In 1995 my father’s company was reorganizing its corporate offices to accommodate a new division. A supervisor told my father that he had a short window of time to move his office from one side of the building to the other. My father waited for the company handy man to move his heavy furniture, but the man was busy moving several other offices. Under pressure and running out of time, my father decided to borrow the handyman’s hand-pushed forklift so he could move some furniture himself and meet the moving deadline.
He loaded a filing cabinet full of paperwork and then turned the machine on. But instead of moving forward, the machine lurched backward, landing on top my father’s right foot and nearly severing it under the weight of several hundred pounds.
Workplace accidents like my father’s happen around the clock, every day, all year long, and every company has its own way of dealing with injured workers.
The process of seeking compensation for medical bills, lost work, and other hardships through insurance claims or legal venues can be a frustrating challenge that sometimes makes employees feel as if they’re being punished for their injury.
In my father’s case, his employer’s insurance provider offered him a considerable amount of money. By accepting that money, however, he would forfeit his right to seek additional compensation in the future. My father carefully considered his situation and chose to accept the insurance company’s offer.
Now, 15 years after the accident, he still faces significant obstacles with his injured foot, which never fully healed and has become prone to a host of other problems stemming from arthritis and damage to the nerves, bones, and muscle. Today my father wonders if he was justly compensated and often wishes he hadn’t accepted the insurance offer.
To help injured workers navigate the bureaucracy of seeking just compensation, columnist Carolyn Kepcher offers some simple tips.
First, you should report the incident, no matter how minor. “This is for your protection as well as [your employer's]. Many people have felt fine immediately following an injury, only to realize hours later or the next day that it was more serious than initially thought,” Kepcher says. The employer should provide a claim form for workers compensation and other information.
Employers may make some requests of the injured worker, and the worker should comply with reasonable, legitimate requests or risk losing compensation benefits. The employer may review medical records or request an independent medical examination. They may also offer the employee an alternate light-duty assignment or similar return-to-work offer.
Injured workers may often find they are being investigated. Government agencies and insurance companies both employ investigators whose sole responsibility is to probe claimants for behavior and activities indicative of insurance fraud. Some insurance companies that provide workers compensation benefits aggressively fight claims or seek to discredit them. It’s important that the injured worker understands this when filing a disability claim.
Lastly, according to Kepcher, “It’s common for badly injured workers, especially those who become disabled, to need legal help. If you think you’re not getting the medical attention or compensation you deserve, you may need a lawyer.”