Q. What types of injuries are covered by worker’s compensation?
A. Virtually any injury which is suffered on the job while the employee is performing his normal work duties is covered under worker’s compensation law (whether a cut, broken finger, broken back, or death).
Q. If I am injured on the job, what benefits am I entitled to collect?
A. Worker’s compensation laws vary greatly from state to state. In Arkansas, an injured employee would be entitled to payment of all medical expense (including physical rehabilitation, medications, home healthcare, physical therapy, etc.). Those employees whose injuries keep them from working may be entitled to weekly temporary disability benefits. In Arkansas these benefits are calculated based on two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wage subject to certain maximum benefits. Temporary disability benefits (TTD) are discontinued once the employee returns to work. If the employee has suffered some form of permanent injury, a physician normally assesses an impairment rating, which is used as a basis for determining the amount of permanent disability benefits a worker is entitled to claim. The amount paid for permanent disability depends on several factors, including the impairment rating, the age and education of the employee, and whether the employee will be able to return to the same or similar employment or will suffer any loss of ability to earn in the future.
Q. Do I need to hire an attorney if I am injured on the job?
A. An injured worker may choose to represent himself or herself and can obtain a minimal degree of legal assistance through the Arkansas Worker’s Compensation Commission. If the injury is not serious, and if the employer’s worker’s compensation insurance company accepts the claim, most employees do not need an attorney. If, however, the injuries appear to be serious, it would be wise to at least consult an attorney early on in the claim especially to evaluate whether there is any possibility of a claim being made against someone other than the employer. An attorney can also be valuable in advising an employee whose injuries are permanent and will likely prevent the employee from returning to the same employment or occupation.
Q. How quickly should I contact an attorney?
A. To be safe, you should talk to an attorney as soon as possible, especially if the injuries are severe or a death has resulted. All too often, valuable evidence disappears, witnesses move, memories grow dim, and the practical ability to prove your case may diminish.
Q. Can I sue my employer?
A. In Arkansas, as in many states, worker’s compensation is termed an “exclusive remedy.” In other words, the injured employee is limited to filing a claim with the Worker’s Compensation Commission and cannot file a lawsuit against the employer in civil court, nor is the employee entitled to a jury trial. Instead, the claim is presented before an administrative law judge (although you do have the right to appeal the judge’s decision). Damages for pain and suffering and for mental and emotional anguish are not allowed. Other forms of damages may also be limited or unavailable.
Q. Can I bring a claim against persons other than my employer?
A. Because the types of damages available in worker’s compensation cases are limited, the ability to obtain compensation from other sources can be very important. An injured employee might be entitled to more than one source of recovery. An example would be an employee who, while working in a factory, loses his hand while operating a piece of machinery. The employee would be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits but might also have a claim against the company who designed, supplied, and/or installed the equipment. This would be especially true if the equipment lacked adequate warnings or lacked guards and/or interlock devices which would have prevented the injury. Another example might involve an automobile accident in which an employee is injured while traveling on company business. The employee would be entitled to worker’s compensation and, if the driver of the other vehicle was at fault, could maintain a claim against the other driver.
Q. Do I have to go to the doctor that the company chooses?
A. Initially, the employer has the right to choose your physician. If you change physicians without going through the proper procedures, your medical expenses may not be paid. You can change physicians either by agreement with your employer, approval of the Worker’s Compensation Commission, or if the physician the company sends you to refers you to another physician.
Q. What about the cost of going to and from the doctor?
A. In Arkansas you are entitled to be paid mileage, round-trip, to and from any medical provider or pharmacy.
Q. What if I am unable to return to my old job?
A. Your employer is not required to keep your job open. If, however, you are physically unable to return to your usual occupation, you may be entitled to be retrained at your employer’s expense, and this may also be an important factor in terms of the overall permanent disability benefits you may be entitled to claim.
Q. How much does it cost to hire an attorney?
A. Attorney fees in Arkansas worker’s compensation cases are relatively low, as they are set by law and are generally based on a percentage of the benefits which the attorney obtains for the client. Normally, fees are only charged if the case is settled by “joint petition” or if the claim is contested, and the attorney is successful in obtaining benefits that the insurance company has not voluntarily paid. Sometimes the insurance company will pay the entire amount of the attorneys’ fees; other times the fee may be split between the client and the insurance company. Any fees must be court-approved.