If you are negligently injured at work, or to be more accurate, while in course and scope of employment, there are actually two ways to go about obtaining insurance for your medical bills and possibly pain in Florida. You can either making an insurance claim for your employer’s Workers Compensation coverage, or in some cases, you might also make a claim against the negligent person or company for your injuries in civil court. There are limited instances when one, the other, or both are best used. They often dove-tail and you really should speak to an attorney to explain which is best suited for your needs. I wrote this page to give some light on the possibilities.
Florida’s Workers’ Compensation is a streamlined, fast, very sure way of getting some relief for some injuries and lost work when you are injured while at work, but it was NOT designed to completely cover all of your losses or injuries. It is a no-fault system. It is designed to provide benefits to employees while protecting employers from lawsuits. By side stepping the court system and the need to prove fault or negligence for an injury, the entire process is considerably streamlined when compared to other personal injury cases. On the other hand, your benefits are also diminished tremendously. Workers compensation claims are typically limited to medical benefits and partial compensation for lost earning potential. Each state has its own laws and regulations.
There is an ongoing debate over the conflict of interest in worker’s compensation doctors’ treatment of their “patients.” The worker is often referred to doctors by the worker’s compensation insurance company, so the doctor is completely loyal to the insurance company, a repeat customer who is paying their bill, and sending them lots and lots of clients rather than their injured patient. The result is obvious. Would the doctor rather be busy all day for the rest of their career by cutting off treatment quickly and minimizing injury, or give each patient the necessary treatment, obligating the insurance company to huge bills and never get another referral again? Workers’ compensation insurance companies naturally migrate toward the most conservative of conservative doctors, to the detriment of the patient.
Generally, workers compensation claims are good for 50 to 70% of the worker’s wages, and often include extensions of benefits normally tied to employment. Extreme cases may result in permanent or partial disability being claimed, resulting in a permanent stipend.
There are broad categories of claims acceptable in most states. These can include:
- aggravation of pre-existing conditions (such as a back injury or carpal tunnel syndrome);
- injuries sustained on company property or at a company sponsored activity (such as a company picnic);
- even injury caused by company owned assets like chairs or a coffee maker can qualify.
More serious cases include diseases triggered by exposure to hazards while on the job, such as benzene, asbestos or silica dust.
While mesothelioma is one extreme example of this, others include rashes brought on by exposure to cleaning chemicals, and hyoid functional disorders caused by exposure to gasoline.
Workers compensation law typically doesn’t cover injuries sustained from horseplay at work or injuries sustained while operating equipment in an impaired state. Likewise, only a few states provide coverage for employees injured while travelling to and from work, unless that transportation is provided for by the employer.
If you feel you have an injury claim, follow the usual procedure within your company – report it to your employer (including the scope of the injury and where it was sustained), then fill out a claim form.
Be certain to file the claim form as soon as possible! In some states, your failure to notify your employer in writing can cut off your claim for workers compensation forever.
If you have an injury at work it is often necessary to bring in an attorney due to limits on injuries, duration of coverage, or denial of what qualifies for coverage. The initial case review is free, so it cant hurt to call.
PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS
ARISING FROM WORKPLACE INJURIES IN FLORIDA
Aside from Worker’s compensation, in Florida you might also be able to make a claim for negligence, reckless, or intentional behavior which causes you injury.
If your employer does not have Worker’s Compensation insurance, if you are hurt on the job by someone other than your employer or co-employee, you may also be able to have a personal injury suit at the same time as your worker’s compensation claim. It is particularly important to speak to a qualified personal injury attorney to review your case for this scenario.
If you have a personal injury claim as well as a workers compensation claim, Florida gives a “lien” on the personal injury claim, but your personal injury attorney should be able to negotiate that lien down after your case has settled or gone to verdict.
Whatever you do, take care of yourself and do not feel guilty or threatened when filing a claim form or calling an attorney. Your injuries are real and require attention. The “wait and see” approach can cause a tremendous amount of problems later.
In addition, if your employer retaliates against you for making a worker’s compensation claim, that retaliation may by itself open that employer up to a lawsuit.