Virginia Workers Compensation: Open Awards
If you have been injured at work in Virginia you need to know what an Open Award is and how to get one. If you fail to get an Open Award in Virginia you could be cut off from your benefits at any time.
What is an Open Award?An Open Award is an order that is given by the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission that helps to ensure you keep getting your weekly payments from your employer and the workers compensation insurance until you return to work. It also ensures that your medical bills related to your work injury are covered for the rest of your life.
What happens if you don't get an Open Award?You may be receiving your weekly benefits and the Workers Compensation Insurance Company may be covering all of your medicals bills for now, but if you are not under an Open Award that could change at any time. For example, if you are not under an Open Award and you are released back to light duty work with restrictions such as no bending, no lifting over 5lbs, no standing for over 3 hours, etc...and then your employer tells you they do not have light duty work available, most likely your benefits will be cut off. This would leave you at home waiting with no income until you fully recover or until your employer has light duty work for you. If, however, you are under an Open Award you are guaranteed to get your benefits until you return to work and your medical bills related to your work injury will be paid for the rest of your life. Basically, unless you enforce your rights as an injured worker the workers compensation insurance company will be looking for any way to stop payments.
How do I get an Award Order?In order to get an Award Order you will need to file a claim for benefits. The form that you will need to fill out can be found on the Virginia Workers Compensation website. You can fill it out by hand and mail it in or do it all online. However, if you mail the claim in be sure you do not include originals of any paperwork you submit with the claim such as doctor's notes and medical records. Make copies of any paperwork to send in and keep the originals for your records. It is very important that you obtain any doctor's "out of work" notes and any medical records that describe your injuries and submit them with your claim. Once you file the claim the employer and compensation insurance company have 20 days to respond to your claim. The employer can accept or deny the claim. If they accept it you should get a form called an Award Agreement in the mail in 1-2 weeks. When you receive it you should look the agreement over and make sure everything (date of injury, average weekly wage, body parts injured, etc...) looks correct, sign it and send it back to the workers compensation carrier. If the employer denies the claim your benefits will be cut off and you will be scheduled for a hearing. If this happens, it is in your best interest to hire a competent Virginia Workers Compensation Lawyer to represent you at the hearing. Note: An Award Agreement is still not the end of the story. It must be converted into an Award Order. This means that the Commission must approve the Agreement and issue an Open Award Order, granting you ongoing workers compensation payments and a lifetime medical Award. Many workers fail to follow up on this and are shocked when they are cut off from benefits because they were under the mistaken impression that an Award Agreement is the same thing as an Award Order. It is not. The workers compensation insurance adjusters know about this confusion and often take advantage of it by failing to forward the Award Agreement to the Commission for review and issuance of the Award Order.