Dealing with a workers’ compensation claim is easy until it’s not. One day your medical treatment is authorized and your checks arrive on time. The next day your claim is denied, your doctor won’t see you without “authorization” and the workers’ compensation carrier has cut off your weekly checks. You find yourself in the position of taking on a well funded insurance company while you are all alone wondering how you’re going to make the next mortgage payment and keep food on the table. Many injured workers feel helpless, and some give up immediately.
But others feel the need to fight back. It can certainly be an intimidating proposition. After all, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier has unlimited resources including lawyers, doctors, nurse case managers, vocational experts, and private investigators. Not to mention that this is not the carrier’s first rodeo. They are fighting these battles 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, 52 weeks per year and have been doing so for a long time. How can you compete with that?
The first thing you need to do is hire an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer. You don’t have time to learn how to properly handle a workers’ compensation claim. I’m not talking about non-surgical soft tissue injuries that require less than 3 months of treatment and you are able to return to work full duty. I’m talking about nasty injuries that could result in permanent restrictions that could keep you from returning to your prior job, and might even render you unemployable. Fighting that battle alone is almost impossible.
Even after you hire an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer, understand that you are still going to be outgunned. A workers’ compensation law firm is not usually going to have the ability to go toe to toe with an insurance carrier when it comes to dollars. There are a few firms out there that can, but even they aren’t likely to want to spend large amounts of money on a workers’ compensation claim. What you’re going to be running is an insurgent guerilla campaign. You and your lawyer will need to improvise, adapt and overcome if you want to avoid pitfalls and maximize the final value of your case.
A guerilla force has to be light and disciplined to prevail. Here are 3 things you can do to help your case:
- Treat with a good doctor. This is the workers’ comp equivalent of holding the high ground The Act gives an injured worker the right to two choices when it comes to treating physicians. Don’t waste those choices on subpar treating doctors, and don’t rely on a family physician who may not know how to handle a workers’ compensation claim. In many ways, the doctor choose is going to be more important that the lawyer you choose. If your employer has joined a preferred provider program, then you will get notice of the doctors you can choose from within that plan. Consult with your lawyer as to which of those doctors might be best for your situation, and if you feel you would be better served with a doctor outside of that program, then you need to be very careful because declining will count as one of your choices, leaving you with only one choice.
- Communicate with your lawyer. This is the workers’ comp equivalent of cover and move. I tell all of my clients to call me after every doctor’s visit. I also ask them to take a photo of their work status note, and text it to me as soon as they leave the doctor’s office. This ensures that the defense attorney or claims adjuster knows immediately if you are being continued off work, if you have light duty restrictions, and if you are going to need additional treatment. This cuts down on excuses when it comes to late payments. And if your benefits are late, call your letter and let him or her know. Waiting to see if a check shows up often just prolongs the amount of time you’re going to go without money.
- Keep your mouth shut. Loose lips sink ships. So does posting every aspect of your life on social media. Think of it as communication security. It doesn’t cost much for an insurance company to check your social media pages. They might also ask your “friends” at work to send them screenshots of your daily life. Be disciplined and don’t post anything while your claim is pending.
Rigid adherence to all three of these recommendations won’t guarantee success, but it will certainly help your chances. If you would like to know more about how workers’ compensation law works in Illinois, you can read all about it in my new book: The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Field Guide. The book is available via Kindle and in paperback. You can also reach out to me if you find yourself in a bad situation with a workers’ comp claim, or if you’ve been injured at work and want to start off on the right foot. All initial consultations are free of charge. I look forward to hearing from you!