Compensation for Emotional Distress in North Carolina and Virginia Workplace Accident Cases

Posted on Monday, February 26th, 2018 at 10:42 am    

Many employers will argue that emotional injuries are insignificant or even frivolous. Accident victims should understand that they DO have the right to seek compensation if they need to see psychiatrist, psychologist, or any type of mental health counselor. It is easier to be approved for emotional distress wages and medical care, but not essential, if your emotional distress accompanies a physical injury.

Workers who suffer broken bones, back injuries, spinal cord damage, or other physical injuries often quite justifiably worry about whether their injuries will heal properly. Accident victims often suffer anxiety and depression about their job prospects and how their injuries will affect their ability to perform even routine tasks like sleeping, walking, and eating. Workplace accident victims often worry about how their pain and recovery process is hurting their spouse and children. Not to mention post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if the injury was violent, such as an attack or fall from heights or an amputation.

In some cases, such as when a worker suffers a traumatic brain injury, it is virtually a given that the worker will need emotional counseling to address issues of confusion, memory loss, an inability to speak, extreme anger, and other difficulties.

In other cases, such as workplace violence, there may be no physical injury at all. If a worker observes  someone being killed, comes upon a horrifically violent scene,  or if a car nearly hits the worker – then these memories can vividly play over and over again in the worker’s mind, like an insane “loop,” interfering with the worker’s sleep and destroying all emotional stability, in some cases even causing hallucinations. This may justify the need to get psychiatric help and could lead to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While many workers may think it is “macho” to tough out their injuries and the reactions to them, experienced workers’ compensation lawyers explain that getting professional help is often the best course. Speaking with psychologists and other professionals may even quicken the date when you can return to work, or in some cases, protect you from prematurely being thrown back into a work environment which is full of the very “triggers” that must be avoided in order for you to heal from the PTSD.

Some of the key issues involved in proving emotional distress in work injury cases

Emotional injuries are harder to prove than physical injuries. Physical injures can be verified by X-Rays, MRIs, CT scans, and other diagnostic tests. Often, there is visual evidence in the form of bruises, scarring, redness, or other unsightly conditions.

Emotional injuries normally can’t be seen or tested objectively, although some aspects of an underlying condition, such as memory loss or other cognitive deficits can be measured by testing. Most emotional injuries are observed. They require a review with a mental health professional who will need to document the basis for the emotional injury. The psychologist, psychiatrist, or other emotional health provider will normally complete a report which addresses the following:

  • The verbal responses to questions
  • The ability of the worker to communicate his/her thoughts
  • The ability of the worker to remember events, places, or things
  • Whether the worker can focus or if the worker is easily confused
  • The ability of the worker to reason

The emotional health doctor or counselor should be able to document:

  • The depth and level of the worker’s anxiety, depression, or other emotional states that prevent the worker from doing his/her job. Disappointment is generally not compensable. Chronic depression, psychosis, or phobias are conditions that are more likely to justify the cost of seeking medical help.
  • Whether the emotional injuries accompany any physical injury
  • Whether the worker’s distress is a logical result of some work-related event such as being robbed
  • If the distress was due to some intentional misconduct at work
  • The length of the distress and whether the distress is improving with counseling
  • The amount of time and sessions the health provider reasonably thinks are necessary to help the worker do his/her job again
  • The expected emotional issues for the particular type of physical injury the worker suffered
  • The extent of any underlying cognitive deficits which may contribute to the emotional distress, such as memory loss. This can be measured through a battery of tests given by a neuropsychologist.

The doctor should prepare a detailed medical report indicating the precise diagnoses, whether the diagnoses are connected to the work injury and come up with a treatment plan, and the worker’s prognosis.

Additional emotional distress considerations in workers’ compensation cases

In general, an employee can’t claim emotional distress if their negative emotional state is due to standard work conditions. For example, if an employer calls in an employee for a work review or assigns a worker to a new job task, the review or assignment may cause the worker to become quite nervous. Still, reviews and work assignments are routine parts of any job. An employer is not normally going to be required to pay for the worker’s need to seek emotional counseling for standard work conditions.

Please note: This article does not address other remedies that are outside the scope of our practice, such as discrimination or other claims to the EEOC due to a “hostile work environment.” For any such claims, we suggest you consult with a competent labor and discrimination attorney.

The employer’s insurance company may send you to their own doctor who will conduct their own examination. In Virginia, if you are given a psychiatric referral, you get to pick from a panel of three doctors. Often it is up to your attorney to first make sure that everyone on the suggested panel of psychiatrists or psychologists actually accept workers compensation patients. Unfortunately, most do not, so this is very important.

Typically, a key difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is that the psychiatrist can prescribe medications while the psychologist cannot write prescriptions. In terms of proving your case, it is very important that you see AT LEAST a psychologist. A licensed professional counselor or nurse practitioner may be able to treat you, but they cannot offer opinions in your case about any psychiatric condition or whether it is connected to the work accident. So if you are seeing such a counselor, and you want to prove your psychiatric diagnoses are connected to your work injury, you will need a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

In addition, if you have suffered a brain injury and you are attempting to prove that you are suffering from psychiatric conditions connected to that injury, you will need a psychiatrist (who is an M.D.) or other medical doctor such as a neurosurgeon to testify that your psychiatric conditions are connected to that brain injury. A psychologist can testify about your diagnosis, but he or she is not allowed to testify that your psychiatric condition is related or a result of a physical brain injury. They CAN testify that you are suffering from a condition that occurred as a result of your reaction to a traumatic event, such as an attack or severe fall. But that is not the same as saying that your psychological diagnosis is the direct result of a physical injury. For that, you need an M.D.  

If you can’t work due to emotional difficulties relating to your work injury, be wary of nurse case managers trying to convince your health care providers to return you to work before you are ready. We have found that on many occasions, the residual emotional issues relating to a traumatic injury are the last to disappear after a bad injury. Many times, it is the psychiatrist or psychologist who is the only health care provider who can protect a severely traumatized worker from being thrown back into a work environment that he or she is nowhere near ready to handle.

Attorney Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for North Carolina and Virginia workers for more than 25 years. He’s helped thousands of work injury victims get justice. He’ll work aggressively to help you get all the wage loss and medical coverage you deserve. Call his office now at (888) 694-1671. You can also reach him through his contact form.

Coastal Virginia Magazine’s “Best of” 2018

Posted on Thursday, February 22nd, 2018 at 10:04 am    


We are happy to announce that Joe Miller Law has been nominated for the Costal Virginia Magazine’s “Best of” 2018! You can vote for us by following this link.

 

Independent Contractors and Worker’s Compensation in North Carolina and Virginia

Posted on Wednesday, January 31st, 2018 at 11:02 am    

As a general rule, a worker must be an employee in order to qualify for work injury benefits in either North Carolina or Virginia. Workers who are independent contractors are not eligible for either lost pay benefits or for medical bills through worker’s compensation. This means that any worker who wants to receive workers’ compensation must show he/she was employee when the accident occurred. It also means that the insurance company for the employer will want to show that an injured worker was not an employee but worked independently.

Employers are required to have workers’ compensation for all their employees and are required to know the difference between an employee and an independent contractor. Typically, an employer pays an employee payroll taxes and unemployment taxes for the employee – in addition to paying for worker’s compensation insurance and sometimes even healthcare benefits.

Our firm has handled many of these kinds of cases, and prevailed in all of them by proving that the employee was, in fact, an employee as opposed to an independent contractor. We see many employers attempting to get away with this “misclassification” of employees, particularly in industries such as construction, cable installation, or transportation, where it can be costly to maintain workers compensation insurance. Also, as mentioned previously, classifying employees as independent contractors frees the employer from the obligation to pay payroll taxes or health insurance if there are more than 50 such employees. The problem is, when one of these employees gets seriously injured, he or she has no way to pay for the hefty hospital bills.

We have often found that these employers often do have workers compensation insurance. They just refuse to extend that insurance to cover certain workers that they wrongly classify as independent contractors. Once we have proven those workers are, in fact, employees, then the insurance coverage steps in and covers the employee.

Neither the worker nor the employer gets to make the decision as to the employee’s work status. This is true, even if the employer forces a worker to sign a statement saying he/she is an independent contractor before doing any work. Even if the worker receives a federal 1099 form, that is not conclusive to show the worker is an independent contractor. The state workers ‘compensation commissions make the decision which means, for all practical matters, that the Deputy Commissioner makes the call.

The Virginia Workers Compensation Commission and the North Carolina Industrial Commission typically review a variety of factors to determine if you are an employee or independent contractor. Many of these factors are based on the guidelines set forth by the Internal Revenue Service. The key issue tends to be who controls the worker’s hours, labor, and manner of performance. If the employer has control, then the worker is usually an employee. If the worker has control, the worker is usually an independent contractor. Some of these factors are:

  • Control over the worker’s behavior. This includes such factors as:
    • Instructing how the work is to be done, when it’s to be done, and where it should be done. Employee status is indicated if the employer controls which work tools are used and where supplies should be bought.
    • The extent of the instructions. Precise details suggest employee status. Little or no details suggest independent contractor status.
    • How the work is evaluated. If just the final work is evaluated, such as when a worker does home repairs, that suggest independent contractor status. If the employer reviews the work in stages, or via supervision, that suggests employee status
    • Who trains the worker. If an employer has classroom or on-site training, that suggests the worker is an employee. If the employer relies on the worker’s skills without training, that suggests the worker is an independent contractor
  • Control over how the worker is paid.
    • If the employer invests in the equipment used, that suggests employer status;
    • If the employer pays for the work expenses, that suggests independent contractor status
    • If the worker can earn a profit or can lose money depending on how well the job is done and client satisfaction, that suggests independent contractor status. Payment by the hour or by the week suggests employee status;
    • If the worker is paid a flat fee via invoice, that usually indicates the work is an independent contractor
  • The relationship between the worker and the employer.
    • A written contract suggests that both employer and employee signs suggest an employee relationship if the contract says the work is an independent contractor
    • Benefit payments. Generally only employees are offered and paid health benefits, vacation pay, sick pay. Generally, only employees are offers 401ks, pension plans, or other retirement benefits
    • The length of the work relationship. Long-term relationships suggest employee status. Independent contractors usually just work on a job for short time and then leave
    • They type of work provided. Work that is essential to the employer’s business indicates an employee relationship

Some additional questions a judge will review to determine employee vs. independent contractor status are:

  • Can the worker do other jobs for other employers at the same time?
  • Who has the right to fire the worker and on what terms?
  • Can the worker choose who he works with on the job and who controls these workers, and when he shows up for work?

The benefit consequences for each type of status – employee or independent contractor

If an employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation for an injured worker and that worker is judged to be an employee, then the employer can be required to pay all the work injury benefits, including temporary total disability, medical bills, and vocational rehabilitation expenses out if its own pocket.

If the worker is found to be an independent contractor, then the employer has no obligation to the independent contractor. An injured independent contractor will then look to his/her own health care policy to pay any medical bills. The contractor will lose wages unless he/she also had some sort of professional disability insurance policy or his own workers comp policy.

If the employer was negligent and the negligence caused the worker’s injury, then the injured independent contractor may be able to sue the employer for his/her medical bills, lost wages, and also for any pain and suffering. If it is clear the employer failed to follow the local building codes, OSHA standards, or common sense work safety conditions – then the employer will be more likely to agree that the worker is an employee. Injured workers should consult with their work injury lawyer before agreeing to this because they make more money by bringing a personal injury lawsuit.

Employers who intentionally classify a worker as being an independent contractor, when they certainly know that the worker is an employee can be subject to fines and penalties – and for the payment of the worker’s employment taxes.

We have come across a few larger employers who have attempted to get away with this misclassification. Rather than upend their entire business model by being exposed in a formal Judicial proceeding, many have desperately agreed to settle the claim instead, which, of course, has worked to our client’s benefit.

Speak with a strong North Carolina and Virginia work injury attorney now

Understand your rights. In many cases, the employer misclassified your work status. Attorney Joe Miller Esq. understands the difference between employee and independent contractor status. He’ll fight to get you approved for employee status if you were injured on the job. He’s helped thousands of injured workers get justice. To speak with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer, please phone (888) 694-1671 or fill out the contact form.

How Does Vocational Rehabilitation in Workers’ Compensation Really Work?

Posted on Monday, January 29th, 2018 at 3:03 pm    

If your physicians make clear that you are unable to perform you prior job because of permanent physical or emotional limitations, (i.e. you are placed on permanent Light Duty),  if you are under an Award in Virginia or an Accepted Claim in North Carolina, AND your employer is not willing or is unable to accommodate your restrictions, the employer’s insurance company will often seek to get you some employment that you can do. There are basically two ways to get you to work with restrictions:

  • The first way is to find you a job that meets your physical restrictions.
  • The second way is to retrain you and/or reeducate you so that you can do different work.

Initially, the employer will assign a vocational rehabilitation counselor to your case. Even though they may be nice, the vocational counselor is often not your friend. He or she is working for the employer and trying to get you any job so the insurance company doesn’t have to continue paying North Carolina or Virginia’s worker’s compensation benefits. More importantly, the vocational rehab counselor will schedule numerous meetings and job leads for you to attend and follow up on. If you fail to “jump through their hoops,” particularly in Virginia, then you will likely be cut off of your benefits for failure to comply with the vocational rehabilitation plan.

Some key considerations when meeting the vocational counselor

The first step is to review your rights with an experienced worker’s compensation who can inform you about:

  • Where the meetings with the counselor should take place. Ideally, they should be at a neutral office and not your home. Public places like libraries and restaurants are sample neutral locations.
  • Who can be present at the meetings. If possible, your lawyer should meet the counselor and be present at the first meeting, usually held at your attorney’s office.
  • Which jobs the vocational counselor can send you to and which ones he/she can’t. Some counselors may send you to jobs that the counselor knows you can’t do because of your work limitations. This is not allowed under the Commission Guidelines in both Virginia and North Carolina. The jobs are supposed to be “pre-screened” by the counselor and within your physical restrictions set forth by your doctor.  If it is clear after you contact the employer or simply on the face of the job description that it falls outside your physical restrictions, you need to bring this to the attention of the counselor—and your attorney.
  • Your duty to actively look for work.  The counselor will require you to follow up on all job leads that she provides to you. You should NOT apply for any jobs on your own outside of those job leads, if you are in active consultation with an insurance company vocational rehab counselor. You should document everything you are doing to look for work, follow her directions, and attend the meetings with the counselor so it’s crystal clear that you are cooperating. If you fail to comply with her legitimate requests and suggestions, the counselor will inform the employer’s carrier. The carrier may then seek to suspend terminate your benefits because you are not being cooperative.
  • Your duty to follow through with the counselor’s recommendations and suggestions. In addition to sending you to interviews for jobs, the counselor will keep track of details such as whether you are on time for meetings and whether you return phone calls and emails. Again, if the counselor can demonstrate you’re not cooperating, your benefits can be suspended or terminated. If benefits are suspended, it can be difficult to reinstate them.
  • Your right to suitable work. In general, both North Carolina and Virginia require that the work you do meet your job restrictions and be work that you are skilled to do. If you do not have the requisite skills, then re-training or schooling may be required.  
  • Your requirement to go to job interviews. It’s best to be safe and go to job interviews even if it’s questionable whether the job is suitable. There usually is not enough time to make changes before you are given the job leads. It could be that the prospective employer may wish to accommodate your restrictions. But if the counselor is sending you on too many bad job interviews, where you are continually being told your restrictions disqualify you from the job, or the job has nothing to do with you still set, then you should review your rights with a trusted work injury attorney who will request that the counselor follow the laws or be replaced. Once again, the vocational rehab counselor is supposed to be “pre-screening” the jobs as suitable for you.

Vocational retraining for when there just aren’t suitable jobs

When it becomes certain that the injured employee simply isn’t going to find a suitable job that meets the work restrictions, then retraining and education is the next likely step. Many employer insurance companies still prefer to pay for retraining rather than to pay for extended work loss wages. Sometimes, this is determined after the first meeting with the vocational rehab counselor.

Retraining usually means one or more of the following:

  • Getting a GED certificate or finishing high school
  • Learning how to read and write
  • Learning a new trade or set of skills such as computer classes
  • Learning how to prepare a resume
  • Learning how to write a cover letter
  • Learning where to look, online and offline for work

Retraining can also mean counseling for people with learning disabilities, blindness, deafness, or mental illness.

Many manual workers can be retrained. Retraining isn’t just limited to high school. Some college education and same trade school education may also be available.  Of course, any costs must be borne by the employer.

The employer’s insurance company should pay for:

  • The cost of tuition, fees, and books
  • Ongoing temporary total disability payments while the worker is being retrained

A vocational rehabilitation counselor will also be assigned to work with you. A good counselor will help your choose training that will help you find a job in your location. A good counselor will also monitor your work not just to see if you taking and passing the classes – but also to review how you are doing and if you need any additional assistance. A bad counselor—which unfortunately is the majority of them— will look to see if you’re missing meetings or performing poorly so he/she can say you’re not cooperating and get you cut off of benefits.

Workers who are fully disabled or who can’t be retrained because of age or other problems shouldn’t be forced to go through a re-education process. If there’s no point to retraining – meaning that completing your studies won’t lead to suitable work, then you should get your benefits on the basis of a total disability.

Your Virginia or North Carolina worker’s compensation attorney can explain when retraining isn’t worth the effort, i.e. would be futile, and how you should proceed. For example, the lawyer may work with a vocational expert who can certify that the retraining simply won’t lead to a real job – given your current work limitations and the known job market in your locale.

On the other hand, if retraining can help and the employer’s insurance company refuses to pay for it, an experienced work injury lawyer will file the proper paperwork and hearing request to force the employer to pay for your vocational rehabilitation.

Understand if vocational rehabilitation is a viable option for you

North Carolina and Virginia lawyer Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injured workers for almost thirty years. He has helped thousands of employees get the lost wages they deserve and get their medical bills paid. He has also fought and prevailed against bad vocational rehabilitation counselors who recommend inappropriate jobs as a means to attempt to get the worker cut off.  The goal is always to work towards what is hopefully a good settlement his clients’ work injury case and a chance at a new life and a decent job. For help now, please call (888) 694-1671 or complete my contact form.

Recent North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Legal Cases

Posted on Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 at 5:09 pm    

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers keep abreast of recent legal decisions. Understanding how cases of other workers are decided helps a good lawyer prepare your case. If there are similar issues, an understanding of the legal decision indicates which arguments and what kinds of evidence a Deputy Commissioner will consider and which arguments and evidence types will not be persuasive. Experienced work injury lawyers regularly review the latest decisions and research them when an issue in your type of case is not clear.

A couple of recent cases in North Carolina:

  1. Injury In the Course of/Arising out of Employment. Holliday v. Tropical Nut & Fruit Co, 775 S.E. 2d 885 (N.C. App. 2015) In this case, the employee was a sales rep for an employer. The Employer decided to hold a sales and marketing conference where a variety of business issues (such as new products and new strategies) were discussed. Employees received awards for good performance for the past year.

The claimant/employee was required to attend the three-day conference, could not bring family members, and was paid his regular salary for attending. The employer created networking and social events that employees were also required to attend. One such event was a laser tag event. The employee felt pain in his right knee while participating in the laser tag event. He sought treatment, after the conference was over, for the right knee. The treatment ultimately required that his right knee be replaced because he suffered a torn meniscus and severe cartilage loss. Mr. Holliday filed a Form 18 , but the employer denied the claim. A hearing was held, and the North Carolina Deputy Commissioner approved the employees claim, including the medical treatment and temporary total disability payments.

The employer appealed the Deputy Commissioner’s decision claiming that:

  1. The injury did not happen during work, during employment.
  2. There was no precise time or moment that the injury occurred so the injury does not meet the workers’ compensation requirement that a specific accident caused the injury.
  3. No evidence of work restrictions was presented after the knee replacement took place.

The employer appealed to the Full Commission, which upheld the Deputy Commissioner’s decision granting benefits. The employer then appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

The NC Appellate Court denied all three appeal issues based on the following reasoning:

  1. Participation in the laser tag event was supposedly technically not required by the employer, but the employer paid for the event, the employer controlled the event including taking attendance, and the event served a business purpose – allowing the employees a chance to network with each other and with their managers from other regional offices in a friendly way. Furthermore, the employee was paid his regular salary for the events and was not permitted to bring his family with him. It was a “team-building” exercise. Each employee was assigned to a specific group by the employer—either the laser tag or bowling.
  2. The appellate court noted that laser tag was not part of the employee’s normal job activities. Accordingly, since he was hurt in an unusual way, outside of his normal work duties, this satisfied the requirement that he had suffered an “injury by accident” since it had occurred due to an interruption of his normal work activities, which usually involved a desk job. The employee was not required to provide the exact motion or time that the tear to the meniscus occurred. It is sufficient that the employee confirmed he injured his knee about 15 minutes into the laser tag game.
  3. The appellate court found that the employee’s surgeon r testified in deposition as to his recovery timeline for workers in a similar situation (having just undergone knee replacement therapy). That testimony was enough to convince a Commissioner and the appellate court that the employee could not work at any capacity for at least several months after the knee replacement surgery.

It can thus be seen that under NC workers compensation law, there are sometimes circumstances where employees can be injured during so-called “company events” that will be deemed compensable by the Industrial Commission, assuming that the employer requires that the employee attend and that the event serves some business purpose. It is not necessary that the activity which injures the plaintiff fit the plaintiff’s job description, and in fact, it is helpful when it doesn’t.  

  1. Injury by Accident-Unusual Circumstances Required. Barnette v. Lowe’s Ctrs, Inc. 785 S.E. 2d 161 (N.C. App., 2016) In this case, the employee and another worker were sent to a beach home to install a refrigerator on the third floor. The employee testified at the workers’ compensation hearing that the stairs were narrower than those in other homes making the delivery much more difficult. Once the workers got about two thirds up the stairwell, they discovered that the the refrigerator wouldn’t fit and that it had to be taken back down. While taking the refrigerator down, the employee lost feeling in his right forearm and hand. The feeling did return about a half-hour later.

The employee filed a Form 18 about four months after the accident, which the employer/defendants denied. The Deputy Commissioner and on Appeal, the Full Commission denied the employee’s claim because he failed to demonstrate that he suffered an injury by accident.  The employee appealed from those decisions to the Court of Appeals of NC.  

Unlike the Deputy Commissioner and Full Commission, the appellate court did find that the injury was caused by an accident and found there was insufficient evidence to say it was not so caused. They reversed the lower decisions and remanded for consideration of Mr. Barnette’s benefits. An accidental cause of injury is “inferred where the work routine is interrupted and the introduction of unusual conditions is likely to result in unexpected consequences.” The appellate court found that this inference carried extra weight when it is clear that employee had to do something physically unusual – which was the case here since the stairway was too narrow and they had to return back down the stairwell, unable to make the final turn to the kitchen, which was on the 3rd floor of the beach cottage.

The bottom line is that the appellate court did find that the employee did suffer a work-related injury and was entitled to worker’s compensation benefits. The key is that the worker was not just doing his or her usual routine and felt an injury. In North Carolina, there must be something out of the ordinary or unusual that is likely to result in unexpected consequences. Otherwise, there is no case.

Contrast this with Virginia, where the focus is more on risk of employment.  In Virginia, you would not need the unusual occurrence of the narrow stairway to prove an accident. The risk of injury from carrying a very heavy refrigerator would likely be enough. So this is a good example of where North Carolina’s law as to proving a compensable injury by accident are slightly more strict than Virginia.

Speak with a respected North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation attorney now

Attorney Joe Miller Esq. keeps current with the latest legal developments. He understands the arguments defense lawyers and what evidence workers’ compensation lawyers find persuasive. He has helped thousands of injured victims get justice.

For a caring representative, please phone Joe Miller Esq. at (888) 694-1671. You can also contact him through his contact form or by email.

 

Common Workers’ Compensation Mistakes Employees Make

Posted on Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 at 5:09 pm    

When a workplace accident causes an injury, the best course of action is to meet with an experienced North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer. A respected lawyer will explain your rights, what practical and legal steps you should take, and how the litigation process works.

Workers, who act on their own, often make the following mistakes which can cause them to lose their case, to lose certain benefits, or to fail to properly get all the compensation and medical care they deserve.

Some of the more common mistakes employees make are:

  1. Failing to properly and timely report their injury to their employer. A delay in notifying your manager, supervisor, or employer that you’ve had a workplace accident can mean that you forfeit your rights to benefits. It also affects your credibility. Employers and their insurance companies are likely to argue that if you were really injured, you would have told someone right away. Employees who suffer an accident at the work site are usually likely to tell a manager. Many workers who work away from the main company site often fail to notify their employer of the accident.

Many employers have written guidelines or manuals for what to do when a workplace accident occurs. Employees should follow the procedures set forth in these documents. These typically involve filling out some kind of accident report. If there is no written policy, then you should tell a manager or supervisor– and as many other people as possible. Employers need to know about the accident promptly so they know your claim is legitimate. Good employers will also take steps to correct whatever may have caused the accident so other workers aren’t injured too.

Employees who fail to give prompt notice may still be able to file a claim – especially if it is clear the employer had actual knowledge of the accident – such as being told by one of your co-workers.

  1. Not meeting the deadlines for filing for state workers’ compensation benefits. In both Virginia and North Carolina, employees can’t wait forever to file a claim. Employees should speak with trusted legal counsel who will explain the time limits and work to file your claim in a proper and timely manner. In most instances, if you fail to file the appropriate paperwork within two years of the accident, you will forfeit all benefits.
  2. Not getting medical treatment right away. Delayed treatment hurts your chances for getting the best medical recovery and also proving your claim.  Doctors are best able to treat patients when the patient sees a doctor as soon as possible. Delayed treatment can also hurt your workers’ compensation claim. Insurance companies are likely to argue you weren’t really hurt if you didn’t see a doctor right away.
  3. Not telling your employer what really hurts. Simple comments like saying you’re fine or it’s no bother – when you really do hurt, can be used against you. It is better to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If it turns out to be nothing to worry about, then fine. But many times the most severe symptoms of an injury take time to manifest.
  4. Not telling your doctors how the accident happened. Employees need to tell their physician or other healthcare provider how the accident happened, that it happened at work, and that the workplace conditions are what caused the accident. If doctors don’t properly document that your accident was work-related, the insurance company for the employer may try to claim your injuries were due to non-work-related causes. DO NOT listen if your employer asks you to “work with them” and not tell the ER or other doctor that you were injured at work. You should also tell each doctor who is treating you for work-related injuries that a workplace accident caused your harm – not just the first doctor you see. We have seen legitimately injured workers ruin their cases because of their failure to give a proper history of injury to their healthcare providers.
  5. Not following through with the recommended medical treatments. Workers who fail to follow the advice of their treating doctors may find that the employer will seek to terminate your medical bills and comp checks because you’re not doing what you need to do to get better. Not following the doctor’s recommendations can also jeopardize your chances of a healthy recovery. If you think the recommended treatment is unwise, then you should seek the opinion of a qualified workers compensation attorney. In Virginia, you can always seek the opinion of another doctor, even if the cost of that opinion initially comes out of your own pocket; however, in North Carolina, if you want a second opinion to be considered, you must seek the approval of the Industrial Commission. Side opinions paid for by you will not be considered in North Carolina.

Employers even have the right to hire nurse case managers who, in theory, are used by the employer to help you make your appointments and have all your questions answered. In practice, the nurse case managers work for the employer and not you. They will be monitoring your medical appointments and treatments. If you fail to see your doctors or follow-through with the recommended treatments, the nurse case managers will alert their employer who may, then, seek to terminate your benefits. In Virginia, once an Application to terminate benefits is filed, your benefits stop IMMEDIATELY, and it may take months or even years to re-activate them.

  1. Failing to comply with vocational rehabilitation requirements. If it is clear you cannot do the job you did before the workplace accident, the workers comp insurance carrier may opt to either attempt to retrain you for new work, or supposedly try to find you work that you are physically able to do. As part of the vocational rehabilitation requirements, you must also seek out work that meets your new skills, usually by being given specific job leads by the vocational rehabilitation counselor. Failure to attend meeting with the counselor, failure to apply for jobs that the counselor provides you, failure to show up for scheduled interviews, and failure to meet with prospective employers as requested by the vocational rehab counselor will likely cause you to lose your North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation benefits. Again, in Virginia, once a defense application to terminate is filed, your benefits stop immediately.
  2. Not filing the right forms with the right information. Applying for your comp payments and a medical Award begins with filing the correct forms with the right information. These forms are legal documents. Don’t ever assume your employer will file your workers’ compensation forms for you, even if they claim they have done so. They CANNOT file these forms for you. All the employer can file is a Notice of Injury with the Commission. It is up the injured worker to file the correct forms. In VA, that’s a Claim for Benefits, and in NC, that’s a FORM 18. The best course of action is to have an experienced work injury lawyer assist you prepare and file these forms for you. One simple mistake in the forms or agreements can deprive you of benefits.
  3. Not handling appeals correctly. Employees should also review with their attorney their appellate rights if their claim is denied. There are deadlines and procedures for filing appeals that must be followed – or the employee appeal will be denied. Likewise, if an employer appeals a decision, the employee does need to respond to the appeal in the correct manner.

To avoid mistakes, speak with an experienced North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation attorney today

Attorney Joe Miller Esq. has been helping injured workers get justice for over 25 years. He’s helped thousands of clients get a strong recovery. He’ll guide you through each step of the claims process and make the right arguments on your behalf. To speak with a strong advocate, please phone lawyer Joe Miller at (888) 694-1671. You can also reach him through his contact form.

What is Light Duty Work in North Carolina and Virginia Workers’ Compensation Cases?

Posted on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018 at 11:44 am    

Light duty work is a legal term of art that you should review with your North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer. “Light Duty” typically means that your authorized treating doctor has released you to some kind of work with physical restrictions, but not your usual job.  An example might be “no lifting over 10 lbs, no bending, stooping, no climbing ladders or working at heights.” If you work as a roofer, that is going to knock you out of your job, at least for now.  Alternatively, if your injuries and restrictions are more severe, you may be restricted to a sedentary or seated job.

What happens to your case as a result of that light duty release depends on many, many factors that are extremely complex.  In many instances, particularly in Virginia, a light duty release by your doctor should be treated like a hydrogen bomb that has just been dropped on your case. You could be cut off of all benefits immediately, if you are not already under an Award for Comp Benefits that has finalized.  

Accommodation by the Employer-The Kiss of Death

Oftentimes, employers will say that they simply do not have any such thing as “light duty.” We will discuss your obligations in that regard soon. That is where the Award issue becomes important; however, if the employer decides to accommodate your restrictions by giving you a “made up” job, then it does not matter whether you are under an Award or not. If your doctor is made aware of the exact type of light duty work you will be doing and the doctor states you can do the work as long as it meets his medical restrictions, then you need to try to do the light duty work. Failure to try the work may result in the loss of your benefits AND the loss of your job.

We are sorry to say that most of the time, accommodation of light duty work by the employer is usually a veiled attempt to harass you and make you trip up and do something insubordinate, so that the employer can fire you. Then, your workers comp case is basically over. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism under the law to do anything about it. You basically have to tough it out unless and until your doctor pulls you back out of work completely.

That is not to say that all employers are out to get you. Some legitimately do want to help you. It is said that allowing you to come back to work on light duty helps you in the following ways, for example:

  • It helps the employee stay focused on returning to work. This can help the injured worker mentally.
  • It helps the worker adjust to the physical demands of work as he/she is getting medical treatment
  • If allows the worker an ability to enjoy his/her job and the company of co-workers.

As an experienced work injury lawyer, however, I must tell you that more often than not, employers often try to use light duty work as a way not to help you, but to try to cut off your benefits. If you fail to follow proper procedures and the recommendations of your doctors as to whether you can do light duty work – you may lose your job and your benefits.

When the employer does not have light duty work or cannot accommodate your restrictions

As discussed previously, many times, the employer will not have anything for you to do within your restrictions. The reason for this is that by returning to the job site, especially if you are in a delicate state, you present a risk to the employer and the workers compensation insurance company of re-injury on the job. Then the employer will have to deal with a whole different injury date and possibly additional injuries. If this occurs, there are two completely different scenarios that can occur, which we will now explain.

Scenario A: You have a finalized, Open Award in Virginia or an Accepted Claim in North Carolina

This is where your Award comes in. If you have a Virginia comp case, whether or not you are under a finalized, ongoing, or Open Award (more than 30 days have passed since entry of the Award) when you are released to light duty will dictate what happens next.

If you are under a finalized Award which says that you are to get comp checks every week without an end date (i.e. Open or ongoing checks), this means that the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission has proclaimed that you have a right to those benefits unless and until the employer can show that you are capable of returning to your pre-injury work. So your checks will not stop.

What may happen at that point is that the comp carrier may hire a vocational rehabilitation expert to attempt to find you work within your restrictions. Be aware that some of these folks can be extremely aggressive. You must be careful, because typically their real job is not to find you a job but to have you trip up and miss meetings and fail job search requirements so that you can be cut off of benefits.

But sometimes, particularly if your injuries are severe, you are older, and your education level is limited, the workers compensation insurance company realizes that vocational rehabilitation will likely be a waste of time and your checks may simply continue until such time as either the parties can come to a settlement agreement, your doctor releases you to full duty, or your 500 weeks of benefits expires.

In North Carolina, a claim is accepted when the employer files a Form 60, indicating you are entitled to benefits; however, that Form 60 does not have the same force that it has in Virginia. Yes, if you are released to light duty, you are likely to continue to receive benefits if there is a Form 60 filed by the employer; however, we always counsel our North Carolina clients who are receiving such benefits to search for a minimum of 3-5 jobs per week within their physical restrictions and skill set, if the employer will not accommodate your restrictions. This is because if something comes up in your case, you may have to prove that you were entitled to these ongoing benefits.  And an injured worker on light duty in North Carolina is technically only entitled to those benefits when he or she can prove that they have sought work within their restrictions but have been unable to find such work.

Scenario B: You do not have an Award in Virginia or your claim has been denied in VA or NC

If you are not under a finalized, ongoing, or Open Award for benefits in Virginia, it may be for any number of reasons. The most common reason is that you simply were not aware that you were required to get one. Many employers will pay you benefits voluntarily while your authorized treating doctor is holding you completely out of work. That is, until the day when you are released to light duty. The unfortunate reality is that when that day comes, you may suddenly discover that your employer has cut you off of benefits. How can they do that?

You will recall above that we said that an ongoing or Open Award for benefits issued by the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission is a proclamation that you are entitled to ongoing weekly checks and medical benefits. The checks will continue unless and until you return to your pre-injury work.

Well, here, there has been no such proclamation issued by anyone. You therefore have no rights and the workers comp insurance carrier is not under any obligation to do anything for you.

Your only remedy at that point is to file a Claim for Benefits and ask for a hearing and also vigorously market your residual capacity to work. The idea is that when you get to the hearing, you will be able to prove to the Commission, without any shadow of a doubt, that you have sought work—we recommend a minimum of 7-10 jobs per week–within your physical restrictions and have been unable to find any such work.  You must present this evidence at the hearing in an organized, overwhelming fashion. If you do not do this, the Deputy Commissioner will likely reject your evidence and not Award you benefits.

If you do present the evidence properly and the Deputy Commissioner decides that you adequately looked for jobs, you will be awarded backdated workers compensation checks from the date that you can first prove that you do adequately looked for jobs within your restrictions and skill set.

A few scenarios to be aware of

  • Your employer may give you a light duty job that is humiliating or incredibly boring in the hope that you will quit or refuse to do the work. You need to keep working at the job until a formal decision is made by the state workers’ compensation hearing officer or commission.
  • It is important that you communicate with your doctor and with your employer about your physical injuries and what tasks you simply cannot perform.
  • The employer may tell you that light duty work is available but when you show up to the job, the employer just wants you to perform your old job. Or you may be given a light-duty job but then told you need to help out with the full-duty job tasks. If this scenario happens, you should review your rights with your lawyer and inform your doctor. If your doctor hasn’t released you to full-duty work, then you shouldn’t be forced to do the full-duty job
  • Some employers may look for any excuse to discipline you and then claim you are being discharged for disciplinary reasons and not because of your work injury. You should review this type of behavior with your North Carolina or Virginia work injury lawyer immediately.
  • If you return to work on light duty and have trouble doing your light duty job, be very careful to pay attention to exactly what tasks are causing you trouble so you can tell your doctor when you return. For instance, if you have a leg injury, does it hurt your leg when you attempt to climb stairs? This would be something you would want to report to your doctor. If the problem is severe enough, the doctor may add a “no stairclimbing” restriction.

 

Talk with a trusted North Carolina or Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer now

Understand what light duty work really means and the consequence of being released to light duty. You must make sure that you always know what your physical restrictions are. Depending on the status of your claim and the inclinations of your employer, a release to light duty can either be a destructive atomic bomb, or your benefits may continue uninterrupted.  An experienced workers comp lawyer can explain when and how your release to light duty will impact your case. Your lawyer can also make sure your doctor is fully aware of what your return-to-work scenario looks like, so that he or she knows what is being approved for you to do. For strong advocacy, please phone attorney Joe Miller Esq. at (888) 694-1671 or use his contact form. He’s been helping injured workers get justice for over 25 years.

 

What Happens at a Workers’ Compensation Deposition?

Posted on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018 at 11:41 am    

In North Carolina and Virginia, may times the insurance company for the employer will want to take your deposition. A deposition is on oral question and answer session which is recorded so that it can be transcribed and the discussion can be preserved. It is done under oath, just like you were in the courtroom. In most work injury depositions, the insurance company attorney will question the worker and your worker’s compensation attorney will prepare you for the deposition. Preparation means explaining what questions the employer’s lawyer will likely ask so that you aren’t surprised when the real deposition takes place and also going over some general tips to help the deposition go smoother.  By reviewing the deposition with you in advance, and using the attorney’s experience to prepare you for the deposition, the lawyer will also explain many practical suggestions so you can express your answers in a way that can best help your cause.

In most depositions, that lawyer for the insurance company is polite and the questions are fairly straightforward. Occasionally, that is not the case. Either way, you should treat the deposition as a business meeting. No matter how nice the defense lawyer is, he or she is not your friend. Defense lawyers will try and derail your case, if given the opportunity to do so.

Where and How Does the Deposition Take Place?

The deposition normally takes place either at your lawyer’s office or the law office for the attorney for the insurance company/employer. The questions and answers are usually in a lawyer’s conference room and just you, your lawyer, the insurance company lawyer, and the stenographer or court reporter are present. Occasionally, particularly if your lawyer will also be deposing your supervisory personnel, a company representative may be present. Sometimes, albeit rarely, the insurance adjuster is present, but they will not be able to ask you any questions under oath. Only the defense lawyer and your own attorney can do that.  

If you don’t currently have a lawyer, we strongly suggest retaining an experienced worker’s compensation lawyer before heading into a deposition. Please do not do that on your own. You may very well risk causing tremendous damage to your case.

Remember, it does not cost you any money up front to hire a workers compensation lawyer. You will not have to stroke a check. Attorney’s fees in workers comp cases are controlled by the Industrial Commission in North Carolina or the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission.

In addition to thorough preparation of you prior to the depo, your lawyer may object to some of the questions that are being asked.  You lawyer can also ask you questions that can help clarify your answers once defense counsel has finished his or her line of questioning.

When you answer the questions, you will be under oath. Testifying under oath means that you swear to tell the truth and to answer the questions to the best of your ability. The court stenographer is the person who will swear you in.

What is the purpose of the Deposition?

The deposition of a Claimant or Plaintiff in a Workers Compensation Case Generally has Four Purposes:

  1. To obtain information from you directly about the facts of the accident, your treatment and injuries, witnesses you may have, and your course of treatment.
  2. To “lock you in” to your testimony in relation to these things under oath, so that you cannot say something different at hearing. If you do, you will be confronted with your deposition statement by defense counsel on cross examination.
  3. To determine what kind of witness you are. Are you someone the Deputy Commissioner is likely to find credible?
  4. As a tool to help the defense attorney evaluate the claim and make recommendations to the insurance adjuster about whether to make offers of settlement prior to hearing, whether to “cave” and agree to the Award, or whether to gather the troops and push on to hearing.

The types of questions that will be asked at the deposition

The insurance company lawyer will generally ask you the following:

  • Questions about your background. Sample questions include:
    • When were you born?
    • Where do you live?
    • Tell me about your education – what schools did you attend?
    • What is your work history – which jobs have you had, where, and for how long? What kind of work did you do in those jobs?
    • What were the physical requirements of these jobs?
    • Do you have any criminal history record?
    • Have you filed any prior worker’s compensation claims?

  • Questions about prior injuries? Here, the insurance carrier lawyer will try to see if there’s a way to argue that your current injuries were related to a prior accident – either at work or away from work. If you answer yes to these questions, the attorney for the employer will ask follow-up questions about when the injuries occurred, what doctors you say, what treatment you had, whether you had to stop working, and whether the injuries resolved.

  • Questions about the workplace accident? In North Carolina and Virginia, you do not have to show your employer is at fault for the accident. Fault is not an issue. Still, the insurance carrier lawyer will ask questions about the accident to try to understand how the accident caused your injuries. If your injuries or a workplace illness occurred over time vs at a specific point in time, you may not have a case.

And even though the employer does not have to be at fault, sometimes there needs to be a defect if you were injured in a way that is a common way to get hurt. For instance, in Virginia, if you simply missed a step while walking down a set of stairs, that is not a risk of employment and you have no case, unless your shoes were slippery from work materials, you were rushed with work items in your hands, or the step on which you slipped was somehow defective. The bottom line is that in a contested case, it is very important to go over these facts with your attorney so that you do not inadvertently say something that could ruin your claim.  

In North Carolina, there are somewhat stricter provisions that generally require some type of slip, trip or fall—something unusual, that must occur in order for you to have suffered an “accident.” This will be explored by defense counsel, particularly if you have a contested claim.

  • Questions about your medical treatment. Here, the lawyer for the employer will go through each and every hospital you went to, each doctor you saw, each medication you took, and each medical device you needed to use. You generally do not have to remember exact dates, although it is important to have a decent idea of the sequence of treatment.

What is often most important here is what you told your doctors or other health care providers about your injuries. If there are inconsistencies in the statements you made to doctors and hospitals about how you were injured, or which body parts you injured, then these inconsistencies, if not properly explained, can ruin your case. A good workers comp attorney will point out any of these inconsistencies and go over them with you in preparation for the deposition so that they do not derail your claim.

The defense lawyer will begin questioning with the first treatment and then go through your treatment, usually in chronological order or by physician, until the current time. He/she will also go over your long-term prognosis and how you are feeling now, as well as your plans going forward.

  • Questions about your current work ability. The lawyer will ask many questions about your current ability to work, your limitations, and your difficult working. Sample questions might include:
    • Have you tried to return to work?
    • What is stopping you from working?
    • Do you think you could work if the employer changed your work conditions?
    • For your particular job, the lawyer will likely ask questions about your functional limitations such as your ability to lift or push above certain weight limits, your ability to sit for long stretches of time, and other questions based on current work injuries.

Some common deposition ground-rules

Some of the guidelines your worker’s compensation lawyer will go over with you before the deposition are:

  • Wait until the full question is asked before your answer. You need to wait for several reasons:
    • Your lawyer may object to the question. You don’t want to answer a question which may hurt your case.
    • By waiting you make sure you understand the question and that you don’t answer to quickly. Depositions aren’t a race. You should think about each question before you answer it.
    • The court reporter needs to type the answer.
  • Don’t volunteer. You should only answer the question that was asked and your answer should be as short as possible. The attorney for the insurance company is not your friend. He/she is looking for information to use against you. The less you say at the deposition the better. The insurance company lawyer can always ask another question if he/she wants to find out more. Your lawyer can ask questions too to clarify any apparent confusion. As someone who has been doing this for 27 years, and attended thousands of depositions, I can tell you this: the more you say, the longer the deposition will last.
  • Understand that you need to give an oral response. A nod of the head, a mumble, or pointing can be misconstrued. An oral yes, no, or verbal answer makes clear to everyone what you meant. Remember, your answers may be used at the hearing or in legal briefs so your answers need to reflect what you really meant. And do not say “uh-uh” or “uh-huh”. Yes or no makes it much clearer.
  • Don’t guess. Make sure you understand the question. Also make sure your answer is accurate. If you don’t know then it is perfectly Ok to say that you don’t know or you cannot recall, as long as that is not the answer to every question.  
  • Be alert to questions that might violate your attorney-client privilege with your lawyer or are repeated questions because the defense attorney wants a different answer. If your lawyer thinks a question violates this confidentiality requirement, your lawyer should object.
  • Keep calm. The insurance company lawyer is trying to see what kind of witness you will be at the hearing. The more you appear relaxed, confident, and credible, the better chance you have of settling your case. If you easily rattle, or appear angry, the insurance company may be more likely to consider requesting a court hearing.

After the hearing, your lawyer will get a copy of the deposition transcript. The lawyer will review the transcript with you to confirm that it is accurate – or that changes should be duly noted.

Make the call to an experienced Virginia or North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer today

Preparation is the key to most work injury cases. The more you and prepared and the more your lawyer has all the necessary information, the better chance you have of winning your claim. A skilled worker’s compensation lawyer like Joe Miller has handled many depositions. He can firmly guide you through the deposition process. He’s helped thousands of injured workers. For help now, please phone lawyer Joe Miller at (888) 694-1671 or use his contact form to schedule an appointment.

Workers’ Compensation and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Posted on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018 at 11:37 am    

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a long-term mental health reaction to witnessing or experiencing one or more traumatic events. While many people recover from accidents or other forms of trauma as their injuries heal or with time – for some people the trauma can prevent them from working, from functioning and from enjoying life. For example, some people who have an extremely violent car accident may be fearful of ever driving or even being a passenger in a car again.

Workers’ compensation doesn’t just apply to physical injuries. Workers who can’t emotionally do their job are also entitled to North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation benefits. This includes PTSD cases.

Types of jobs where PTSD claims are likely

Any accident can cause someone to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Still, PTSD is most common in work environments where there is a great amount of stress, physical contact, and violence. Some of the jobs where PTSD is common are firefighting, police work, and emergency medical care. Workers who see other persons die or deal with physical difficulties, such as nurses and medical care providers, also are prone to suffering PTSD. In many cases, a specific incident is what pushes the employee over the edge to the point he/she can’t work and can’t function.

People in the military often suffer PTSD. Your North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer can explain if you have a state or federal workers’ compensation claim if military combat causes PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder systems

The psychological and emotional difficulties of PTSD vary from person to person. Some patients may recover in weeks or months. Others may need years to recover and some may never recover. In the worst cases, someone with post-traumatic stress disorder may tragically take their own life. Patients need to work with psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals in or order to address their problems and to learn how to cope and manage them.

Typical PTSD symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • An inability to communicate
  • Flashbacks and nightmares about the traumatic incident
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Violence towards other or towards themselves
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Guilt about surviving the traumatic event when others did not survive
  • Being easily startled
  • Fear for one’s safety
  • Getting upset at anything that reminds you or “triggers” you in relation to a traumatic event
  • Avoiding places, conversations and other triggers that remind you of the stressful event
  • A feeling of hopelessness
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Withdrawing from relationships
  • Not participating in events you once enjoyed

Some people outwardly show their PTSD symptoms by being aggressive. Some may even engage in self-destructive behavior such as abusing alcohol or drugs or driving recklessly. Eating disorders are also common.

The consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder are not just limited to emotional effects. Many people with PTSD are at risk for some or all of the following physical detrimental effects:

  • Ulcers
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attacks
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches

Workers’ compensation benefits for people with PTSD

Workers who can verify through medical evidence that a specific workplace accident triggered their PTST can demand their work injury benefits in North Carolina and in Virginia. The allowable benefits include:

  • Payments of 2/3rds of the worker’s average weekly wages during the time he/she can’t work for up to 500 weeks.
  • Partial payments if the worker can return to work, but only at a less stressful job which pays less than what the employee was earning before he/she needed to stop working
  • Medical treatment to help restore or manage the employee’s mental health
  • Medical care for any physical problems related to the PTSD
  • The cost of all medications needed to treat the PTSD for the rest of the employee’s life

Employees may also be entitled to vocational rehabilitation expenses for the costs to learn new work skills so the worker can accept a less stressful job.

Some of the challenges of PTSD work injury cases

There are several difficulties in North Carolina and Virginia PTSD cases. Workers often aren’t aware of their problems immediately. It can take a long time before the employee becomes aware that PTSD is the cause of his/her inability to work. Early intervention helps many patients which is why it is important to file your workers’ compensation as soon as possible.

Insurance companies will try to blame factors not related to work for the employee’s post-traumatic stress disorder such as family stresses, money problems, and abuse by others.

Mental health issues are harder to document than physical injuries where X-Rays, CT scans, MRIs, and other more objective tests are used to show that the employee does have significant work-related injuries.

Employers may try to argue that the worker only qualifies for PTSD if he/she suffered the trauma instead of just witnessing the trauma. We have had PTSD cases where we have overcome such defense arguments.

Our North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyers explain that witnessing a violent act at work should qualify for work injury benefits, depending on the occupation of the worker. For example, if a police officer witnesses another police officer being shot, the first police officer often will undergo PTSD because of concern for the fellow police officer and for his/her own safety. The right to claim workers’ compensation benefits varies from state to state. Some states require an unusual stimulus, some require a sudden stimulus, and some don’t allow for PTSD claims. North Carolina and Virginia currently do allow for PTSD claims if certain conditions are met.

The High Importance of Recognizing PTSD in a Workers Compensation Claim

It is extremely important for injured workers that are suffering from PTSD to come forward and advise their doctors and their attorney about any symptoms listed in this article because it is so important on many levels. First, it is important to get the psychiatric help you need, but properly identifying PTSD as soon as possible can also mean the difference between a successful, ongoing case that leads to settlement, or a case that simply evaporates and leaves the injured worker with little in the way of settlement.

Oftentimes, we know that despite everything we may try, workers compensation doctors can be very conservative and release injured workers to full duty well before they are ready to return to work, either physically or emotionally.

For a worker suffering from PTSD, even light duty at the same workplace is simply impossible. Just the thought of re-entering the place that has brought the injured worker so much suffered is enough to send someone with PTSD into a full-fledged panic attack, severe depression, or even thoughts of suicide.

Therefore, it is critical to get a referral for PTSD as soon as possible, long before the release by the doctors who are treating you for your physical injuries, so when that day comes, you are protected by your psychiatric doctors who can issue a work note to prevent you from having to return to the workplace.

A good psychiatrist will work with you not only to help you resolve your symptoms but he or she also knows that if you are released to work too early, you will be re-triggered and you might never recover from the PTSD brought on by the accident. He or she will therefore “protect” you from being harmed by an early release by issuing a work note holding you out of work until such time as it is determined that you can safely do so from a psychiatric perspective.

Many times, our PTSD clients have been “saved” by their psychiatrists, because the physical doctors have released the client to light duty when it is very clear that from a psychiatric and emotional standpoint that returning to work would utterly destroy our client. In these circumstances, had our client not had a psychiatrist who had already diagnosed him with PTSD from the accident holding him out of work for their PTSD, the client would have been forced to make a choice between returning to work, which means certain suicide or committal to a mental hospital, or giving up on their workers compensation case by refusing to return to work.

With proper PTSD treatment in place as a result of early identification of PTSD symptoms and a proper diagnosis, not to mention proper documentation and authorization and a lifetime medical award for PTSD, this is not a concern.

Talk with a caring Virginia and North Carolina workers’ compensation law now
Attorney Joe Miller works with psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, and counselors who can properly evaluate your PTSD condition. He has the experience to fight to show that you meet the Virginia and North Carolina workers’ compensation requirements. For over 27 years, he has obtained numerous awards and settlements that fully compensate work injury victims. To discuss your case or that of a loved one who is suffering, please call attorney Joe Miller Esq. at (888) 694-1671 or by filling out his contact form.

Looking for Work after Light Duty

Posted on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018 at 10:36 am    

Joe Miller explains what happens if you’re hurt on the job in Virginia, and your Doctor releases you to light duty.

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