Injured worker contacts us for assistance with a mess of a case, one where decisions were made along the way – without the benefit of legal counsel – that now tie our hands and limit our ability to obtain what we otherwise would have thought to be an appropriate outcome. We do the best we can, but we wish they had reached out to us for advice earlier. This is a common occurrence for our firm, a frustrating scenario that I will dissect for you. Here is a sample scenario, not derived from one person’s claim but a ficticious case to present common issues that arise in many complex claims:
- Significant injury or combination of injuries/comditions, perhaps a knee injury that led to a total knee replacement procedure.
- Difficulties recovering from surgery, such as the described total knee replacement procedure, lead to permanent limitations in mobility and function. There may be a potential argument about the level of rated permanent impairment and the amount of an impairment award to be paid at the conclusion of the claim.
- Worker is unable to return to their job of injury, so undergoes a vocational assessment to determine if they can return to work in a physically-appropriate job with their current skill set or if vocational retraining is needed. Often, in significant injury claims, vocational retraining benefits are granted.
- Worker is of a relatively advanced age, perhaps has a singular work history in physically-demanding line of work, and for a varitety of reasons may not want to pursue the offered retraining plan. Perhaps they don’t feel that college is a good fit for them, or they may not want to work in the intended job goal (often, “General Office Clerk” is seen as a recommended plan). The worker may have a disability pension option through their employment, and/or retirement savings, and will opt to go that route rather than participate in a retraining plan that they feel is inappropriate. Or, they think they can get back to work in a more appropriate field, even if only part-time, if they go forward on their own.
- Their vocational counselor discusses the options before them once a retraining plan is offered: participate in the plan, receiving time loss compensation throughout; or, b) Opt out of retraining and, in exchange, receive a package that includes school vouchers equivalent to the current cost of a two-year retraining plan for their own use, a closed period of monetary benefits called a “vocational award” and equal to time loss compensation, but with payment made regardless of any return to work made, and a variety of other associated, standard benefits.
- The worker chooses to “opt out” of retraining. However, they do not have a full picture of their potential benefits available, because a vocational counselor can only discuss vocational options while there are other potential legal paths that can be discussed with a lawyer. Once the option selection has been made, though, many, if not all, of those legal paths disappear, even though the worker did not know of the existence of the full spectrum of options available under the law.
- The worker then contacts a law firm for assistance, with many questions about what’s next for them, what their rights are under the law. In some cases, the options available are significantly limited by the time we get this call. Options such as a Structured Settlement Agreement (CRSSA), or an argument that a specific retraining plan is not, in fact, appropriate under the specific circumstances, or that a total disability pension is the more appropriate outcome from vocational evaluation. This analysis of options outside of the scope of a retraining plan or return-to-work outcome will not be discussed by a vocational counselor; it is outside of the scope of their assignment under your claim.
Whenever an injured worker receives advice from their doctor, their vocational counselor, their friends, co-workers or family members, they are getting only opinions, not legal advice. The giver of the advice may have the best of intentions and may have experiences that guide the forming of their opinion, but in almost all cases they do not have legal training or experience. Workers deserve to have the benefit of legal consultation before making decisions with long-term consequences, often for not only the worker but also their spouse or family.
We have found that having contact with an injured worker early in the process gives us the opportunity to discuss the path that lies ahead, potential pitfalls, options and likely outcomes. If we can be involved with a worker during the vocational process, we can provide guidance when questions and options come up and help the injured worker make the decisions that best benefit them, taking into consideration the individual facts of their case and the legal remedies available with each possible choice.
Like most law firms that handle workers’ compensation cases, our firm offers a free consultation and case analysis. This may or may not lead to representation, but it can provide a road map for the case ahead and form the foundation of representation should it become necessary in the future. Everyone in your case has their own specialty and/or perspective – your doctor, vocational counselor, employer or other party that may be involved. You deserve to have a professional to discuss your case with to form your own plan and perspective on your claim.
Workers’ compensation claims can be very complex. Feel free to contact us today for a conversation about your case.