Different states have different laws surrounding workers' compensation cases. Worker’s compensation in Washington, D.C., adheres to having no-fault insurance. As a result, workers who are partially at fault, or mostly or entirely at fault, for their injuries can receive financial benefits. These benefits usually include medical bill payment and partial lost wage replacement. But many insurance companies use one-size-fits-all damage formulas that don’t apply in all situations.
A workers’ compensation lawyer speaks up for job injury victims in these situations. As a result, victims get the benefits they need instead of the benefits an adjuster is willing to authorize. But not all cases are this straightforward. Some job injury claims in Washington, D.C., involve some advanced issues. If a job injury victim doesn’t have a lawyer, the victim might be forced to settle for less. Let’s look at some of the issues in detail.
Many people are afraid to file workers’ comp claims because they believe they’ll get fired. This fear is understandable. Washington, D.C., is an at-will employment jurisdiction. Bosses can fire employees — and most workers can quit — for a good cause, wrong cause, or no cause.
However, an employer cannot terminate an employee for an illegal reason. Firing someone for requesting workers’ compensation in Washington, D.C., is against the law. Some parts of metropolitan Washington are in Maryland and Virginia, but these states have laws much like the district proper.
It’s important to understand that this protection isn’t unlimited. A workers’ comp case doesn’t change Washington’s at-will employment rule. Our lawyers often deal with several issues in this area, including injury-related absenteeism.
Assume Julie falls at work and goes to see the company doctor. The doctor sets her broken bone and says she must return to work in two weeks. Two weeks pass, but Julie still doesn’t feel 100 percent, so she doesn’t go to work. In many cases, Julie’s boss could fire her for that.
These problems often come up because victims don’t assert their right to choose their doctors. For example, the company doctor works for the company, but Julie’s doctor works for Julie. Suppose Julie can’t afford to see a doctor on her own. In that case, a workers’ comp lawyer can usually connect her with a doctor who charges nothing upfront.
Like most other jurisdictions, Washington has a wage replacement waiting period. The medical bill payment benefit kicks in immediately, but a three-day waiting period could apply for lost wage replacement. However, the three-day waiting period doesn’t apply if the victim cannot work for more than 14 days. Since most job injury victims are laid up for at least two weeks, the waiting period usually doesn’t apply.
Briefly, most temporarily disabled victims receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage (AWW) until they return to work. However, victims who are permanently disabled or the survivors of deceased victims often get a lump-sum payment.
Suppose the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC) initially denies benefits, as it usually does. In that case, the waiting period could be a lot longer. An attorney for workers’ compensation can only reverse the denial at a subsequent administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing. Since the court system is so backed up, a victim could wait several months, or even longer, for a day in court. Benefits are unavailable until the judge reverses the denial. The good news is that the ALJ’s order is usually retroactive to the filing date. In the meantime, if finances are an issue, an attorney for workers’ compensation in Washington, D.C. usually arranges for no-cost medical treatment, as mentioned above.
Most states, including Virginia, have added post-traumatic stress disorder and other nervous or mental injuries to their workers’ compensation laws. Virginia’s law is comprehensive, meaning almost anyone with work-related PTSD might be eligible for benefits. The laws in Maryland and Washington, D.C., are not as wide-ranging, but victims in these areas could have other options, which are listed below.
Let’s look more closely at Virginia’s law. The most significant issues are usually proper timing and establishing a work-related connection.
Post-traumatic stress is common. After a severe work-related injury, many people get depressed, lose interest in certain activities, and generally don’t feel like themselves. But if symptoms persist, or get worse instead of better, the victim could have PTSD, a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Usually, since PTSD takes some time to develop, the claims deadline has passed when victims realize they have this illness. However, a variation of the delayed discovery rule helps ensure that these victims are still eligible for workers’ compensation in Washington, D.C.
Any sudden stressful event, not just work-related stress, could trigger PTSD. Fortunately, the burden of proof is relatively low in these cases. So, victims don’t need much evidence to establish a working relationship.
Workers’ compensation was never designed to cover all workplace injuries. So, if workers’ comp benefits are unavailable, other options exist.
One example is a negligence lawsuit. If employers recklessly endanger workers, these workers could sue outside the system. Suppose they prove negligence or a lack of care and the lost economic benefits. In that case, these victims are entitled to compensation for their noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. In some instances, defendants in these negligence cases can’t use some of the most effective legal defenses, so negligence is easier to prove.
A defective product is another example. Assume Julie fell at work because her safety harness broke. In that instance, she may be able to sue the harness manufacturer in court. Usually, product makers are automatically liable for any defective products. In addition to compensatory damages, as mentioned above, juries often award additional punitive damages.
For more information about workers’ compensation in Washington, D.C., or to find an attorney, reach out to the professionals at Accident.com.
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