Cooperation Between Doctors and Lawyers Is Key in Defending the Rights of Injured Workers
In Connecticut, when you’ve been injured at work, experts recommend retaining a workers’ compensation attorney because Connecticut’s workers’ compensation laws are nuanced and complex. But while the decision to retain the services of a workers’ compensation attorney may seem like common sense, it can be far more difficult to know when to bring a claim in the first place, especially if you’ve been injured in the past.
Consider the cases of Sarah and Tommy, coworkers at a local fabrication plant. Both were recently injured at work through no fault of their own. Sarah hurt her shoulder and Tommy his back. Sarah had injured the same shoulder playing softball in high school. Tommy had previously suffered a spinal cord injury when he was rear-ended by a semi-truck a few years back. Both recovered from their prior injuries, and a Connecticut court awarded Tommy a small amount of money after the truck accident due to a 10% loss of use in his back. Now that both Sarah and Tommy have been re-injured in the same place, can either of them bring a workers’ compensation claim?
“Just because you’ve been injured in the past, doesn’t mean you can’t bring a workers’ compensation claim,” says Lawrence F. Morizio of the Morizio Law Firm. Attorney Morizio is an expert in workers’ compensation law. As one of the few attorneys in Connecticut who is a board-certified specialist in workers’ compensation law, Mr. Morizio has been helping injured workers obtain the compensation and medical treatment they deserve for over 20 years.
While anyone can bring a workers’ compensation claim regardless of whether the injury occurred at the site of a previous injury, there are nuances. According to Morizio, both Sarah and Tommy will need to rely on medical assessments to determine the extent of causation between their previous injury, their work injury, and their current need for medical treatment. This reveals an important truth in workers’ compensation law: doctors and their medical reports are integral to the process.
“The language of causation in a medical report is key,” explains Morizio. “It requires a doctor with experience in identifying causation, because unless a doctor believes the current injury is a substantial factor in you needing medical treatment, it will be nearly impossible to move forward with your case.”
The substantial factor causation standard means that the employment, or the risks incidental to employment, must contribute to the development of the injury in a meaningful way to be considered at cause. Because doctors play an imperative role in deciding this, having a doctor you trust who is well-versed in the language of causation is critical in a workers’ compensation case.
“Having a quality doctor can make all the difference. Once the language of causation is satisfied, the burden of proof then transfers from the injured worker to the insurance carrier,” Attorney Morizio says. While he never tells clients which doctor to see, he has spent years building relationships with a myriad of CT orthopedic and other specialty medical groups and can offer recommendations. On occasion, the injured worker will have to select from a network directory of physicians approved by the employer, all of which must be registered with the Workers’ Compensation Commission. Says attorney Morizio, “It’s always the injured worker’s choice who they see.”
Besides fostering close-knit relationships with Stratford area doctors, Mr. Morizio also speaks at local, state, and nationwide seminars for attorneys and doctors designed to keep both professions up to date, and he also participates in the Connecticut Bar Association’s medical legal cooperative. During the pandemic, Attorney Morizio – who also formerly chaired and currently remains very active in the Connecticut Bar Association Workers’ Compensation Section – organized a seminar designed to examine the effect transitioning to telemedicine would have on each profession. Sitting with the Chief Administrative Law Judge and a panel of four other doctors, Mr. Morizio moderated and spoke to a room filled with over 200 doctors and attorneys about what telemedicine would mean for their closely linked professions. His time spent volunteering, networking, and educating has paid off in his ability to better advice his clients.
“You simply can’t replace close relationships and connections with a medical office,” Attorney Morizio says. For one, a close relationship with doctors’ offices allows for seamless authorization for treatment, which must be court approved. Because of these relationships the paralegals at Morizio Law are able to easily obtain critical medical reports in a timely fashion before any hearing.
Concerning the link between doctors and causation, returning to the cases of Sarah and Tommy is instructive. In Sarah’s case, her physician must decide whether this new injury to her shoulder passes the substantial factor causation standard for her to proceed with her workers’ compensation claim. Most likely, if the injury was a “separate and distinct” injury and her doctor responds accordingly, it will.
Tommy’s case is more complicated because his previous back injury was the result of an accident in which Tommy brought a personal injury claim and was awarded a benefit. Ultimately, it will be up to the physician to determine if the new work injury is compensable. Under the “paid or payable” standard, Tommy will recover for any impairment assessed above his prior 10% rating. In the interim, his lost time and bills will be covered as long as the treating physician provides the necessary language in his report. It’s a complex system that’s nearly impossible to successfully navigate without the aid of an attorney. That doesn’t mean Tommy shouldn’t bring a claim, however. Both he and Sarah, with the help of a Workers’ Comp attorney and sound medical opinion, should bring claims.
“In Sarah’s case, as long as the injury isn’t part of a prior claim, the injured worker gets the benefit of the entire injury,” explains attorney Morizio. “Tommy may have to split up his benefit by percentage, meaning if he was assigned a 10% loss of use in his car accident case, and his doctor now says he has a 20% loss of use after his new work accident, his impairment benefit would be 10%.”
It is important to understand the difference between the remedies sought in personal injury claims compared to those in workers’ compensation claims. In workers’ compensation claims, pain and suffering is not compensated and the injured employee’s award is based on his or her impairment. For example, Tommy’s 10% loss of use is worth a precise amount under CT workers’ compensation law. While the awards are limited to specific weeks of benefits, it was never about the money for Mr. Morizio. For him, his job is about getting workers adequately compensated and back to work safely. It’s a mission based on experience.
“When I was a kid, I saw my old man have a debilitating stroke that prevented him from working,” he recalls. “While it wasn’t a workers’ compensation claim, I got to see firsthand the disparities in the disability side of workers’ protections. My father worked long and hard for his company, and in the end, he wasn’t able to end his career on his own terms.”
The experience is what inspires attorney Morizio to fight every day for the rights of injured workers in Connecticut. His vast knowledge of workers’ compensation law and his firm’s extensive network of relationships with medical professionals and their respective office staffs are what have made the Morizio Law Firm so successful.
“As practitioners of medicine and the law, we need to do better to address our clients’ needs,” he says. “If the whole system works better, then people like Sarah and Tommy have a better chance at a positive outcome.”
If you’ve been involved in a workplace injury, don’t let past injuries hold you back from advocating for your lawful rights.