How Impairment Ratings Work

Some workers’ compensation injuries are deemed, by law, to be “permanent,” and some are not.  If an injured worker has a permanent injury, he or she may be entitled to receive a permanent impairment rating, which is worth money, in the form of permanent disability benefits.  Impairment ratings are usually determined by a doctor (mostly by the treating physician, but not always), who uses a book that is filled with complicated tables, graphs and charts.  Sometimes, doctors simply get the impairment rating wrong.  Many times, insurance companies will try to get out of paying the impairment rating by alleging that it’s not valid, either in whole, or in part.  Sometimes the insurance company will write an injured worker who has a permanent impairment and explain the impairment rating incorrectly; misstate the law; miscalculate the benefits owed; and/or advise that it is only paying some or none of the  impairment rating.  One reason insurance companies do this is because they know most injured folks have no idea about how impairment ratings work, and no idea how to correctly value them.

Having a permanent impairment rating can be very important to a claim, because it potentially opens the door for an injured worker to receive some of the most valuable benefits allowed under our workers’ compensation law.  If there is no impairment rating or if the impairment rating is deemed to be invalid, these benefits may not be available.  If you already have an impairment rating; think you may get one in the future; or think you may deserve one, we’d be glad to visit with you, about ratings and your rights, anytime.

By:  Neal L. Hart, Attorney at Law

 

 

Rule 099.34 Impairment Rating Guide  

Are You Being Watched?

It’s quite possible.

Insurance companies will try basically anything to defeat a workers’ compensation claim, including paying a private investigator hundreds or even thousands of dollars to track, watch and record an injured worker’s activities.  A skilled insurance lawyer can then use this evidence to build a case against a claimant that may eventually become too damaging to overcome.  Unfortunately, it happens all the time – many times in cases where an injured employee has not had the benefit of visiting with a workers’ compensation lawyer about how the system works and the common tactics used by insurance companies to impair claims.  I know all of the common tactics utilized by insurance companies to impair claims, including surveillance, because I used to be an insurance lawyer.  That’s some pretty valuable experience to have in your corner.

By:  Neal L. Hart, Attorney at Law

How To Settle Your Workers’ Compensation Claim

Let’s face it, when you’re injured at work, the last thing you’re thinking about is how to navigate the Workers’ Compensation claims process. And who could blame you? All you know is that you’re hurting and you want to get better – so you can get bacWorkers' Comp Claim Formsk to work. After all, there are bills to pay and mouths to feed.

But, in all honesty, figuring out how your Workers’ Comp injury translates into future medical expenses and possible job limitations should be at the top of your list. Because the longer you wait, the more uninformed decisions will be made that could jeopardize your Workers’ Compensation claim, your health and your future.

Here are the major steps to consider as you work to settle your Workers’ Compensation claim:

  1. Reach the end of your healing period.
  2. Make sure your employer has provided you with sufficient medical care.
  3. Verify that you’ve been paid benefits at the correct compensation rate.
  4. Assess the seriousness of your injury, most importantly, if you have a permanent impairment and permanent work restrictions.
  5. Determine if you have lost the ability to make your pre-injury wage.
  6. Decide if your injury will require training to perform a different job.
  7. Understand how much medical care you will need in the future and the cost associated with these healthcare services.
  8. Figure out how much all of this is worth under the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Act and come up with a dollar figure reflecting that amount.
  9. Approach the insurance claims adjuster with a demand for settlement (this is often referred to as a “demand letter”).
  10. Convince the insurance claims adjuster – and likely their attorney – to agree to that settlement amount.
  11. Review and sign a lengthy set of settlement documents, prepared by the insurance company’s attorney(s).
  12. Go to court and ask an administrative law judge to agree to let you settle the case for the agreed upon amount.

If you have any questions about the Arkansas Worker’s Comp claims process, feel free to call us at 1-800-520-5874, or go hartlawfirmllp.com/#faqs. Helping injured workers is what we do. And even if we don’t represent you, we can help point you in the right direction.

HOW MUCH WILL A WORKERS’ COMP LAWYER COST ME?

Attorney Fees Are Set By The State At 12.5% From The Injured WorkerSo, how much do lawyers charge to help settle AR Workers’ Compensation claims? It’s a really good question, especially when you’re hurt, unable to work and you’re trying to keep the bills paid. Every dollar matters, right?

Well, the truth is, attorney’s fees don’t amount to near as much as you might think. Many people think AR Workers’ Comp is the same as personal injury law, where the attorney gets 1/3 of the total settlement. But that’s just not the case.

In fact, an attorney gets a relatively small portion of the Workers’ Compensation settlement amount. For starters, the fees charged by an attorney to represent an injured worker in an Arkansas Workers’ Compensation claim are set by state law at 12.5% from the injured worker. And sometimes even this fee is negotiated during settlement to be paid by the insurance company.

It’s also helpful to know that there are no “up front” charges, or fees. In fact, a claimant doesn’t owe their lawyer a dime unless he/she collects money on their behalf – either through settlement, or by asking a judge to force an insurance company to pay benefits they have wrongfully denied.

For answers to more of your Workers’ Comp questions, check out these FAQs, or call 1-800-520-5874. We’re here to help, even if we don’t represent you.

5 IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT BACK AND NECK INJURY SETTLEMENTS

Back and neck injuries are very common in Arkansas workers’ compensation law. More importantly, spine and joint cases can be very valuable for settlement purposes. The main reasons is that these types of work injuries are often the most problematic, because they can involve long, painful healing periods and produce substantial permanent impairment.

Here are 5 very important things to know about back and neck injury settlements, as well as the insurance company playbook before getting too far along into the AR workers’ comp claims process:

back and neck injuriy settlements

Workers’ compensation claims that involve back and neck injuries can be very valuable for settlement purposes.

  1. Workers’ compensation claims that involve back and neck injury settlements can be quite valuable. In fact, the average settlement for joint and spine injuries can substantially higher than you might think.
  2. Insurance companies know this, and act accordingly, by immediately sending folks with spine and joint injuries to orthopedic doctors they think will help end these claims as quickly and as cheaply as possible. In fact, the insurance company will often hire a “nurse” to meet the injured worker at his, or her doctor’s appointment, at which time the nurse routinely goes into the examination room with the claimant, and then talks one on one with the doctor about the case.
  3. If the insurance company doesn’t like what the treating doctor has to say, the patient is sometimes sent for an Independent Medical Examination, again with a doctor chosen (and paid for) by the insurance company.
  4. Insurance companies want to keep back and neck disability ratings low; the healing periods short; and spine surgeries to a minimum. In the meantime, while the back and neck claims are being potentially dismantled beyond repair, the insurance company and its nurse sometimes tell the claimant that hiring an Arkansas workers’ compensation lawyer to protect them in the case simply isn’t necessary.
  5. If this scenario doesn’t sound quite right, it isn’t. It’s totally legal, but it’s not even close to totally fair. The insurance company may have a legal right to dictate the path of an injured worker’s initial medical care, but it doesn’t have the absolute right to dictate the direction, or the outcome of his or her case.

Knowing all this, it’s not surprising, really, that one of an insurance companies biggest nightmares is when injured workers with severe spine and back injuries seek the advice of a workers’ compensation lawyer early on in the claims process – especially from a lawyer who is already extremely familiar with the typical insurance carrier game plan and how best to counter it. At Hart Law, we already know the insurance company’s playbook. Which is why it’s so important to consider getting legal advice from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney when you have back and spine injuries.

For more information check out the Frequently Asked Questions (link to http://hartlawfirmllp.com/#faqs ), or give us a call 1-800-520-5874.

 

The Weekly Compensation Rate in Workers’ Compensation Law

It’s important.  Very important.  Why?  Because it represents the only income injured working folks usually have to survive on while they’re in a healing period, following a work injury.  But it’s more than that.  The eventual value (settlement and otherwise) of workers’ compensation cases is based heavily upon what the claimant’s weekly compensation rate is determined to be.  Under law, the average weekly wage and corresponding compensation rate are to be based upon a worker’s contract of hire at the time the injury occurs.  The alternate calculation, favored by insurance companies, is to arrive at a rate by analyzing how much an injured worker earned in the year prior to his work injury, and then dividing that number by 52 weeks.  Insurance companies like this method, because it often makes the compensation rates lower (sometimes much lower) than they legally should be.  This devalues the case, and saves the insurance carrier cash, at an injured worker’s expense.  Competent workers’ compensation lawyers should always make accurately determining a client’s weekly compensation rate one of their top priorities.

 

Work Injuries and the Employment Services Doctrine

Claims are often denied by insurance companies under the defense that an injured employee wasn’t actually working at the time the job injury occurred.  Under our current law, however, injuries that may not seem particularly work-related at first glance may actually be viable workers’ compensation claims.  For example, an injury occurring while an employee is using the restroom, eating lunch, or even on break might very well be deemed to be a compensable claim under our Workers’ Compensation Act.  Our Employment Services Doctrine states that if an employee is performing services at the time of his accident that either directly or even indirectly benefit the employer in any way, that employee is technically “on the job” when the injury occurred.  Some of these cases have to be tried in court; and some go all the way up to our Supreme Court, like this one, handled and won by Hart Law in 2006: http://opinions.aoc.arkansas.gov/weblink8/0/doc/273068/Page6.aspx

By:  Neal L. Hart, Attorney at Law

“Do I have a case?”

“Do I have a case?” is a common question in Arkansas workers’ compensation law.  Just being injured on the job is rough enough.  But then an insurance adjuster comes calling, followed by “official” looking forms in the mailbox.  Sometimes a benefit check in some strange amount arrives, and sometimes one doesn’t.  Doctors’ appointments are scheduled, or the claim is just outright denied, without much explanation at all.

The answer is yes, you may very well have a case.  In fact, it my be a  significant workers’ compensation case that involves or has the potential to involve maximum damages under our Workers’ Compensation Law.  It is doubtful, however, that an insurance company is ever going to tell you this.

At Hart Law, we will.

By:  Neal L. Hart, Attorney at Law

Injuries Involving Permanent Impairment: “What’s Going To Happen To Me After All This?”

In Arkansas, if an injured worker suffers an injury at work (regardless of whether or not it results in permanent impairment), the insurance company is obligated, under the law, to pay reasonable and related medical bills, and also to pay the employee temporary total disability benefits (a temporary wage substitute), until doctors are able to “fix” the injury to where it’s as good as it can get.  During this process, which starts very early on in a claim, the insurance company has a right to control an injured worker’s medical care, and will routinely hire doctors known to working folks (and to Hart Law) as “company” doctors.  These are physicians who the insurance company thinks might treat the claimant both cheaply, and for only a short period of time.

 

Injuries resulting in disability that’s never going away (ie: permanent impairment)can be pretty scary.  Arkansas working folks are good at their jobs, and are justifiably proud of their ability to work hard, physically and mentally, to accomplish a bunch of things.  When a bad work injury hits, it creates a multitude of medical questions for injured workers, because the body is complex, and made up of thousands of bones, joints, ligaments, vessels, muscles, discs, and all kinds of other things.  Physicians try to explain it the best they can, while insurance companies shuffle injured folks from doctor to doctor, trying to find a way out of the claim.  It’s pretty easy to feel lonely and lost, after being thrown into this scenario.

 

“What’s going to happen to me after all this?” is one of the most common questions asked by injured employees in the history of workers’ compensation law.  It’s a really important question, because it potentially involves the rest of a working person’s life.  It’s one of those questions that injured folks really need to be asking to someone who has a pretty solid grasp on the answer, and also a plan to get there.

 

Although the benefits outlined above (medical and temporary total disability) are routinely and voluntarily paid in claims, there are other benefits available to injured workers in Arkansas that an insurance company is less likely to just hand over.  When a worker with a permanent injury reaches maximum medical improvement, the insurance carrier is often required to pay benefits for permanent impairment to that workers’ body.  These permanent disability benefits are calculated by using tables in a book that the treating doctor is required to use, by law.  This book was designed to be sort of fair to injured workers.  The problem is that the folks who make our laws have told the doctor how to read and use the book, mostly to the detriment of injured Arkansans.  Insurance companies, obviously, love this, and they use this book, along with their attorneys, to try to get doctors to give the lowest possible permanent impairment ratings allowed by the book and by law.

 

Once a disability rating is assigned, and the insurance company agrees to it, they will routinely try to pay out permanent impairment benefits to the injured worker, and then try to close their file.  But the file isn’t legally closed.  In fact, it potentially remains open as long as the claimant continues to seek timely and related medical care, possibly up until the time of his or her death.

 

A bunch of insurance carriers would clearly love to pay permanent impairment rating, and then just have the claim go away.  The reason for this is that a large portion of the value of a claim involving permanent injury lies in what are referred to as “wage-loss disability” benefits.  Wage-loss disability involves a comparison of what an injured employee was able to make before the work injury, and what he or she is able to make after the injury.  Wage-loss disability benefits are awarded by a Judge, after a hearing, typically involving a lawyer making an argument for additional benefits, on an injured worker’s behalf.  These benefits (along with vocational retraining) are absolutely vital to the lives and to the future of injured Arkansans, and are a big part of the answer to: ‘”What’s going to happen to me after all this?”  Unfortunately, that’s a question many insurance companies would prefer never be answered.

 

At Hart Law, having the answers to difficult questions is our job.  We care about what’s next for our clients.

 

By:  Neal L. Hart, Attorney at Law

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