury, the more likely your employer’s workers’ compensation insurer will be able to deny the injury happened or was related to work. Even if you do not believe you need medical treatment or miss time from work as a result of the injury, report it.
A large percentage of serious work injuries seem minor when they first happen but slowly get worse over time. Failing to report your work injury as soon as possible can result in the workers’ compensation insurer denying your benefits.
Biggest Mistake #2: Taking your employer’s advice about your rights.
You did the right thing by going to your supervisor and reporting your work injury, but your supervisor is being less than cooperative. Your supervisor tells you that you waited too long to report your injury, or it was your fault. Perhaps they tell you that you will get in trouble if you file for workers’ compensation benefits, or give you a multitude of other reasons why you should not or cannot get workers’ compensation benefits. Even worse, sometimes you are told to lie and say your injury did not happen at work, or that you should file for short term disability benefits instead.
Unfortunately, these types of responses from an employer are not uncommon. Many employers do not want to report your injury to their workers’ compensation insurer out of fear that their insurance rates will increase. Therefore, some employers will tell you anything to avoid reporting your injury. Do not make the mistake of trying to be a “good employee.” Verify the accuracy of what your employer is telling you by talking to a lawyer who only handles workers’ compensation claims.
Biggest Mistake #3: Failing to seek timely medical treatment and documenting your injury as work-related.
You hurt your back at work. But you need your job, so you tough it out and decide not to seek medical treatment right away. The pain keeps getting worse. Sleeping is difficult and over-the-counter pain medication is not working, so you decide to go to a medical provider for treatment. When you go, you hide the fact that this is a work injury. After a couple months of treatment you are still not better and are scared that you cannot do your job anymore. You finally decide to tell your medical provider that it happened at work.
You just committed two of the biggest and most common mistakes: failing to get timely treatment and failing to tell your medical provider at your first visit that the injury happened at work. This is critical because once a medical provider knows that the injury happened at work, he or she must bill the workers’ compensation insurer, not your private health insurer. The workers’ compensation insurer can now use this delay in seeking treatment and the failure to report the nature of the injury as evidence to deny your workers’ compensation benefits.
Biggest Mistake #4: Failing to follow your medical providers’ instructions.
You reported your work injury and you started seeing a doctor. The medical provider recommended diagnostic tests such as MRIs or EMGs, and has directed you to attend physical therapy. Maybe the pain medications ease your pain and you either do not have the time or just do not feel like treating.
This is a big mistake for a number of reasons. First, your injury and condition may not be fully and accurately diagnosed if you do not have the tests your medical provider ordered. Second, your injury may not heal if you do not follow your medical provider’s treatment plan.
Third, when you go back to see the medical provider, he or she will indicate in your records that you are non-compliant with your treatment, which will hurt your workers’ compensation claim. Finally, and possibly most importantly, your non-compliance may make your medical provider believe that you are not injured. This may cause him or her to discharge you from treatment, release you back to work, and
discontinue your pain medication. If that happens, you will have to return to work and the pain that was controlled by the pain medication may return. If you then attempt to go back to your medical provider, he or she may no longer be willing to treat you due to your prior noncompliance.
Bottom line: Follow your medical provider’s instructions.
Biggest Mistake #5: Trusting the workers’ compensation insurer.
You reported your injury. Your employer did the right thing and turned your claim over to the workers’ compensation insurer. The insurer assigned an adjuster to handle your claim. You spoke to the adjuster who seems really nice and helpful. Therefore, you trust the adjuster and you do not think you need an attorney to get involved. Big mistake.
Even though most insurance adjusters are honest, remember that they work for the insurance company. Adjusters are trained to earn your trust and persuade you to do what they tell you to do. Their job is to minimize the cost of your claim and get you back to work as soon as possible, even if you are not truly ready.
They have no legal obligation to tell you your rights. Even if they lie to you, which sometimes happens, you cannot sue them. Think about this before you decide to trust to the adjuster.
Biggest Mistake #6: Failing to get legal advice early in the process.
Injured workers often presume that since they and their boss know that they got hurt at work, they are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. They also presume that the workers’ compensation insurer is obligated to take care of them, so there is no need for legal advice. Big mistake.
Insurers are private, for-profit businesses. They make money by taking insurance premiums from employers and they lose money by paying out money on claims like yours. They will do whatever they are legally permitted to do to avoid paying your claim.
As explained in #5 above, sometimes they will even do things that are unethical to avoid paying your claim. If they do, you cannot sue them for “bad faith.” Knowing this, you should seek the advice of a workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more damage you could be doing to your claim. A workers’ compensation attorney’s obligation is to you and only you (but see #7 below). It is the job of the attorney to know the law and explain your rights to you.
Biggest Mistake #7: Failing to pick the right law firm to represent you.
Many attorneys advertise that they handle workers’ compensation claims. Although there are many issues to consider when picking a firm that is right for you, there are a few important questions that you should always ask, including how many years of experience the firm has in handling workers’ compensation claims. Experience matters.
To litigate a claim, you will almost always need to have your treating doctor’s report or testimony as evidence. Doctors can charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars per hour for this service. One question to ask a prospective law firm, is whether the law firm pays that cost or do they expect you to pay it, even though you are not working and have no income?
You may also want to ask whether the firm only represents injured workers or whether they represent insurers as well. It is permissible for lawyers to represent both insurance companies and injured workers, but it may raise questions in your mind as to where the attorney’s loyalties lie. Just asking these few questions can quickly eliminate many firms whose advertising seems impressive.