What is Workers’ Compensation?
The Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Act is a state law that entitles you to medical care, weekly income benefits, permanent disability benefits and rehabilitation if you are the victim of a job-related injury. These benefits are normally paid by your employer’s insurance company.
What kinds of jobs are covered by Workers’ Compensation?
Almost every type of employment is covered by Workers’ Compensation. There are very few exceptions. If you have any doubts about whether you are covered, you should consult a qualified attorney.
How long do I have to work for my employer to be covered by Workers’ Compensation?
You are covered the moment you begin your employment. There is no waiting period for coverage.
What kinds of injuries are covered by Workers’ Compensation?
Almost any type of physical injury or illness caused by your work is covered. This obviously includes broken bones, and all types of sprains and muscle strains. Many times employees fail to realize that Workers’ Compensation also covers other types of work-related injuries, such as loss of hearing or vision, lung injuries, heart attacks, strokes, hernias, disfiguring scars and injuries caused by repeated strain.
Does my injury have to be caused by a single accident?
No! A single or specific accident is NOT necessary. Injuries are frequently caused by repeated daily work. These are known as “repeated trauma” injuries and are covered by Workers’ Compensation. Also, many injuries are caused by continued exposure to physically harmful substances or working conditions such as chemicals, fumes or loud noises. These types of injuries are also covered.
What if I have been hurt before?
An old injury will not affect your right to recover benefits. Additionally, a re-injury, or the aggravation of an earlier injury, is covered by Workers’ Compensation. This is true even if the earlier injury was not work related or if no Workers’ Compensation claim was filed for the old injury.
What if I am killed or die as the result of an injury or illness associated with my work?
If this should happen, your spouse and minor children are entitled to both a lump sum payment and also weekly compensation benefits. In addition, other family members may also be entitled to compensation for financial loss.
Is loss of hearing covered by Workers’ Compensation?
Yes! An employee who has been exposed to loud noises in the workplace is entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits for the partial or total loss of hearing. This includes the cost of a hearing aid when necessary.
Is an injury or damage to the lungs covered by Workers’ Compensation?
Yes! A worker that has suffered injury to the lungs by exposure to harmful substances associated with the workplace, such as dust, fumes, smoke or chemicals, may be entitled to medical care, disability benefits and rehabilitation under Workers’ Compensation.
Are heart attacks and strokes covered by Workers’ Compensation?
Yes! A heart attack or stroke caused by the physical or mental stress of employment is generally covered by Workers’ Compensation. Even if you had a prior heart condition that was not related to your work, you may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits if that condition was aggravated or made worse by your employment.
Who will pay my medical bills?
Your employer’s insurance company is responsible for all reasonable and necessary medical charges connected with your on-the-job injury. This includes hospitals, physicians, ambulance charges, X-rays, crutches, physical therapy and prescription charges. There is no deductible and you do not pay any of the medical costs. ALL of your medical expenses are paid if the care is reasonable, necessary and associated with your injury. In addition, if you are required to travel to another town for medical care, you are entitled to reimbursement for mileage expenses.
Can I choose my own doctor?
For many years, the law in Oklahoma has given YOU the right to select your own treating physician. However, the law was recently changed. After 1994, if your employer participates in a Certified Work Place Medical Plan, you must select one of the physicians provided by that plan, OR, select a family physician designated in advance by you at the time you were hired. If your employer does not participate in a CWMP, then YOU may select your own treating physician. If you are being treated by a physician provided by your employer’s CWMP, it may be possible to change physicians with court approval. You will probably need the assistance of a qualified attorney to make such a change in treating physicians.
What if I need medical care in future years? Who will pay the bills?
If your Workers’ Compensation claim is properly handled, your right to medical care in future years can be protected. The right of an injured worker to reasonable and necessary medical attention, may be the most valuable benefit provided by Workers’ Compensation law. Great caution should be exercised in entering into any agreement that requires you to give up the valuable right to medical care in future years. Be absolutely certain you are aware of all your rights before you consider signing a release or entering a final settlement. This is an area of the law where the advice of an attorney experienced in Workers’ Compensation law is extremely important.
When should I report an on-the-job accident to my employer?
The law requires you to either report your injury to your employer within thirty (30) days OR receive medical care from a physician during that thirty (30) day period. It is better, however, if you notify your supervisor or employer as soon as possible. If, for some reason, you do not give notice of your injury to your employer within thirty (30) days, you may still be entitled to benefits. If your employer or an insurance company refuses to provide benefits because of your delay in reporting the accident, you will need the assistance of an attorney as quickly as possible.
When will my weekly benefits begin? How long will they continue?
If you are disabled for more than three (3) calendar days due to a work-related injury, you are entitled to receive weekly income benefits. These benefits should begin on the fourth (4th) day of disability and generally continue as long as your disability continues.
How much will my weekly income benefits be?
The amount of weekly benefits you receive during your period of disability is based on the average weekly wage you are earning at the time of your injury. You should receive approximately 70% of such wages, not to exceed a limit established by law. An attorney, experienced in Workers’ Compensation matters, can assist you in determining whether you are receiving the correct amount of weekly income benefits.
What benefits should I receive if I have permanent disability?
When you have received sufficient medical care and are released by your physician, you may be entitled to a benefit for permanent disability. How much permanent disability you have is estimated by a physician and is generally stated in a written report in terms of a percentage. (Example: 30% disability to the leg.) Remember, you are not required to accept the estimate of disability made by the treating doctor or by a doctor selected by your employer. You have the right to secure the opinion of another physician. Permanent disability is a very valuable benefit. Therefore, the assistance of an attorney experienced in Workers’ Compensation law may be absolutely vital to a proper determination of the fair value of your permanent injury.
What if I cannot return to my job because of my injury?
Workers’ Compensation laws provide for rehabilitation benefits in cases of serious injury. If your injury prevents you from returning to your work, you may be entitled to educational assistance or training to learn another skill. You may also be entitled to assistance in obtaining other employment. There is no additional attorney fee for securing rehabilitation benefits.
Do I need an attorney?
You are not required by law to have an attorney represent you. However, without a lawyer you must deal with an experienced insurance adjuster or insurance company lawyer on your own. Both of these parties make a living protecting the insurance company’s interests. The best way to be sure that you receive each and every benefit provided by law is to have the help of an experienced attorney who understands Workers’ Compensation law and whose only goal is to protect YOUR RIGHTS.
How much does an attorney charge?
You pay a legal fee ONLY if you recover benefits. Under Oklahoma law, an attorney receives a twenty percent (20%) attorney fee for permanent disability benefits collected and a ten percent (10%) attorney fee for temporary total disability benefits collected. There is generally no attorney fee when weekly benefits are paid voluntarily. The injured worker pays no fee for the work of an attorney in securing payment of medical bills, prescription charges or mileage expenses.
Are there any other charges for preparing my case?
Naturally, it will be necessary for your attorney to obtain copies of the medical records relating to your injury. In addition, it is usually necessary for your attorney to obtain a written report from a doctor outlining the nature and severity of your injury. It is necessary to pay the doctors for this information. In addition, occasionally an attorney will incur other expenses in preparing your case.
How are these charges paid?
Under Oklahoma law the client is responsible for the payment of these expenses. However, your attorney is allowed to pay your costs at the beginning of your claim and deduct the expenses from your recovery.
Will I have to go to court?
Many Workers’ Compensation cases are concluded without a court appearance. If however, the insurance company or your employer ignores your claim or refuses to pay benefits in a timely manner, you may request a trial before the Workers’ Compensation Court. Remember, if a trial is necessary, your employer and the insurance company will be represented by an experienced lawyer. Your rights will be best protected by having a thoroughly experienced attorney appear at the trial to represent you.
If I have to go to court, how long will it be before my case is heard?
No case will be set for trial by the court unless a request for trial is filed. If a trial is requested, the Workers’ Compensation Court will assign a date for the trial and notify you or your attorney by mail. If you are seeking temporary disability benefits, it will be approximately twelve (12) weeks from the date of the request for trial until your case is actually heard by a judge. For other types of benefits, you should plan on approximately twenty (20) weeks from the time the request for trial is filed until your day in court.
How long do I have to file a Workers’ Compensation claim?
It is best to file your claim as soon as possible so that your benefits begin promptly. As a general rule, unless you file your claim with the Workers’ Compensation Court within two (2) years of your accidental injury, you lose your rights to Workers’ Compensation benefits. In cases of injury caused by the repeated strain of work or exposure to harmful working conditions, you generally have two (2) years to file your claim from the date of the last on-the-job strain or exposure. However, the normal filing period can often be extended. This is a very technical and complicated area of the law. Therefore, even if you feel you failed to properly file your claim within the required time, you should discuss your case with an experienced attorney to be certain your rights are fully protected.
Can I be fired for filing a claim?
No! Oklahoma law prohibits firing an employee for filing a Workers’ Compensation claim or for hiring a lawyer to assist with a claim. The law also prohibits the firing of a fellow employee that testifies in court on your behalf. An employer that violates this law can be sued for damages. In addition to your Workers’ Compensation rights, federal law (the American Disabilities Act) also prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee as the result of a disability.
If your injury causes a disability, your employer must attempt to allow you to return to work even if certain accommodations must be made because of your injury. An employer cannot simply refuse to allow you to return to your job because of your disability, unless you cannot perform your job without a reasonable accommodation.
If an employer refuses to offer accommodations, or terminates your employment, you may be entitled to damages. Pursuing claims under the American Disabilities Act can be very complicated and requires that the employee first meet certain administrative requirements before actually going to court. It is important to discuss your prospective case with a skilled attorney experienced in Workers’ Compensation law as soon as possible.
Where can I obtain additional information about Workers’ Compensation?
If you have been injured on the job call the law firm of Smolen, Smolen & Roytman, PLLC. Let us use our knowledge, experience and resources to compel responsibility for your injuries. We will vigorously pursue the maximum allowable compensation for your loss under the law. There is no charge for discussing your case with us, and as always, you don’t pay UNTIL we collect for you!