Two Case Studies Highlight the Need to Report Injuries Early in Workers’ Compensation Claims
We all know getting hurt at work is a possibility, in the same nebulous way we “know” that any time we get in our car there is some risk of a car accident. But tacitly knowing that a workplace injury is possible and being prepared for such a possibility are two very different things. When a workplace injury does occur, being prepared can make all the difference. Who do I tell? Will there be retribution if I report an injury? Will my employer pay my medical bills? What kind of compensation can I expect while I recover? These are questions of paramount importance if the worst happens. According to workers’ compensation attorneys like Lawrence Morizio, knowing the answers beforehand is critical, but often overlooked.
“Getting onboarded at a new job and learning job safety protocols is a lot like hearing the safety protocols from a flight attendant before takeoff: You’re distracted, you’ve got your earbuds in, you’re not paying too much attention,” says Attorney Morizio, who is one of fewer than 50 board-certified specialists in workers’ compensation law in Connecticut. “But knowing the protocol beforehand in the event of a workplace injury makes a huge difference.”
His firm, Morizio Law Firm, and his predecessor firm has been helping people who are injured at work navigate the complex maze of CT’s workers’ compensation system for over 25 years. Time and again, he’s seen the same type of story unfold, offering him the kind of informed perspective that most people injured on the job for the first time don’t have.
“When you get injured at work, it can feel like a whirlwind,” Attorney Morizio explains. “Immediately following the accident, you think, am I alive? And then, how badly am I hurt? Will I be able to work at all? Who is going to feed my family? Filing a First Report of Injury is not necessarily top of mind.”
Yet, knowledge of workplace protocol in the event of a workplace injury—who to report the injury to and when—is a great asset if you end up needing to file a workers’ compensation claim. Timely reporting of a workplace injury is substantiating evidence that helps establish your credibility and the credibility of your claim.
Case Study One: The Worker Who Fell Down the Hill
Consider a recent claim brought to Attorney Morizio by a construction worker. While working onsite at an offramp, the worker picked up a bucket and hurt his back, causing him to roll down an embankment. During the fall, the worker suffered a traumatic brain injury and was taken to the hospital via ambulance for treatment. Months later, the worker who fell filed a workers’ compensation claim to recover the cost of his medical bills and compensatory wages. However, the worker did not notify a supervisor of the injury immediately nor was a First Report of Injury filed at the scene, a decision that later complicated his claim when it went in front of a judge.
“Most people don’t know there’s a difference between a filing a First Report of Injury, which needs to be done as soon as possible after the injury, and the actual workers’ compensation claim, which can be filed up to a year later,” Attorney Morizio explains. “A First Report of Injury requires the employer to notify the state that the injury occurred. Until this report is filed, you, as an injured worker, are at a huge disadvantage with your workers’ compensation claim. Because the worker who fell down the hill did not make a First Report of Injury, it hurt his credibility.
Attorney Morizio acknowledges that there are a lot of reasons why workers may hesitate to report a workplace injury—ranging from fear of retribution or termination, or of getting a boss or supervisor in trouble, to not being able to afford to be out of work. While these reasons may seem valid in the moment, they’re ultimately unfounded. Attorney Morizio notes that when a workers’ compensation claim is filed, it is filed against your employer’s insurance company, not against a person or the company itself, meaning you’re not “suing your boss.” Companies have insurance for precisely this reason, but the onus is on the injured worker to start the process. Furthermore, if you do make a First Report of Injury and then later decide to file a claim, the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Act protects the worker from retribution.
In an ideal world, here’s what should happen when a worker falls down a hill, according to the best practices recommended by Morizio Law: Witnesses are identified and a supervisor is immediately notified. The employer calls the worker and makes a First Report of Injury, provides an injury claim number. The responsible workers’ compensation investigates the claim, and eventually pays the worker, and provides care. The state gives the injured worker a packet of information that includes claimant form 30C. The worker gets treatment, gets paid, and all costs are covered.
This is a good scenario for the worker who fell down the hill. However, while best-case scenarios do happen, best-case scenarios are not nearly common as they should be, which is why there are lawyers like Attorney Morizio who specialize in helping people navigate the workers’ compensation system. The important takeaway remains: Report any workplace injury as soon as possible.
“Even if you don’t report it immediately, it’s not too late,” says Attorney Morizio. “The sooner the better is a good rule of thumb.”
Case Study Two: The Repetitive Trauma Injury
If immediate reporting of a workplace injury is paramount to the credibility of a workers’ compensation claim, what happens if there is no specific incident to report? This is the case in repetitive trauma claims. Consider the case of the machinist who worked for 15 years putting together propellers. One day, she wakes up and discovers that her shoulder is no longer working optimally, and she can’t perform her duties. Even though there wasn’t one isolated incident to report, the result is the same as the case of the worker who fell down the hill: The machinist needs medical intervention if she’s to continue working at her job.
“Repetitive trauma claims are more complicated than claims involving a specific incident,” says Attorney Morizio. “However, that doesn’t mean a repetitive trauma claim shouldn’t be pursued. It means that repetitive trauma claims are much more dependent on medical expert opinion and are often murkier when it comes to assessing responsibility.”
At Morizio Law, the work of a repetitive trauma case begins at intake. Attorney Morizio and his team perform an exhaustive investigation of the claimant’s work history, making a detailed report of every trauma experienced at every job the claimant has worked. Medical records are retrieved and forensically examined. Medical experts are consulted. The process is comprehensive and tedious, but when paired with Attorney Morizio’s experience as a workers’ compensation litigator and a obtaining a strong narrative from a physician substantiating repetitive trauma, claimants can find success.
In Case Study One, the A to B causality was clear: Worker injures back while on the job and falls, further injuring his head. He now has two injuries he didn’t have prior to a specific event. If he’d filed a First Report of Injury quickly, his case could have followed a smoother route. The A to B causality in Case Study Two is less clear. How much of her shoulder injury was related to the repetitive trauma of working as a machinist for 15 years? Twenty percent? Fifty percent? It’s a judge’s job to decide compensability of the claim. The job of a lawyer like Attorney Morizio is to bring the best expert testimony to the table to establish a compensable claim and ultimately win the best decision possible.
In either case, the roles of both worker and attorney are integral. Workers need to be aware of workplace injury reporting protocol and make sure they report an injury in a timely fashion, and then bring a workers’ compensation claim within a year, if necessary. The faster you can involve an attorney in the process, the more expeditiously they can obtain substantiation from a medical expert. This often results in a smoother litigation process and a claim can move forward with a better potential outcome.
If you or a loved one have experienced a workplace injury but haven’t reported it out of fear of reprisal or being put on leave, it’s not too late. Contact Morizio Law Firm for a free consultation today at 866-225-9496 or visit www.moriziolawfirm.com.