The following post is part of our Law Student Blog Writing Project, and is authored by Nolan Weddle, a Juris Doctor student at the University of Kentucky College of Law.
What Should You Do If You Get Injured at Work?
An injury, of any kind, often creates an incredibly stressful and trying time for everyone involved. The pressures are further compounded, however, when the injury is work-related and interferes with our ability to provide for ourselves and for our loved ones. Thankfully, the Kentucky Legislature has enacted a series of laws aimed at helping hard-working employees recover from injuries and diseases incurred while on the job. At its core, Kentucky’s Workers’ Compensation laws require employers to either provide Workers’ Compensation insurance or to become self-insured, so that an injured employee or a deceased employee’s dependents can be compensated for lost earnings, medical expenses, and rehabilitation expenses. In almost every circumstance, the injured employee is entitled to recover from a work-related injury—even if the injury is the fault of the employee (see footnote for exceptions). Furthermore, it is illegal for an employer to prevent his or her employee from taking full advantage of the employee’s rights, or to harass or punish the employee for filing a Workers’ Compensation claim. In order for an employee to make the most of his or her rights following a work-related injury or disease, he or she should commit to the actions discussed below.
Seeing a Physician
In the event that an employee’s injuries require immediate medical attention, the employee should seek out the nearest emergency facility. In the vast majority of circumstances, however, an employee’s injuries will not require such immediate care. When this is the case, the employee should first check with his or her employer to determine if the employer is part of an authorized managed care program that requires the employee to choose a particular physician or to choose from a list of pre-selected physicians.
There will be times when an injured employee will be dissatisfied with the medical opinion given by a physician within the above stated program. If this occurs, the employee should consider a second opinion from a physician of his or her own choosing. Filing a Form 113, provided on the Department of Workers’ Claims website, allows the employee to designate his own physician, and the Workers’ Compensation insurance carrier should provide payment to the new physician for reasonable and related treatment, so long as the new physician is either within the carrier’s managed care network or within a reasonable distance of the employee’s home.
The doctor’s orders should not be viewed by the employee as merely a suggestion. Rather, the injured employee should take great care in following the recommendations given to him or her by the attending physician. Often, these recommendations will include instructions for the employee to refrain from engaging in certain work-related activities. If this is indeed the situation, the employee should have the physician write down his or her instructions so that the orders can be given to the employee’s employer.
Report the Injury
Once the injured employee has provided for all of his or her immediate medical needs, the employee should report the injury to his or her supervisor. This report should include the employee’s name, department of employment, a list of the individuals who witnessed the injury, a description of the work the employee was undertaking at the time of the injury, the cause and extent of the injury, and any additional information the employee deems to be relevant. Too often employees fail to report injuries because the injury seems insignificant at the time the injury was inflicted. Yet unfortunately some of the most serious and life altering ailments do not manifest themselves until months or even years after the injury occurred. The problem with waiting to report an injury is that, if the employee waits too long, he or she may find that the law prevents the employee from being compensated for his or her injury or disease.
In Kentucky, an injured employee is not eligible for the benefits of worker’s compensation unless the employee reports the accident to his or her employer “as soon as practicable” and submits a claim for compensation (discussed at greater length below) within two years of the injury’s occurrence. While the two-year time period provides a bright-line rule for submitting the claim for compensation, Kentucky courts have been less clear about how soon is “as soon as practicable.” Although “as soon as practicable” does not mean that the employee must provide his or her employer with notice on the same day of the accident, courts have found that five months is too long to wait. Ultimately, because what amounts to “as soon as practicable” depends upon the unique facts of each case, the employee should report any accident to his or her employer as soon as the employee can, and the employee should do so regardless of whether he or she believes the injury is serious or not. Waiting to report the accident until all of the consequences of the injury are fully known may result in the passage of too much time and the employee’s loss of his or her benefits.
Keep On-Going Records
Although the process of applying for worker’s compensation will generate a great deal of paperwork, it is always wise for the injured employee to keep a detailed account of events for his or her own records. Included in the account should be a timeline of events, significant contacts with anyone involved in the injury, doctor’s appointments and doctor’s recommendations, interactions with the employee’s supervisors and employer, and any other significant event. In situations such as this, a detailed record of events can be critical in proving the injured employee’s right to certain benefits.
Although a work-related injury is never a welcomed event, Kentucky’s Workers’ Compensation laws do provide injured employees with a number of rights in the event of an accident. However, in order to benefit from all of the rights that an employee is entitled to, it is important that the employee take the necessary steps following his or her injury. It is only then that the injured employee can maximize all of the rights that he or she is entitled to under the law.