Helping Workers Recover Compensation After An Injury
When an injury occurs on the job, most workers reasonably expect that it will be covered by Workers’ Compensation. What they usually don’t know is how difficult it may be for them to get the medical treatment and other benefits they are entitled to in a timely manner.
We start by helping our clients understand what benefits they are entitled to under Oregon’s Workers’ Compensation laws and identifying potential challenges in getting those benefits. We then develop a plan to obtain the best possible outcome despite any challenges we may face.
Oregon’s Workers’ Compensation laws are extremely complex, and frequently very unfavorable to injured workers. While we fight for each of our individual clients, we also lead the fight in Salem for better laws to provide better protection for workers going forward.
What Is Workers’ Compensation?
Workers’ Compensation laws are set by each State, and require employers to carry Workers’ Compensation Insurance. The benefits, and the requirements for getting them, are also set by law. This means that the benefits are limited, and the worker cannot get them solely by relying on arguments of fundamental fairness or unfairness. It is therefore essential to have legal counsel to understand the scope of the benefits and the process for getting them.
Workers’ Compensation is a “no-fault” insurance system. That means issues of fault or negligence are not considered in determining benefits in Workers’ Compensation claims. This is very helpful for the large number of workers whose injuries were not anyone’s fault, or who could not prove who was at fault. However, it is frustrating for workers whose injuries were caused by the negligence of their employer. The trade-off for providing benefits where there was no fault is that the worker is almost never allowed to sue their employer or co-workers for causing their injury. This doctrine is known as “exclusive remedy”.
While there are limited ways to get around exclusive remedy, our firm is very experienced in identifying those situations where it is possible, and in holding the employer and any other responsible parties accountable.
What Is Covered In A Workers’ Compensation Claim?
The stated purpose of Workers’ Compensation is to soften the economic impacts of a workplace-related injury and restore the worker to maximum earning capacity as quickly as possible.
This means that your medical expenses and lost wages should be covered, and that you should be compensated for permanent impairment caused by your injury under a formula set by law. In some cases, an injured worker may not be able to return to their normal work. In these cases, the worker may be eligible for retraining so that they are qualified for employment in a new field.
An injured worker has an ongoing right to medical services related to their accepted condition(s) for the rest of their life. A worker also has limited rights to have their claim reopened for additional wage loss or increases in impairment.
In cases involving the death of a worker, benefits are only available to certain types of beneficiaries, and for certain periods of time.
Unfortunately, non-economic damages like compensation for the pain and emotional distress caused by the injury are not available in Workers’ Compensation no matter how great the loss.
Who Resolves Workers’ Compensation Disputes?
Workers’ Compensation issues are reviewed by administrators at the Workers’ Compensation Division (WCD), and by Administrative Law Judges who work for the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB).
There are hearing offices Portland, Salem, Eugene, Roseburg, Medford, Coos Bay, Bend, Klamath Falls, Pendleton and Ontario, Oregon. Our firm represents clients all over the state, and we have successfully tried cases in all of these locations. We handle all of our own appellate work, and over the years we have won many cases on appeal that were lost at hearing.
What About Injuries Caused by Someone Other Than the Employer?
In cases where the injury is caused by someone other than the employer, known as a “third-party claim”, there may be other avenues to recovery, including recovery of the non-economic damages described above. It is critical to quickly obtain legal counsel to identify and investigate these types of claims before the evidence of wrongdoing disappears.
Using A Workers’ Compensation Attorney
Workers’ Compensation attorneys are not allowed to set their own fees or charge by the hour. They are only allowed to receive a fee when they obtain additional benefits for the worker or negotiate a settlement. The attorney does not receive a percentage of any undisputed benefits, like wage loss or permanent impairment, unless the client chooses to obtain those benefits through settlement instead of waiting to see what benefits come without a dispute.
When you retain our firm, we will receive copies of all claim related documents and handle communications with the insurer or their counsel so that you can focus on your health and well- being.
There Are No Non-Economic Damages In A Workers’ Comp Case
Since a workers’ compensation policy protects both workers AND their employer, this policy blocks an employee from being able to seek non-economic damages from their employer in the event of an injury. In a personal injury case, a victim can seek these types of damages in addition to the measurable, economic damages that they have suffered. This includes things like pain and suffering, or depression resulting from the injury.
In some cases, the victim may identify a variety of parties, or parties other than their employer who are not protected under workers’ compensation, as the responsible party for the accident or injuries. In these cases, such as an instance of faulty equipment or negligence on behalf of someone who is not included under the workers’ comp policy, there may be other avenues available to seek additional compensation. This is another reason why it is so important to work with an attorney.
Our Experience: A Few Past Relevant Cases
Workers’ Compensation Claims
Getting Past Pre-Existing Conditions
A client from La Pine injured his spine while driving a log loader back and forth over a large brush pile. The insurer had several doctors who blamed his injury primarily on age related changes in his spine. After hearing the case in Bend, the Judge agreed with the medical evidence we obtained from his doctors, which focused on the mechanics of the injury and the immediate change in symptoms.
New Injury vs. Old Injury
A client from Eugene was still treating for an accepted spine injury when he suffered a minor exacerbation while working for a new employer. Both insurers denied his claim while he was in need of surgery. After litigation, we successfully forced the insurer to cover his surgery under the original claim. Four years later, we are now in litigation over his permanent impairment.
Course and Scope of Employment
A client from California came up to assist with fighting wildfires in Oregon. He was living at camp, and had just started two days of mandatory down-time, when he was struck by a hit and run driver within ¼ mile of camp. The Judge agreed with us that the insurer was responsible because our client was a travelling employee, and ordered the insurer to pay what has become hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical and other benefits to our client.
Long Term Injuries
We represent a paraplegic client in Roseburg. While his injury was covered, and his impairment compensation was paid out years ago, we get involved whenever he needs help cutting through the red tape to get the medical benefits and equipment purchases he will be entitled to for the remainder of his life. We are always happy to assist our clients when they need us no matter how long it’s been.
Third Party Claims
- Platform Collapse
Johnson Johnson Lucas & Middleton represented an ironworker who was injured when the platform he was erecting collapsed under him. He landed in the mud, gravel and twisted steel, and was rendered quadriplegic. Though entitled to workers’ compensation for his lifetime, the compensation fell far short of his total damages. Following a thorough investigation, our firm brought a third-party claim on his behalf against the contractor and others responsible for the faulty design specifications and an overly aggressive building schedule.
- Commercial Guardrail Accident
A commercial painter fell 15 feet from a raised deck onto concrete when an improperly installed guardrail gave way had been installed, and our client leaned against it. In addition to the benefits he received through his workers’ compensation claim, we filed and ultimately settled a “third party” legal claim, an Employers Liability Law claim, and a premises liability claim on his behalf due to the dangerous conditions at the property.
- Log-Loader Accident
We represented the family of a log truck driver killed while delivering his load to a mill. After arriving at the mill’s yard, he parked where he was told, and began to remove the wrappers binding the load to the truck. While he was doing so he was struck by a log-loader and died instantly. We prosecuted a third-party claim against the log-yard owner, citing negligence, and violations of the Oregon Employer Liability Law. The case settled successfully for our client.
Contact Us Today For A Free Consultation
Please contact us for a free, no-pressure, consultation regarding your claim. We are happy to discuss the status of your claim, explain your rights in plain terms, and help you decide if retaining counsel is a good idea. Even if you don’t need an attorney, we can help you understand the system more fully and identify the situations where you may want to contact us again.