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Injured at Work? Know Your Legal Rights

5 minute read

By Christopher Brown

One second, you’re going about your business. The next, you’re dealing with the shock, anxiety, and pain that come as a result of a workplace injury. The stress of lost wages, endless doctor’s visits, and workers’ compensation claims can be difficult to navigate for even the clearest minds. But proactively searching the internet for advice sure can help.

Take a deep breath. Most states have systems in place designed to shield injured workers from bearing the brunt of workplace injuries. Each state is different, and you’ll have to do more research to find advice specific to your home state, but there are workers’ compensation commonalities that most states share.

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When Is an Accident Work Related?

Legally speaking, work related injuries are defined as any injury or illness “arising out of employment and occurring during the course of employment.”1 Following that logic, any injury or illness that resulted from an action that was done for the benefit of your employer theoretically qualifies.

There are circumstances that may impact an injured workers’ eligibility. Injuries that occur on lunch break, at company events, while working from home, or while traveling for business can be more complex. As such, these particular situations may require a deeper internet dive and sometimes even professional legal assistance.

Workers’ Compensation State Laws

Workers’ compensation is governed by state legislation, which means your individual rights can vary depending by location. Most states require all businesses with employees to purchase a workers’ compensation insurance policy, though some states exempt those with less than four employees.

As such, you’d do well to familiarize yourself with local state worker protection laws as soon as possible. Thankfully, there exists a treasure trove of helpful and local resources available to you for free online, as well as professional employment lawyers just a call away.2

Included Benefits

Regardless of which state you work in, the benefits included remain largely the same.

Payable workers’ compensation benefits include coverage for income replacement, medical fees, and rehabilitation fees. And, in the event of a fatal injury or illness, workers’ compensation is designed to provide death benefits for surviving members of the victim’s family.3

The Right to Report Your Injury

The first step in pursuing workers compensation benefits is also a legally protected right.

Should you injure yourself at work, it’s critical that you report said injury or occupational illness to your employer as soon as possible. The sooner you report your illness, the sooner you can seek medical attention, and the sooner you can receive your rightful benefits.

The Right to File a Claim

In addition to reporting your work-related injury or illness, you have the right to file a workers’ compensation claim immediately following your internal injury or illness report. Claims are essential to initiating the workers compensation process and serve as a formal notification of your injury to your employer and the state governing body.

A successfully filed claim is usually followed by an investigation, the result of which is determined within four weeks.4 You also have the right to appeal any decision should your claim be denied.

The Right to Medical Attention

Most states guarantee workers the right to pursue immediate medical attention and treatment in the event of a workplace injury. If, after a thorough investigation from a medical doctor, you are deemed fit to return to work, you have the right to do so.

The Right to Disability Compensation

If for whatever reason you are unable to return to work due to your workplace injury, know that you do have the right to disability compensation. It doesn’t matter if your absence is temporary or permanent. Workers have the right to explore disability compensation as a means to reimburse whatever wages their injury may have led them to lose.

The Right to Legal Representation

It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed or out of your depth throughout the claims process. Thankfully, injured or ill workers have the right to be represented by a lawyer of their choosing.

Selecting representation is a task in and of itself. Be sure to seek a lawyer with experience on the matter and explore their success rate. There may be laws prohibiting a lawyer from outwardly sharing their success rate, so don’t be turned off if they are unable to share specifics. It may just mean they’re following the letter of the law.

Forgoing the Right to Sue

Workers compensation insurance does more than protect the workers. It’s also designed to protect businesses from lengthy — and costly — legal battles. By agreeing to receive workers comp benefits, injured employees forgo their right to sue their employees for the injuries that are covered by the aforementioned benefits.5

The Right to Sue a Third Party

As discussed above, agreeing to receive workers’ compensation benefits means you’re giving up your right to sue your employer for any injury covered by workers’ compensation laws. That doesn’t explicitly mean that you can’t pursue legal action at all.

You always have the right to sue a negligent third party. A third party can be the designer or manufacturer of a defective piece of equipment. It’s important to note that third party lawsuits usually take the form of civil lawsuits. As such, these lawsuits are filed in federal or state courts independent of the state agency that administers workers’ compensation.6

Only Work-Related Injuries Qualify

It bears mentioning that workers’ compensation benefits are only there to cover personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment. As flexible as the coverage can be, it is not available to victims of self-inflicted injuries or those caused by intoxication or substance abuse.

Fault Is Not a Factor

It’s common for an employee to feel at fault for sustaining an injury in the workplace. Complacency, distraction, or a failure to precisely follow safety precautions are valid reasons for experiencing a valid emotion. But rest assured, fault is irrelevant.

Negligence doesn’t play a factor in deciding whether an injured employee receives workers’ compensation benefits. So, you’re free to feel at fault, and even openly express regret at your actions, without risking your state-mandated protections.

Misconduct May Be Irrelevant Too

It’s natural to assume that breaking a company rule or overlooking established safety precautions would void an employee’s eligibility for workers’ compensation, but that isn’t explicitly true.

An injury sustained as the result of a worker breaking a workplace safety rule or one that comes as the result of an action that was explicitly prohibited by their employer may still be covered. Again, much depends on the level of misconduct and the state in which you are employed. So don’t give up on securing coverage, search for help instead.

Help Is Out There

You may be more protected than you think. You certainly have a lot of rights. If your injury or illness happened at work or while doing something for the direct benefit of your employer, then the laws are quite clear. But even if your particular case lands in the proverbial gray area, you could still be covered.

Explore the internet for more guidance, enlist the help of a professional employment lawyer, and take the necessary steps to familiarize yourself with the laws that your state has put in place to protect you. Remember, the goal is to preserve and improve your health. So, do what you can so that you don’t have to worry about lost wages or costly medical bills.

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