Today we will be talking about workers’ compensation law and some of the unique circumstances that can arise for an injured worker. My guest is workers’ compensation attorney Bill Kovalcik and he is going to talk with us about this topic. So Bill thanks for being here today.
Bill: Well thank you for having me
Interviewer: Bill what if my injury is so severe that I will not be able to return to the same job?
Bill: Well that’s a good question and this happens a lot. Say for instance you injure your back or your knee or God forbid, your head or something that really puts you in a position where you can’t do the kind of work you did before. We see this a lot with people who have heavy work, unfortunately a lot of those people are nurses, people in construction, people who work in the gas and oil industry who have heavy labouring jobs. Once they get that severe injury they can no longer lift, bend, stoop, or kneel like they did before and when you see someone in that position your advice to them should be a couple of different things. If they are going to have a chronic injury that will last for a while you may want to council them on trying to move on from that particular industry that is heavy work for them, so often those cases will settle. In other words you’re resigned you’re not going back and you take a lump sum. Then you move on and retrain.
Interviewer: Okay but what about if they want to stay at the job and there is no modified work available and the worker cannot do his or her previous job. What happens then?
Bill: Well when someone gets injured the company has the right and if it has the ability, it could offer light duty. Light duty can be anything as long as it fits within their restrictions. It can be offered and once you go back to that light duty your workers’ comp benefits may stop. But as long as you’re working light duty you’re still protected and here is why, say their plant closes and say you’re laid off, just you individually – from that light duty job. Well the law allows you to go right back on workers’ comp benefits and collect what is called temporary total disability until such time as you’re no longer disabled or they offer you light duty again. Keep in mind a lot of these companies either don’t have light duty or it’s just a temporary program. They don’t want you sitting in the office doing nothing forever. So often we see that they are back temporarily, then they are off again.
Interviewer: Okay and what if I am injured while on the job but not at the job possibly by an at fault motorist?
Bill: This is a common thing. A lot of people travel during work. A lot of these people are truck drivers, so we see these cases a lot. So if you are a traveling employee and you’re in the course and scope of your employment and in a car or a company vehicle, and you’re in an accident, you’re entitled to two things, if in fact the accident wasn’t your fault. If it’s the other drivers fault and you did nothing to cause it you’re going to get workers’ comp benefits for your medical and for your wage loss if you’re disabled. You also have the ability to sue in civil court – the driver of the other vehicle who caused your damages. Now there is a concept called subrogation. Everybody should be aware of this because just because you sue somebody who caused your injury doesn’t mean you get to keep the entire settlement. Subrogation provides that the workers comp insurance company must be paid back a portion of what they paid you in wage loss and medical benefits from that settlement. Now that’s negotiable and your attorney can work that out but the thing about car accidents especially if the injury is severe, is if those people now have two sources to collect the money from to pay for their injuries and their medical treatment.
Interviewer: Okay and regarding the medical treatment do they have to see a doctor appointed by the company or can they see their own doctor?
Bill: In Pennsylvania when you are injured the employer is obligated to provide you with a list. That list is called the panel of physicians. The law requires that there be at least 6 doctors on that panel of physicians of different specialties. You have to pick from that list in the first 90 days. In other words if you want your medical bills to be paid you have to treat with one of those doctors. After 90 days you can choose any doctor you want and those bills must be paid provided that the treatment is related to your injury and reasonable and necessary. But one of the biggest problems in Pennsylvania is a lot of employers really violate this law. They don’t have a list, they tell you to go across the street to one particular clinic that they deal with all the time and most injured workers don’t know that that’s not legal, so they go to that clinic and that clinic then maintains complete control of the treatment and the case, so if you get hurt and you’re going to talk to one of us early on we are going to advise you about the panel of physicians and your rights under that law.