What are my rights when I’m injured at work?
I get this call several times per week. People are often injured at work, through no fault of their own, and want to know who can they sue for their injuries? The answer is, usually only their own employer and its insurance carrier. The more lengthy answer is: It depends on the circumstances. Having the right lawyer walk you through your options is a must at this stage. Generally, when you are injured at work, only a few benefits are available to you. In Michigan, medical treatment should be covered 100% and there should never be a copay or deductible owed. You are also entitled to 80% of an average of your after tax take home pay for as long as you are disabled from earning an income.
Medical benefits include doctor appointments, hospital ER visits, hospital stays, physical or other rehabilitation therapy, pain injections, prescription medications, durable medical equipment and surgery.
Mileage should also be paid to and from each medical appointment. Travel reimbursement for meals and hotels is also covered when appropriate, however, you will likely receive some push back on this reimbursement. The treatment covered must be reasonable, and often, insurance carriers will fight telling you there are other treatment options available closer to you. Many times, companies will choose doctors for you, or have nurse case managers assigned to your case, that pushes you towards certain doctors they are familiar with, or ones that are more employer-friendly. It’s important to know which doctor to choose and to push for the care you are entitled to.
Employees who need attendant care to help with activities of daily living can get their relatives paid up to 56 hours each week at professional rates. Home and vehicle modifications should also be covered when necessary. Again, this rarely is paid voluntarily and takes a large push from an experienced attorney to make this happen. Oftentimes, companies will not voluntarily give you this information, so you are left to guess what you are entitled to.
Another rarely used benefit is Vocational Rehabilitation. Those services can be paid up to 104 weeks and can help an injured worker obtain training that would aid in returning to the workforce in a less physically demanding job.
Finally, regarding your original injury, there is a chance there could be another cause of action arising out of your work-related injury. In Michigan, your recovery for excess damages other than what the workers’ compensation act specifically allows, depends on WHO caused your injury. If it was another employee, then you are not likely entitled to any other remedy. If the injury was caused by another person who does NOT work for your company (think a driver running a red light crashing into your car while you are delivering pizzas), then there might be another cause of action under the No-Fault Auto act that allows for additional damages. While workers' compensation is always primary, it takes an experienced lawyer who has dealt with these issues to properly walk you through your rights.
What about returning to work?
This is the other question I get asked more often than any other. The short answer is, always attempt to return to work if you can do so without injuring yourself further, and your doctor approves you to do so. The reason is, in Michigan, workers' compensation benefits are only approved IF you show you can not make your maximum wage because of your injuries. What this means is, after your injury, can you still earn an income? If so, you might only be entitled to a portion of your wage loss benefit. I will always encourage my clients to look for jobs while out injured because it’s the law, and that’s one of the “tricks” the insurance companies use to try and reduce your benefit, even if they have paid your claim voluntarily. If you fail to “look” for jobs available within your education, qualifications, and training, you could lose your wage loss benefits owed.
My suggestion, you must have an attorney that deals with workers' compensation to walk you through your claim. This is an ever-changing arena, and have an experienced attorney guide you through your claim is a must.
Here’s a link to the State of Michigan’s site that also explains this in some detail.