Workers Compensation Attorney in Birmingham, Alabama
Workers Comp | Retaliation | Wrongful Death
Workers Comp cases are governed by the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. The Act is designed to provide medical treatment for work-related injuries, and when appropriate compensation benefits for disability. Proving that you are entitled to medical benefits and monetary compensation is streamlined, and, in return, there is a cap placed on the amount of money that can be recovered by an injured worker.
What should injured workers do first after a work injury?
1) Seek immediate medical treatment if you are in an emergency situation. Treat your emergency first, focus on your health and what the emergency doctors tell you, and worry about insurance companies and lawyers and your claim after you are stable.
2) Tell Your Supervisor within Five Days (5) of Your Injury. You need to let your immediate supervisor know about your injury as soon as possible. Ideally, you should do this immediately after your injury. If you cannot do it immediately, notify your supervisor within Five Days (5) of your injury. If you are in the hospital, then notify your supervisor of your injury within Five Days (5) of your release from the hospital. If you missed the Five Day deadline, all is not lost. You should make every effort available to notify your employer in writing of your injury within 30 Days. You might also want to consider consulting with an attorney, as all is still not lost, even if you've missed the 30 Day deadline. But that would depend on the particular facts of your situation. I cannot unfold for you more of what to expect without speaking with you.
3) Complete a First Report of Injury Form. Your supervisor should either:
- Complete a form documenting your injury known as a "First Report of Injury" for you, or,
- Direct you to someone who will complete the "First Report of Injury" form for you.
Regardless of who completes your First Report of Injury Form, you should try and make sure one is completed by someone at your company to document your injury. It then needs to be forwarded to your employer's Workers' Compensation Insurance Provider.
4) Ask Your Employer to Provide Medical Treatment. The Alabama Workers' Compensation Act requires that the employer provide medical care to an injured employee. But, the employer gets to select the medical care provider. That means, in most situations, your employer gets to pick your doctor. That doctor will be designated as your Authorized Treating Physician, and will be authorized to provide medical treatment to only your work-related injury. In order to make sure your medical treatment is covered under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, you need to go through your employer's medical treatment options. Your employer usually does not have to pay for medical treatment that they did not authorize.
Workers' Compensation Benefits in Alabama
Workers' Compensation Claims operate differently than traditional personal injury claims, and the benefits, and the way that a monetary recovery is calcuated is one of the primary differences.
- What types of work injuries are covered in Alabama? Injuries that are suffered while you are acting within the line and scope of your employment are covered under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. The Act is designed to be liberally interpreted in favor of the injured worker. This means most any injury that you might suffer while working is an injury that would entitle you to workers' compensation benefits. Things like falling, or being struck by equipment are covered, but so are cumulative injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.
- What types of injuries are not covered in Alabama? Some injuries are not considered work-related. If your injury was the result of you being intoxicated, or under the influence of mind-altering substances, then the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act is reluctant to provide compensation. Also, injuries suffered while travelling to or from work are sometimes not covered. Injuries like a stroke or a heart attack may require an extra showing that they were due to work-related activity. Sometimes the courts decide that a heart attack was coming anyway, and it was just coincidence that it happened at work. Other times, the courts will decide that a heart attack was the result of strenuous work activity. If the workers' compensation insurance adjuster is giving you trouble and refusing to approve your medical treatment, you are invited to contact us to discuss your options.
How much money is an Alabama Workers Compensation Claim worth?
The final money value of your claim is based on the nature and extent of your injury and the negative impact it has had on your ability to earn and income. The law divides different body parts into a list, or "schedule", and provides a mathematical formula to calculate compensation benefits based on the body part that was injured. The exact amount depends on how badly you were hurt, how much of an impact that has on your ability to work, and what body part you injured.
The Alabama Workers' Compensation Act provides benefits for an injured worker who has suffered a permanent injury that has resulted in a disability that negatively impacts the worker's ability to earn an income. The Act distinguishes the types of disability in a few ways. First, the injured worker has suffered either a temporary disability, or a permanent disability, and that disability is either a partial disability, or a total disability. If you'd like to read the law, the relevant portions regarding compensation for disabilty are found in Ala. Code § 25-5-57.
Temporary Total Disability: Ala. Code § 25-5-57(a)(1)
If you have suffered a work injury and seen a workers' comp doctor, it is possible the doctor will take you out of work for a while to recover from your injury. This commonly results in you being entitled to Temporary Total Disability Benefits, which will be a weekly check that is roughly 2/3 of your average weekly wage. Note that there are minimum and maximum values in place for the weekly amount, see: Ala. Code § 25-5-68. If you think you are not receiving weekly checks when you should be, or if you are not receiving as much as you should, you are invited to contact me to discuss what can be done.
Permanent Partial Disability: Ala. Code § 25-5-57(a)(3)
- Schedule Injuries Permanent partial disabilty payments are calculated based on the nature and extent of the injured worker's injury, and the specific body part that was injured. Permanent Partial Disabilty benefit calculations are controlled by a schedule found in the law. The schedule outlines the maximum available compensation for the loss (or loss of function) to different body parts, for example: loss of thumb, loss of first finger, loss of second finger, loss of entire hand, etc. The reasoning is that if we lose a thumb, that is a universal experience. We all suffer that injury equally, going from ten fingers to nine.
- Non-schedule Injuries Other types of injury are not suffered equally, as there is a great variety in potential outcomes, such as an injury to the back or neck, or a brain injury. Such injuries may be minor for some people, and devestating to others, depending on the degree of the injury, and the response to medical treatment. The Alabama Workers' Compensation Act recognizes that it is unjust to treat all back or brain injuries the same, and there is not a schedule for those types of injuries. They are instead considered injuries to the body-as-a-whole, or non-schedule injuries. The maximum amount recoverable under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act for a partial injury to the body-as-a-whole is 300 weeks of the compensation rate, which typically equates to approximately $66,000.
Permanent Total Disability: Ala. Code § 25-5-57(a)(4)
Total Disability under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act means that your injury has done permanent damage that will prevent you from ever doing the type of work you are trained and experienced to do. It does not mean totally helpless or bedridden. There is no weekly cap on Permanent Total Disability benefits. They last for the duration of your injury, which, if permanent, is presumed to be for the rest of your natural life. While Permanent Partial disability is limited to a maximum of 300 weeks, which equates to approximately $66,000, the dollar figure for a Permanent Total Disabililty award is often much higher. You will need to have an attorney look at your medical records to determine if you are eligible for Permanent Total Disability benefits, and to help calculate the total amount to which you are entitled. You are invited to contact me to discuss your claim in further detail.
Note that there is no relief available for pain and suffering or mental anguish. An injured worker is only compensated for the negative impact a work-related injury has made on the worker's ability to earn an income. Injured workers are compensated for diminished earning capacity.
The Alabama Workers' Compensation Act is expressly intended to provide medical benefits to injured workers. Your employer will provide you with medical treatment by assigning you a doctor that will be known as your Authorized Treating Physician. Your Authorized Treating Physician will then direct your medical treatment and provide you whatever treatment is reasonable and medically necessary to treat your injury. Common treatment options include:
- Physical Therapy
- Pain Management
- Long-term care
Your Authorized treating physician will refer you to different medical specialists or treatment facilities as your need arises. You will not receive medical treatment for any pre-exising ailment or injury, or for injuries that are not work-related.
How long do medical benefits last?
For the rest of your life if necessary. Medical benefits are provided for as long as is reasonably necessary to treat the work-related injury. At some point, however, you reach a point where your condition has improved as much as it is going to improve. This does not always mean you are healed, but that your condition has plateaud. Your Authorized Treating Physician will determine that you have reached a point of Maximum Medical Improvement, which is commonly referred to as "MMI."
Once you reach MMI, it is common, but not mandatory, that your Authorized Treating Physician will order a test to evaluate the extent of your permanent injuries. This test is known as a Functional Capacity Evaluation, or "FCE", and is commonly conducted at a physical therapy facility. Whether your injury and treatment requires an FCE is determined by your Authorized Treating Physician.
Regardless, there is no limit to the duration of your medical benefits. They last for as long as you require treatment unless you choose to close that right as part of your settlement.
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Can you sue your employer for negligence?
No. The injured worker is restricted to only the benefits that are payable under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. However, this does not mean that separate, or different defendants cannot be sued for negligence, such as:
- If the injured worker was involved in an auto accident - the negligent driver
- If the injured worker slipped and fell becuase of a separate or different company's negligence, then that other company may be sued for negligence
- If the injured workers was injured because of a defective product, then the manufacturer of the product
- Any co-employee who intentionally harmed the injured worker
- Any co-employee who intentionally removed a safety device that resulted in injury
In many cases, more than one potential defendant may be liable for your injuries and damages. These are referred to as "third party" claims. You are invited to contact me to hear more about which defendants should be included alongside your Workers' Compensation Claim.
Can you sue someone other than your employer?
Yes, if the facts demand it. Injuries resulting from workers' compensation auto accidents are situations where two different defendant's may be involved in in the same lawsuit. Many workers in Alabama perform work duties as delivery or transport drivers, and they are hurt in auto accidents while driving a company vehicle just like other motorists on Alabama roadways.
When such accidents are not the injured workers fault, but the result of negligence on behalf of the other driver, two separate claims are brought side-by-side: one for workers' compensation benefits brought against the employers, and one or more for negligence brought against the at-fault driver, which are known as third party claims. Third party claims resulting from auto accidents proceed in a similar fashion as typical negligence claims, such as:
In these situations, you may still pursue medical benefits under workers' compensation for immediate medical treatment and receive your weekly Temporary Total Disability benefit checks if your doctor takes you out of work.
Can you be fired for filing a Workers' Compensation Claim?
Technically, no. It undermines the effectiveness of the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act if injured workers are under threat of losing their jobs for filing a claim for workers' compensation benefits. Employers are not allowed to fire you for making a claim for benefits under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. Alabama is an at-will employment state. This means your employer can fire you for "a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all." However, this general rule does not apply if the reason is because you filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. In that case, your employer is not legally allowed to fire you, and if they fire you because you filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, then there arises a claim for what's known as Employer Retaliation.
Employer Retaliation Claims Are Hard To Prove. The bad news is that the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act is very strict on Employer Retaliation claims. The law states that the employee's claim for workers' compensation benefits has to be the "sole reason" for the termination. Therefore, employers often start to look for additional reasons to terminate injured employees to conceal the true reason for the injured employee's termination. The burden then shifts to the injured employee to prove that the stated reasons are just a smoke-screen to cover the real reason for the injured employee's termination - the injury.
Because of the complexities of an Employer Retaliation claim, I cannot give you more detail about how your claim would unfold without speaking with you. Employer Retaliation claims and wrongful terminations are heavily reliant on the particular facts of each claim. You are invited to complete one of the contact forms and I will reach out to discuss your potential claim with you.
What if your claim is denied?
Alabama law provides injured workers in Alabama an option to ask a Judge to decide if an injury is work related, and if the employer is responsible to pay for medical treatment. Whether this is an option for you depends on the particular facts of your case, see Ex parte Publix Super Markets, Inc., 963 So. 2d 654 (Ala.Civ.App. 2007).
Many injured workers will receive a Denial Letter from the adjuster handling their Alabama Workers' Compensation claim. This Letter will typically provide reasons for the decision to deny workers' compensation benefits. Reasons for a denial might include: pre-existing condition, or the theory that the injury was not work-related. Or it may just be that the insurance adjuster does not have enough evidence in front of them to agree that an injury was work-related. Unfortunately, there are people in our society that will abuse the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, and because of that abuse, part of an insurance adjuster's job is to deny the claim if it appears that the insurance company is not legally responsible for your medical treatment.
This process does not necessarily have to go all of the way to the Judge. Often times, when enough evidence is gathered, the Employer will change position and agree to provide medical treatment. What all of that entails, though, varies from person-to-person, because every injury is unique and different; so are the facts leading up to and surrounding the injury.
How long do workers compensation lawsuits take?
Each of us are different, and so are our injuries. A reasonable timeframe for your claim to resolve is in the 9-18 month range, however, settlement is a possiblity as soon as you reach Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). You typically have to file a lawsuit within two years of the date of your work-injury. If it has been longer than two years, there are still some scenearios where you can bring a lawsuit. You should consult with an Alabama Workers Compensation Attorney immediately. You do not have time to spare.
Even after your lawsuit is filed, there are still several stages for the average Alabama Workers Compensation Claim.
Your Medical Treatment - MMI - Maximum Medical Improvement
The first thing that needs to take place is your medical treatment. Maximum Medical Improvement, or "MMI", is a term that indicates that your medical situation has stabilized. It doesn't mean you are fully healed, it means that you have healed as much as you are going to heal. You have reached a plateau, and we can glean a clear picture of how your work-injury has permanently affected you. We know how much you healed, and how much you didn't. We can now start to talk about how much money you are due in compensation for your permanent damages. If you are receiving Temporary Total Disability Checks, if your doctor releases you to return to work, then your weekly TTD checks will likely stop coming from Workers Comp. You should speak with an Alabama Workers Compensaton Attorney if you are worrried about your weekly checks stopping.
The Workers Comp Lawsuit starts when we file a Complaint. It doesn't have to be after you reach MMI, but it does need to be within two years of your injury. Here's a rough outline of the Workers' Compensation lawsuit process:
- Complaint: we start by filing a complaint in the appropriate court. Probably whatever county you were in when you suffered your work-injury.
- Answer: Your employer then has 30 days to file their response, which is called and answer. They are answering our complaint.
- Discovery: Each side has to swap evidence, and answer written questions about the lawsuit. Each side gets 30 days to do that.
- Subpeonas: If additional evidence is available, and neither party has it (like medical records) then we have to issue subpoenas for the records. Those take at least 30 days to complete.
- Depositions: Once the document evidence is gathered and reviewed, we start to schedule depositions. It typically takes a month or two after all of the evidence is gather for both parties to prepare for depositions. We will speak with available witnesses and your doctors.
- Mediation: At this point, almost every Workers Comp claim in Alabama attempst a formal settlement procedure known as mediation.
- Trial: if mediation is unsuccessful we go to trial. The typical Workers Comp trial lasts between one and two days. Many are conducted in a few hours. Workers Compensation claims are not tried before a jury. They are tried before a judge alone.
Mediation. Workers' Compensation claims often settle through either negotiations of the parties or through a process known as Mediation. Mediation is a formal settlement meeting. It is usually done in an office. I will be in one conference room with you, and the defense lawyer and his or her client will be in another conference room. A third party known as a Mediator goes back-and-forth between the two conference rooms and communicates offers from one party to another.
Mediators are provided by the State of Alabama specifically to mediate claims made by injured workers under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act. The service is free, and they gave them a funny name: "Ombudsman." They are knowledgeable about the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, and can help to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of both parties involved in the mediation. We tell the Ombudsman why we think our case is strong and the defense's case is weak, then the defense tells the Ombudsman why their case is strong and ours is weak. The Ombudsman goes back-and-forth between the two parties and tries to help us reach an agreement through this method.
Mediation is voluntary, even if participation is mandatory. We cannot force a defendant to pay anymore money than they are willing to pay at mediation. That is what trial is for. Mediation is an attempt to reach a voluntary agreement. Each party has a degree of control: The defendant controls how much money they are willing to offer; the plaintiff controls the "Yes" or "No."
Court Approval Hearing. All Workers' Compensation claims in Alabama have to be approved either by the Court that has jurisdiction over your workers' compensation claim at what is known as a Best Interest Hearing, or an Ombudsman at what is known as a Benefit Review Conference. In both situations, the procedure is designed to make sure that you are getting a fair and reasonable settlement, and that settling your claim is in your best interest.
At any point in the process your workers comp claim can settle. You typicall don't get full settlement value unless we proceed at least through the point of your deposition. On average that is somewhere around 9-18 months. But, everyone's workers comp claim is different, and there are ways to make it go faster. Your claim certainly does not have to be average. To tell you more about your particular claim, I would have to know more about your case. You are invited to call me: (205) 335-4190 or complete one of my contact forms and I will reach out if I think I can help you.
Fees for Workers' Compensation claims in Alabama are fixed by the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act as contingency fees at 15%. The good news is that you don't have to pay me anything out-of-pocket. The only way you pay me is out of your recovery.
In a Contingency Fee situation, I usually will pay case expenses on the front-end on the condition that you agree to pay me back out of any recovery from your claim. Expenses commonly include:
- Filing Fee: to file your claim into court,
- Records Fee: copy fees to gather your records,
- court reporter appearance fee
- transcript fees
- doctors typically charge between $1,000 and $1,500 for a one-hour deposition.
I try not to incur fees on your behalf unless they are necessary, but, you can see how workers' compensation claims that go to trial can incur thousands of dollars in fees.
If you claim is denied, and we lose in court, then you do not owe me the expense money I spent on your claim. There is a certain amount of risk on my end involved in taking claims on a contingency fee structure, but, most of my clients are hurt and cannot work. They are in the worst position they could be in to hire a lawyer. Once I'm on your team, and standing in your corner, we either win together or we lose together.
Free Initial Strategy Session
All Initial Strategy Sessions are Free. If you would like to discuss your options, you are invited to fill out one of the Contact Forms. I will attempt to contact you if I think I can help you.
During your Initial Strategy Session, I will asist you in creating a strategy on how to best pursue your claim, whether it be the result of a Car Wreck Accident, 18 Wheeler Accident, or, Alabama Workers' Compensation Claim. At your Initial Strategy Session, you will receive the following:
- First - I will listen to your story. You will have a chance to tell everything to someone who wants to hear what happened to you.
- Based on the information that you provide, I will give you my best advice on both what claims you have, and the next steps you should consider to proceed with your claim(s).
- If your claim is something that I think I can help you with, I will explain the services that I can provide for you, and what the next steps are that we should take. We will start working immediately.
- If your matter is something that I do not think I can help you with, then I will attempt to put you in contact with another lawyer that might be able to help you.
- Either way, what should happen is we will put to rest some of the unkowns that you may be experiencing. We will start to shed some light on what you can expect, and how to best pursue the benefits you deserve.
Don't delay getting the compensation you deserve!
Contact us today for your free Strategy Session!