Workers’ Compensation FAQs

Alabama Workers’ Compensation Frequently Asked Questions

At the Blackwell Law Firm, we want to provide legal answers and information for Alabama consumers. If you have suffered a work-related injury, you face many issues. You need quality medical care. You may also be worried about your job and long-term disability. If you are looking for a place to start your research, we have compiled some frequently asked questions that may help. We would also encourage you to read the Practice Areas section of our website which provides more detailed information. Additionally, we regularly publish articles on our blog. If you have questions, give us a call. Consultations with the attorneys of the Blackwell Law Firm are always free and confidential.

We have years of experience handling workers’ compensation cases across Alabama. We have handled these cases at trial and appeal for many years.

Workers’ Compensation Benefits in AlabamaHow can I Afford a Lawyer if Hurt and Unable to Work?

We represent injured clients on a contingency fee basis. That means we are only paid if we successfully recover benefits for you. If we don’t win the case, you don’t pay. The contingency fee for workers’ compensation claims is 15 percent of the compensation we recover for you. The contingency fee for other types of cases varies. We are happy to discuss the legal process and how our legal representation works for you. If you have questions, call or email us.

What Benefits are Provided by Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act?

Alabama law provides several types of benefits to injured workers. First, the law provides medical benefits. That means you have the right to medical care. Second, the law provides for monetary compensation to you in several situations. These monetary benefits include compensation like temporary total disability (TTD) benefits, permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits and permanent total disability (PT) benefits. We are happy to provide more information about the benefits you may receive.

Can I Choose My Own Doctor?

In Alabama, the employer (usually through its insurance carrier) gets to select the initial treating physician. If you are not satisfied with the authorized physician, you have a right to select another doctor from a panel of four other doctors. However, this right is limited and should only be exercised with care. Additionally, if your employer refuses to select an authorized treating physician, you may then have the right to select your own physician. Again, this right is limited. Whenever an issue arises where the employer has refused to provide a doctor or has provided an unsatisfactory doctor, you should seek legal advice to help get the treatment you need.

Can the Company Require a Drug Test?

If you are hurt on the job and need medical care, your employer may give you a drug test. In fact, the local Occupational Health Group which serves as the initial company physicians in many injury cases, routinely conducts drug screenings for new injury claims. The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act has provisions which allow the claim to be denied if the accident was proximately caused by intoxication from drugs or alcohol.

Am I Required to Give My Employer Notice of the Accident?

Yes. You are absolutely required to provide your employer with notice of the accident. A failure to provide prompt notice can bar a workers’ compensation claim. After an accident, you should immediately notify your employer. In Alabama, our Department of Labor provides a First Notice of Injury form that your employer should complete.

If you are facing a legal issue related to notice, let us know. We are happy to answer questions. Many times, the insurance company will wrongly deny a valid claim on this issue. Often, we can help.

Can My Claim be Denied Because of a Pre-Existing Condition?

Workers’ compensation benefits are not limited to people in perfect health prior to an accident. Insurance companies will often WRONGLY deny benefits on the grounds of a pre-existing condition. The insurance company is trying to save money at your expense. Under long-standing Alabama law, “if the employee was able to perform his duties prior to the injury, no pre-existing condition is present” for workers’ compensation benefits. For benefits, you need to prove the accident worsened or aggravated the underlying condition. If you have been denied on the grounds of a pre-existing condition, you should seek skilled legal advice immediately.

Should I Close My Medical Benefits as Part of a Settlement?

The insurance company cannot require you to close your medical benefits. If you have suffered a work-related injury, you have a right to medical care for that particular injury. That right does not expire. Sometimes, the insurance company will offer extra money in exchange for you settling or releasing your right to continued medical care. You should be very careful about settling your medical rights. You may be unable to pay for future medical needs. For example, Medicare can refuse to pay for future medical care related to the injury in certain situations. Before releasing your medical rights, you should carefully weigh your options for future care. In such situations, it is often best to consult legal counsel.

If I Settle, do I Have to go to Court?

In Alabama, workers’ compensation settlements require court approval. That is an important protection for the benefit of injured workers. However, that approval process is non-adversarial. That is, the other side will not cross-examine or argue with you. Rather, it is simply a safeguard to insure you understood your rights and settlement. These hearings are usually very brief.

How Should I Select an Alabama Workers’ Compensation Attorney?

Workers’ compensation benefits can be complicated. They often involve rules and calculations which can be very different from other types of injury cases. At the Blackwell Law Firm, we believe in preparing our cases. We have real experience in workers’ compensation trials. We have tried these cases in counties across northern Alabama. You can see some of our results in another section of our website.

If you are looking for a workers’ compensation attorney, ask questions. Look for an attorney with detailed knowledge of the law. Look for an attorney who has actually been to trial many times in these cases. Many attorneys advertising for cases have never even tried a case. Look for an attorney who has handled workers’ compensation cases at both the trial and appeal level. We frequently handle these claims at trial and appeal. A skilled and experienced attorney can make a big difference in your settlement or trial.

What is the Difference Between Permanent Partial and Permanent Total Disability?

This is a huge issue in many of our cases. If the trial court determines you are partially disabled (1-99%), then benefits are limited. The law places an arbitrary limitation on the number of weeks and the maximum weekly amount for which you are entitled. In our opinion, the benefits are unjustly low. If you are totally disabled (100%), those limits do not currently apply. The difference can be huge.

A skilled attorney who practices in this field understands the tremendous difference in benefits and should work to prepare your claim fully. At the Blackwell Law Firm, we routinely advise injured workers on these benefits. We are happy to answer your questions.

Will the Insurance Company Make a Fair Offer Without an Attorney?

Maybe. In Alabama, our workers’ compensation laws pay benefits based on certain mathematical formulas. Where an injured worker has long-term problems, permanent injuries or disability, the insurance company will often make an offer based on the WRONG formula. In those cases, the offer is not fair. If you have long-term problems or permanent injuries, a quick consultation with a skilled lawyer can answer this question. Most lawyers offer free consultations. At the Blackwell Law Firm, we do.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have no long-term problems from your injury and are able to resume your normal activities, you may not need a lawyer. If you have returned to work and are earning the same or more than when you were hurt, you may not need a lawyer.

At the Blackwell Law Firm, we offer free consultations. Frequently, we simply answer questions and provide advice for workers unfamiliar with these issues. In many situations, the injured person may not need an attorney. We routinely tell callers that. In cases where you may have long-term problems, permanent injuries, or problems continuing to work, we feel legal counsel is often needed. Our philosophy is to prepare fully our cases so the client can get the maximum compensation legally available.

If the Doctor Takes me Off Work During My Medical Treatment, am I Entitled to Benefits?

If the doctor officially removes you from work during medical treatment, you will typically be entitled to benefits for a Temporary Total Disability (TTD). You may also be entitled to TTD benefits if the doctor places restrictions upon you during treatment which would prevent your return to work.

Can I Receive Benefits for a Permanent Injury?

Yes. The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act provides benefits for permanent injuries. The benefits are provided based on certain formulas depending upon the type of injury and scope of any disability. If you are dealing with an injury and potential disability, we are happy to answer your specific questions.

What Does it Mean to be Totally Disabled?

People are often confused by the phrase “Totally Disabled.” In Alabama workers’ compensation cases, total disability does not mean the person is absolutely helpless. Instead, total disability means the person is not able to perform their prior work or to obtain other reasonably gainful employment. These cases often involve vocational issues. If you suffer a significant disability, you should seek legal counsel with expertise and experience in workers’ compensation and vocational issues.

What is a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE)?

A FCE is a physical test typically conducted by a physical therapist or occupational therapist. At a FCE, you will perform activities like lifting, walking, climbing stairs, reaching, gripping objects and balancing. The purpose of the test is to make recommendations as to appropriate restrictions or limitations for you. As you near the point of maximum medical improvement (MMI) in your medical care, some doctors will prescribe an FCE to assist them in setting permanent physical restrictions.

The quality of an FCE can vary tremendously based on the experience, skill and bias of the therapist conducting it. We believe some FCE providers are biased and favor the insurance companies who send them constant business. Others FCE providers try to evaluate fairly the injured worker. The results of an FCE can be very important to determining the compensation owed you. This is an area where an attorney who possesses experience with workers’ compensation benefits as well as these tests, can provide detailed advice. We have spent years studying these tests and researching the various providers.

What is “Maximum Medical Improvement” or MMI?

MMI is a key date. It is the date when the doctor believes you are as healed as you will get. It does not mean you are completely healed. MMI is typically when the doctor issues any impairment ratings or final physical restrictions for any permanent disability. Impairment ratings and final restrictions are important in calculating any benefits you may be owed for a permanent injury. The court cannot make a final decision on your case until you reach MMI.

What is an “Impairment Rating” and Why is it Important?

At the time of MMI, the doctor may calculate an Impairment Rating. These ratings are calculated using the A.M.A. Guides To The Evaluation Of Permanent Impairment. The assigned rating will vary for different injuries to different body parts. In some cases, permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits are calculated based upon your physical impairment. Although the court is not bound to accept your doctor’s assigned Impairment Rating as your physical impairment in those cases, many courts do.

In many other cases, your physical limitations or permanent restrictions are much more important than your Impairment Rating. In those cases, limitations and restrictions will be relied upon in determining compensation.

Do not rely on the insurance company to calculate your benefits. Insurance companies will often calculate benefits based upon the Impairment Rating in cases where your limitations should be the basis of compensation. This often results in a settlement offer that is too low.

Am I Entitled to Compensation for Pain and Suffering?

Unfortunately, no. Under our workers’ compensation laws, your compensation is based on formulas. Your impairments, restrictions and limitations are the key factors in these formulas. Pain is important to the extent it restricts or limits your abilities as a result of the injury.

What if Someone Else Caused My Injury?

If your injury is caused by the negligence of someone outside your employer, you may have what is often called a third-party claim. In such cases, you may be able to recover damages from the at-fault party.

If you believe another party caused your injury, you should seek legal advice. You need advice from a lawyer who has expertise in both workers’ compensation and other personal injury cases. Many people will hire a lawyer who only possesses skill in one of the claims but not both of them. This is a mistake. That mistake can create costly issues for you.

Third-party cases require significant legal expertise. We provide additional discussion of these cases under the Practice Areas section of our website. If you have questions, give us a call. At the Blackwell Law Firm, consultations are always free and confidential. We have years of experience handling third-party claims.

Can I be Fired in Retaliation for a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

Alabama law generally states that NO employee shall be terminated SOLELY for seeking workers’ compensation benefits. The law does allow you to sue your employer for damages if terminated solely in retaliation for your workers’ compensation claim.

However, these cases are very difficult. Alabama is generally an “at will” state which allows employers to terminate employees for good, bad or no reason. If the employer has any legitimate reason for terminating you, then they will not be held liable. If you have questions about retaliatory discharge claims, give us a call.

Can I Receive Benefits if I no Longer Work for the Employer Where I was Injured?

Yes. You are still entitled to benefits if you change employers.

Are Benefits Provided for the Accidental Death of an Employee?

Yes. Our workers’ compensation law provides certain death benefits to the actual dependents of the deceased.

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