If you have ever been laid off from a job, either on a temporary basis or permanently, you know the gut-wrenching fear of suddenly being without a job and without income. What will you do about house payments, truck payments, groceries, school expenses and tuition? What about health insurance or other benefits that your employer may have provided?
Suddenly, you are scrambling to find other sources of income or ways to make ends meet. Obviously, you begin with a job search. You might also check into available benefits through unemployment or other sources. At the end of the day, however, you are facing a major change in your life both personally and financially. A possible benefit that most people tend to overlook might be workers’ compensation benefits.
Over the years, we have helped many people in northern Minnesota with work comp claims after they were permanently laid off following shutdowns or downsizing at LTV Steel, Potlatch and Blandin Paper, among other large employers. Another large layoff has recently been announced for Boise Cascade in International Falls.
How Can I Get Work Comp Benefits after a Layoff?
There are several situations where you might be eligible for work comp benefits after you have been laid off from a job. These situations might include if:
-You had a prior accepted work injury which resulted in surgery;
-You had work restrictions from a prior accepted work injury at the time of the layoff;
-You had a prior accepted work injury which requires additional medical care;
-You have a recent work injury that has not been reported;
-Your job duties right up until the date of the layoff have contributed to an injury or disabling condition;
The term “accepted work injury” means an injury that was reported to the employer and work comp insurer and was accepted, or admitted, by the work comp insurer as a work injury. Typically, the insurance company would then pay medical bills or wage loss benefits depending upon the nature and extent of the injury.
If you had injuries during the years of your employment which were not reported or which were denied, the statute of limitations might prevent you from bringing claims at this time. Consulting with an attorney would help you to establish whether it’s too late to file a claim.
You Had a Prior Accepted Work Injury Which Resulted in Surgery
If at some point during your employment you had a work injury and received work comp benefits, including surgery, you may have some ongoing claims. If you had surgery, you may have been given a permanent partial disability rating (PPD), for which the insurance company paid you some money. Or, maybe you have a PPD rating from a surgery and the insurance company never paid you – that claim is probably still available.
A prior surgery might also support a claim that you have ongoing restrictions related to the work injury, even if no formal restrictions were ever given to you by your treating physician. Sometimes a friendly doctor will simply tell you to “take it easy” or “just do what you can”, without writing out specific restrictions on how much you can lift, how often you can bend, etc. Your treating physician might be able to put some restrictions on you now, which would support a claim for wage loss benefits while you try to find a new job. Under those circumstances, you may have a partial wage loss claim if you find another job which pays you less than you were earning when you were laid off.
You Had Work Restrictions from a Prior Accepted Work Injury at the Time of the Layoff
Even if you were working at full wage on the date of the layoff, if you had restrictions from a prior work injury, you might be able to claim partial wage loss benefits now if you find a new job that pays you less. You may also be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services to help you find a new job.
You Had a Prior Accepted Work Injury Which Requires Additional Medical Care
In my twenty-nine years of experience handling work comp claims in northern Minnesota, I have seen many, many men and women who are “working hurt”. These are people who suffered an admitted work injury and chose to go back to work without any formal work restrictions even though they were still suffering from back, neck, shoulder, knee, etc. pain and limitations. Often, the work environment can be very intimidating for someone who claims an injury or needs work restrictions. For that reason, many people simply tough it out and continue working to avoid being ridiculed by coworkers or supervisors.
However, if the medical records document that you had a legitimate work injury and there is current medical support for work restrictions, it may not be too late to file a claim for wage loss benefits now that you are laid off. The key is to have solid medical support from a treating physician who will relate your ongoing difficulties to a work injury that was accepted at the time you reported it.
You Have a Recent Work Injury That Has Not Been Reported
If you have very recently suffered an injury at work but have not yet reported it to your employer, you should do so immediately. There are strict deadlines for actually reporting an injury once you are aware that it is related to your work activities. If you fail to report the injury quickly enough, the claim might be barred forever. Reporting an injury after a layoff will automatically be viewed suspiciously by the insurance company, but if you can prove that the injury is work related, you should definitely pursue it.
The notice of a work injury should be given in writing to a supervisor, human resources person or anyone else in a position of authority with the employer and should specifically state the nature of the injury and how it is related to your work. You should also follow up right away with a doctor to document the nature of the injury and obtain treatment.
Your Job Duties Right up until the Date of the Layoff Have Contributed to an Injury or Disabling Condition
Not all work comp injuries are the result of one specific incident. If you fall off a ladder and break your arm, that’s pretty clearly a work comp injury which occurred at a certain time on a certain date. However, if your work activities over a period of time have gradually resulted in a painful or disabling medical condition, that can also be a work comp claim. A good example might be someone who spends all day, everyday, bent over shoveling or lifting. Eventually, that person develops back pain and requires medical care. If his work activities contributed to the development of his disabling back condition, that would be a repetitive injury work comp claim. Another example might be someone who develops carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive work activities involving the hands and wrists. These types of claims are called repetitive, or Gillette injuries. A Gillette injury can involve any body part which is subjected to repetitive stress in the course of employment.
The date of injury for a repetitive use (Gillette) injury, can be the first date you see a physician, the first day you become disabled or limited from the injury, or the last day you work, among other possible dates. If you suspect that you have such a claim from your work activities, you should give written notice to your employer immediately, explaining that you have a medical condition which you believe is related to your work activities. Again, follow-up with your physician right away and describe in detail what your job duties were and how they seemed to cause or increase your symptoms.
Deadlines and Other Limitations
As mentioned above, there are deadlines which apply to giving notice of an injury and there are additional deadlines for actually filing a work comp claim. If you had an injury at some point in the past that you didn’t report or which was denied, it may be too late to pursue any claims at this time. However, if you had an injury that was accepted by work comp, no matter how long ago, you may still have some benefits available to you, including wage loss, permanent impairment, medical or vocational rehabilitation and retraining.
There are also limitations or “caps” on certain types of benefits, so not all benefits would be available after a certain amount of time has gone by. Either way, it’s probably worth looking into now that you’ve been laid off and will be looking for a new job.
If you have been laid off from a job and have a work related injury or disabling medical condition related to your work activities, consult with an experienced work comp attorney to see if you have any rights or claims available to you. You can be assured that the employer will not follow up with you after the layoff to remind you about any available work comp benefits.
We have been representing injured workers across all of northern Minnesota for nearly 30 years. You can contact us at any time for an absolutely free consultation. We will always give you nothing but our honest opinion about your possible claims and will be happy to help you in any way that we can. Call us with questions at any time.
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