WORKERS' COMPENSATION IN ALABAMA…SOME COMMON QUESTIONS:
Q. Am I entitled to workers' compensation benefits?
If you are injured in a work-related accident while employed by a private employer in Alabama , you are generally entitled to workers' compensation benefits under state and/or federal law.
Q. What law applies to me?
If your accident occurs in Alabama , you are covered under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. If the accident occurs at a shipyard or dock, you may also be covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. If the accident occurs outside of Alabama , you may be covered under the law of the state where the accident occurred. There are some circumstances where you may be covered by the law of more than one state or under the both state law and the Longshore Act. The benefits available vary from state to state and under the Longshore Act. A lawyer can advise you as to which claim or combination of claims would be best for you.
Q. What time limits apply?
An injured employee must give proper and timely notice of the accident to their employer. The law provides out some very specific rules as to the method and timing of this notice.
Under Alabama law, an injured employee has up to two (2) years, either from the date of the accident or, if compensation benefits have been paid, the date of the last compensation payment (this does not include payments for medical treatment), to settle their case or file a lawsuit in court. Under the Longshore Act, the time period is one (1) year to file a claim with the United States Department of Labor.
These time limits are very important. If you fail to take appropriate action within the above time limits, you could lose your claim forever.
Q. What benefits are available?
The following benefits are generally available under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act (similar benefits are available from the Longshore Act and other states):
- Medical treatment by an authorized treating physician.
- Payment of 100% of charges for authorized medical treatment.
- The right to choose your own treating physician from an approved list of physicians provided by the employer or its insurance carrier.
- Compensation benefits for temporary disability equal to 2/3 of your average weekly wage prior to your injury.
- Payment of mileage traveled for authorized medical treatment.
- Vocational retraining.
- Compensation benefits for permanent disability.
- Lump-sum settlements of compensation benefits.
Q. Are compensation benefits paid periodically, e.g., bi-weekly, or in a lump-sum?
Benefits for temporary disability while you are receiving medical treatment are paid periodically, typically on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, until you return to work or are released from active medical treatment.
Benefits for permanent disability are payable on a periodic basis and will be ordered to be paid in this manner if your case goes to trial. Often, however, these benefits are settled in a lump-sum.
Q. Who is working for them? Who is working for me?
Many employers carry workers' compensation insurance to cover their employees' claims. Your employer and/or its insurance company will often hire claims adjusters, risk management companies, case management nurses, private investigators, vocational experts, lawyers and even physicians to review requested medical treatment.
A lawyer will also have access to investigators, experts and other professionals to work for you.
Q. How does the lawyer get paid for handling my case?
There is no fee for an initial consultation with a lawyer in workers' compensation cases.
A 15% contingency fee, i.e., no fee unless there is a recovery for you through a settlement or judgment after trial, is the standard for cases under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act.
Q. How are the costs associated with my case paid?
Costs are paid up front by the attorney and reimbursed by you only if there is a recovery.
Q. How long will it take to resolve my case?
Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all" answer to this question. How long it will take depends on the circumstances of your particular case. For example, how far along is your medical treatment, how seriously are you injured, whether the injury will affect your ability to return to work, how cooperative is your employer and their insurance company, how willing are you to settle your case, and, ultimately, whether the case will need to be filed in court. Generally, most workers' compensation cases settle prior to trial, either before or after a lawsuit has been filed.
Q. What happens when I settle?
All settlements under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act must be approved either by a Judge or the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations.
Q. How will receiving workers' compensation benefits affect my other benefits such as Social Security disability?
Workers' compensation, Social Security disability and private disability insurance benefits can interact with each other resulting in a reduction in benefits. While these off-sets may not be entirely preventable, an attorney can often take steps to eliminate or reduce the amount of the off-sets, especially when workers' compensation benefits are settled in a lump-sum.
Q. Are there other claims I can make for an on-the-job injury?
On-the-job injuries often give rise to claims other than for just workers' compensation benefits and these claims must be coordinated for the best outcome for the injured worker.
Examples of other claims associated with an on-the-job injury:
- Wrongful termination claims.
- Personal injury claims against negligent drivers arising out of work-related car or truck accidents, including employee claims against the uninsured/underinsured coverage of the employer's automobile policy.
- Personal injury claims against negligent contractors, landowners and other third parties.
- Personal injury claims arising out of defective machinery, equipment, vehicles or from a safety device that has been removed or tampered with.
- Social Security disability claims.
- Private short-term and long-term disability insurance claims.
- Claims under employment law such as the Family Medical Leave Act, ERISA and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Q. Are the problems that I am having normal?
Problems that are typically faced by workers and their families in the workers' compensation system:
- Serious injury.
- Little or no income.
- Bills that can't be paid and the prospect of bankruptcy.
- Employer that doesn't seem to care.
- Difficult and unresponsive insurance adjuster.
- Lack of respect and trust from medical providers including your own doctor.
- Constant delays.
- Loss of job.
- Loss of job benefits – health insurance, life insurance, pension, etc.
- Loss of ability to compete for a new job.
- Marital and family stress.
UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE FUTURE.
All of the above are normal. A serious work injury is disruptive and not all of these problems can be avoided. A lawyer can, however, make the process substantially less painful and can provide some certainty as to the benefits that are available. A lawyer can also direct you to other assistance, e.g., trusted lawyers in other areas of practice, vocational experts, mental health professionals, and government services.
"No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers."