Job-Related Injuries & Workers' Compensation: A Legal Overview

Learn about your right to workers' compensation benefits following a workplace injury, and how to protect your claim.

If you get hurt on the job, it is important that you understand your state’s workers’ compensation system. Workers’ compensation (sometimes referred to as “workman’s compensation”) may be your only means of receiving compensation for a work-related injury, so read on to learn the details of how workers' comp functions.

Understand the Workers' Compensation System

If you suffer a work-related injury or illness, you are probably entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits. The types of injuries covered by workers’ compensation include physical injuries, occupational illnesses, and some psychological and stress-related conditions. These injuries or illnesses can occur at any time, so long as they're work-related.

Workers’ compensation is usually the only means of your recovery for work-related injuries and illnesses. This means that you cannot initiate a civil lawsuit against your employer. Instead, you must file a claim through your state’s workers’ compensation agency. Most employers are required to pay into the workers’ compensation system by purchasing insurance through the state's workers' compensation fund.

What Benefits Are Included?

Most states' systems will provide for the following workers' compensation benefits:

  • Medical bills. If you have medical bills, they will be reimbursed to help you recover from your work-related injuries. However, keep in mind that your choice of doctors might be limited.
  • Temporary disability benefits. If your injury prevents you from performing your job normally and, as a result, you lose wages, you may receive temporary disability benefits. These payments are usually available only after you miss several days of work and often total about two-thirds of your normal wages.
  • Permanent disability benefits. If you don't completely recover from you injuries, you might receive permanent disability benefits based upon the nature and extent of your impairment or injury.
  • Death benefits. If you die from a work-related injury or illness, your spouse or children may receive death benefits.

How much you'll receive in benefits depends on the nature and seriousness of your injuries.

Limitations On Benefits

The amount of benefits that you're entitled to receive might be limited by the laws of your state. Each state has its own rules for how an injury should be compensated. Some states have a list that affixes a dollar amount for each type of injury. Other states mandate that compensation is based on a scale or rating of injuries or disabilities.

Whatever the system, it's a good idea to speak to a workers' comp attorney to explore your legal options.

Protecting Your Claim After an Accident

If you suffer a work-related injury or illness, immediately report it to your supervisor. If the injury or illness has gradually worsened over time (such as carpal tunnel syndrome), report it as soon as you think it was caused by your job. If you do not report your injury within a certain amount of timeusually within 30 daysyou might lose your right to collect workers’ comp benefits. Even if you report your injury before the time limit expires, the workers' comp insurer might wonder about your credibility if you delayed reporting the accident for no reason.

Returning To Work

When you can return to work after your work-related injury or illness is a difficult question to answer and will depend upon the extent of your injury. Furthermore, a number of people will have input in deciding how soon you can return to work. This list includes your treating doctor, your employer, the claims administrator, and your attorney (if you have one).

If you haven't completely recovered from your injury, you might nevertheless be able to return to work with duty restrictions to prevent you from aggravating your injury. If you are entirely unable to return to work, you may be entitled to permanent disability benefits.

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