Injured at Work, but Afraid to Speak with an Attorney? The Misconceptions of Workplace Injuries Explained
Experiencing a workplace injury is rarely a simple ordeal, especially if the injury is severe. When combined, questions of liability, negligence, loss of future income, and the permanent nature the injury and treatment process can create a complex single claim, pitting employees against insurance companies, with families often caught in the middle.
Untangling the knotty Workers’ Compensation system is the work of specialists — approximately 50 Workers’ Comp attorneys are board-certified in this unique area of Connecticut law. But according to workers’ compensation specialist Attorney Lawrence Morizio, much of the confusion surrounding workers’ compensation revolves around persisting myths about who is eligible and for how long after an accident, what it means to bring a claim, and when an injured employee should or needn’t seek counsel.
“Workers’ compensation claims are not like fine wine,” says Attorney Morizio. “They typically don’t get better with age.”
Understanding that most workers’ compensation claims have a one-year statute of limitations is crucial to addressing an injury that requires adequate recompense. A recent case at Morizio Law Firm in Stratford saw a tragic loss of life almost go unaddressed due to the statute of limitations. It was only by chance that an estate lawyer reached out to Attorney Morizio to ask questions about this particularly heart-breaking case.
Immediately, Attorney Morizio recognized details of the case were obscured by many of the misconceptions circling workers’ comp eligibility and statutes: a neonatal nurse traveling between two different positions at the same company was in a car accident and died, leaving behind her firefighter husband and two young children.
“The case brought so many of the complexities of Connecticut’s workers’ compensation system to bear,” says Attorney Morizio, whose first hurdle was to establish eligibility for the deceased. Given the gravity of the situation, Attorney Morizio felt emboldened to help the dependent widower and his family. “No matter how many times I deal with with a case of this magnitude, I am shocked and saddened and feel the need to press on for the client and his family,” he explains.
To be eligible, one of three things must be true about your case:
- The accident must occur within the scope of your employment. Attorney Morizio points out if you engage in horseplay and sustain an injury as a result, this could be outside the scope of your employment, depending on the facts of the case, making the injury ineligible for workers’ comp.
- The accident must occur while you are clocked in, exceptions for municipal workers like police officers aside, who are technically clocked-in the minute they leave their house.
- You must be engaged in an activity incidental to your job when the accident occurs. It was under this prong that Morizio recognized a claim could be brought in the car accident case. Though the deceased was clocked out at the time of the accident, she was traveling between jobs for the same company, travel for which she was compensated by her employer, thus making her travel incidental to performing her duties.
Misconceptions are often the reason those injured at work hesitate to bring a claim. The widower’s misconception that his wife was not eligible for workers’ compensation meant he never bothered to contact a firm like Morizio Law, resulting in the statute of limitations almost expiring. While this case was an extreme example, common examples happen every day.
“Most people wrongly assume that when you file a claim, you’re going after your boss,” Attorney Morizio explains. This causes many potential claims to go unresolved, as many employees who suffer a workplace injury like their job and their boss and fear of reprisal if they file a claim. The reality of a workers’ comp claim is more like how car accidents are resolved.
“Imagine you and your boss get into a fender-bender in the parking lot,” says Attorney Morizio. “When you file a claim, you’re not going after your boss. You’re filing a claim with an insurance company, who then settles the claim with money already set aside for such purposes, paid for by the insurance premiums.”
This distinction is important. All companies are required by law to carry workers’ compensation insurance. When you bring a claim, you’re actually dealing with an insurance company, not your boss or employer directly. Which, in turn, is precisely why you need an attorney. When insurance companies are involved, the stakes are higher. You need an advocate that knows the system to help make sure you receive the benefits you are entitled to. Fortunately for the injured worker, there are attorneys that specialize in this highly nuanced field.
“It’s not just about lost wages and medical bills,” says Attorney Morizio. “If you suffer a significant workplace injury, it could affect the rest of your career.”
Board-Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialists (BCWCS) like Attorney Morizio work with medical experts to formulate calculations of short and long-term earnings expectations. This calculous is arduous and requires extensive experience to get right. Many potential claims go unresolved because an employee leaves their job once treatment, no longer able to perform their previous duties. This leaves those suffering from long-term effects of the injury on the outside looking in.
Whether or not an employee returns to work after the injury has a lot to do with how a case is resolved. Unlike the public imagination of trial lawyers sparing over millions of dollars in front of a jury, many workers’ comp cases settle before going to trial. While large dollar amounts and trials do occur, settlements are more likely in the event an employee does not return to work.
“Philosophically, it makes sense in the right circumstances (for both sides) to settle, especially when one considers the risk of a jury trial,” says Attorney Morizio, noting that he settled the widower’s case right before the trial was scheduled to begin. While he concedes there are cases that benefit from a trial, what’s most important for those who’ve suffered a workplace injury is to find out where their personal circumstances fit into this system.
“If you sprain your ankle and are back on the job in two weeks, you probably don’t need a lawyer. But if you have an injury of significance that can affect your long-term career expectations, you absolutely need representation,” says Attorney Morizio.
While some cases are settled in a matter of months, many cases remain outstanding until an injured worker is either returned to work in some capacity or the need for treatment is resolved. Depending on the severity of the injury, this can take up to or longer than one year.
“I tell my clients to remember it’s not personal. You’re doing yourself a benefit by getting a consult early. The earlier you get a BCWCS involved in your case, the sooner these issues can be resolved and the more efficiently your claim can move through the system.”
In the case of the widower, Attorney Morizio says it hit him particularly hard.
“Handling workers’ compensation claims, whether the employee is able to return to work following a course of treatment or resulting in a catastrophic injury or death, requires compassion. The combination of this compassion and expert advocacy separates Morizio Law Firm from other firms,” he says. “But cases like this one, where someone dies or is catastrophically injured, really drive me. I ask myself how I can help the client to the utmost, in this case, a single father with two kids under the age of four, working two jobs to just barely cover bills on top of the funeral and burial costs. He had so many questions, where do I file? How long do we have? My heart really went out to him and I was honored that he trusted me to advocate on his behalf to resolve the case; I gain satisfaction by helping clients like him.”
Ultimately, Attorney Morizio hopes debunking the myths surrounding the workers’ compensation system will encourage more workers seek to the advocacy they need to effectively navigate their claim. If you or someone you love has been injured at work, now is the time to reach out. Schedule a free consult today by visiting www.moriziolawfirm.com/contact-us/ or calling toll-free 866-225-9496.