Workers’ compensation attorney Jeffry Dougan knows that when you’re injured on the job, a lot of really important questions come up: Does my employer have to pay me for my medical care? Can my employer fire me for being injured? Will I get paid while I can’t work? How much will I get paid? What if I can never work again?
Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to file a workers’ compensation claim.
Oftentimes, my clients feel guilty for going to see a workers’ compensation attorney about their case. They feel like if they had just done something differently, they wouldn’t have been hurt. That their injury was somehow their fault. Sometimes the employer is just a mom-and-pop company struggling to get by and the employee doesn’t want to cause any trouble.
If you feel this way, you’re not alone. Most people (a) hate laywers; and (b) hate conflict, i.e. suing other people. As a workers’ compensation attorney and a Denver personal injury attorney, I understand. Trust me. I come from a working class background and remember many a lawyer joke being told at the kitchen table. (My father has this uncanny ability to remember hundreds of them.)
Luckily, (1) your employer is required by law to pay workers’ compensation by statute and can be penalized if they don’t; and (2) the Colorado workers’ compensation system is a no-fault system.
In reality, when you file a workers’ compensation claim, it’s not your employer who is paying out of pocket for your claim; it’s the insurance company. Assuming your boss has been following the law and been paying her workers’ compensation insurance premiums, the insurance company is the one who will be paying for everything. Generally speaking, your employer doesn’t get that involved which means the insurance company is really the person you and your workers’ compensation attorney are going to be fighting.
Second, when you file a workers’ compensation claim, you’re not pointing a finger at anyone. All you are saying is that you were hurt at work and that you need your medical bills, lost wages, and injuries compensated. It’s that simple.
Who pays your medical bills?
In Colorado, the workers’ compensation system is a no-fault system. This means that if you get hurt on the job, barring unusual circumstances, you are owed compensation regardless of who was at “fault” for your workplace accident. What constitutes compensation can theoretically assume many forms, but for most people it means medical care, lost wages, and future impairment.
During the time that you are unable to work up until the time that you have reached settlement, the insurance company is responsible for paying all of the medical bill that are associated with your workplace injury. It can get complicated when you have multiple employers or you have preexisting injuries, etc., but the general rule is that your medical bills are taken care of during your workers’ compensation case.
Who pays your wages?
While you are unable to work and assuming that the insurance company is not contesting liability, you should get 2/3 of your average weekly wage. However, this amount is capped by statute in Colorado such that your maximum workers’ compensation weekly wage benefit cannot exceed $881.65. (NOTE: This number changes on the 1st of July every year, so don’t rely exclusively on this blog for those numbers.)
Therefore, if you earn over $69,000.00 per year, you’re not earning workers’ compensation wage benefits for every dollar you earn over an annualized salary rate of $69,000.00 per year. (Take $881.65, multiply it by 52 weeks, and divide it by .6666. This will give you $68,775.58.)
For instance, say you earn $100,000.00 per year. This means, normally, you earn roughly $1900.00 per week. Take $1900 and multiply it times 2/3. This gives you $1266.54 workers’ compensation wage benefits per week. But the maximum weekly payout for 2014 is $881.65. Therefore, you’re not earning $400.00 of benefits that you would if the law did not cap the maximum weekly payout.
Therefore, when you file a workers’ compensation claim, your workers’ compensation attorney needs to make sure that you are aware of how much you’re actually going to be earning during your down time and try, to the extent possible, to build those losses into your final settlement.
How long will workers’ compensation benefits be paid?
This is sort of a loaded question because there are many factors that can terminate your workers’ compensation benefits. But, assuming that none of those factors come into play, there is no theoretical limit to the number of weeks wage and medical benefits can be paid to you through your workers’ compensation case. But as a practical matter, you will almost alway reach a settlement within 6-12 months if the workers’ compensation case is not contested.
How much will my final workers’ compensation settlement be worth? What if I can’t work for the rest of my life or am I seriously impaired?
There is no simple answer to this question. I know that you’re probably thinking, “can I just get a real answer, not the workers’ compensation attorney answer?” But it’s true: every case really is different which means that every settlement amount is different. However, as a general proposition, your settlement will be calculated as either a scheduled injury (usually an injury to an extremity such as an arm or leg) or an injury resulting in a whole body impairment rating (usually the neck, back, a part of “the trunk of the body”), or both. Confused yet?
Let me give you a relatively simply example. Say you’re a construction worker and you cut your right middle finger off at the proximal joint. This is a “scheduled injury.”
Now, under statute, you simply take the impairment rating of the scheduled injury (in this case, you lost your finger, so it’s 100% or ‘1’) times the number of statutory weeks (in this example it’s 13 weeks) times the scheduled injury weekly rate for that respective year and that’s your number:
1 x 13 x 277.03 = $3601.39. Yes, you read that right: Your middle finger, in this example, is only worth a little more than $3600.00. And that’s all you are going to get for permanent partial disability benefits – by law.
On the other hand, say someone hurts his back at work (part of the trunk of the body). At that point, the amount of settlement comes down to the whole body “impairment rating” the examining doctor assigns you.
In this example, let’s say that the doctor assigns you a 15% whole body impairment rating. Let’s say the injured worker is 35 years old.
To get your settlement amount, take the impairment rating (here it’s .15) times the age factor of the person (here it’s 1.5) times the statutory 400 weeks times the workers’ compensation wage benefit of that person (let’s assume $400 here). That gives us the following:
.15 x 1.5 x 400 x 400 = $36,000.00.
As you can see, what you’re mainly going to be fighting the insurance company over is the degree to which you are impaired. Remember that it’s almost always going to be the company doctor assigning that impairment rating; therefore, you probably want to get a second opinion through an independent medical examination. That’s a whole other chapter, but suffice it to say that it’s almost never advisable to accept the first whole body impairment rating as gospel.
Can my employer fire me for filing a workers’ compensation claim?
The general answer is no. Typically, assuming that the employee is doing everything that he is supposed to be doing, the employer cannot fire him. However, what you run into a lot is an employer dressing up a retaliatory termination in the guise of a “for-cause termination.” In this case, the employee might have a separate cause of action for wrongful termination. This is such a loaded topic that, again, it would take a whole other post to go into, but suffice it to say that, in most situations, your employer cannot fire you if you have filed for workers’ compensation. But like every rule, there are a million exceptions and you should always consult with an attorney regarding a potential wrongful termination issue.
Why hire a workers’ compensation attorney?
As you can see, there are so many ins and out to a workers’ compensation case that it would be nearly impossible for someone who is not a lawyer to handle his or her own case. As the old saying goes, “Only a fool would have himself for a lawyer.”
As Your Denver Personal Injury Attorney, I am here to make sure that (1) your medical bills are 100% paid for; (2) that you are fairly compensated for your lost wages; and (3) you are given a fair settlement to properly compensate you for the loss you have experienced.
If you have been injured on the job, you need workers’ compensation attorney Jeffry Dougan to fight for you. Call 303-704-1222 today for your FREE initial consultation.