On-the-job injuries in Alabama are an all too common occurrence. In 2021, there were almost 33,000 workers injured in the state which means around 90 injuries per day. Every 3 days someone is killed in Alabama while working on-the-job. Whether you’ve been injured or not (hopefully not), there are certain things that you need to know so that you’ll be able to protect your rights if it happens to you one day.
Although there are exceptions which will be noted later in this article, if you are injured on-the-job in Alabama, you will probably be covered by the Alabama Workers Compensation Act. It is mandatory for every employer in Alabama to carry workers compensation insurance if they have 5 or more employees.
Workers compensation laws were passed in Alabama to make sure that all workers injured on the job would receive medical treatment and compensation for time off work – even if the injury was 100% the fault of the injured employee. The trade-off for this is that a person injured on-the-job cannot sue his employer or coworkers for negligence even if their actions caused the injury.
You Must Report Your Injury
If you are injured on-the-job, you are required to provide a written report of your injury to your employer within FIVE (5) DAYS of the injury or you may jeopardize your right to receive benefits. Upon being hurt, you should immediately report the injury to your employer either directly or through your supervisor, foreman, or the employer’s workers compensation/insurance office. You should insist on a written report being made and make sure that you receive a copy of that report.
Sometimes an employer may tell you that they don’t want to report your injury and that they’ll file it through your group medical policy or give you cash under the table. Just remember that if you agree to this, you are risking your rights under the Alabama workers compensation laws and you will probably end up regretting that decision.
Insist On Seeking Medical Attention
At the time you report the injury, you also must insist on getting checked out by a doctor for your injuries. The longer you wait to see a doctor, the more difficult it is going to be to prove you were hurt on-the-job. It is absolutely essential that you have medical documentation to support your injury so don’t delay in seeking medical attention.
Under Alabama’s workers compensation act, the employer has the right to choose your treating physician, so you must initially go to their designated doctor. You are entitled to have workers comp pay for all treatment ordered by the authorized doctor. This includes any other doctor that you are referred to, all prescribed medications or equipment, and mileage reimbursement for your trips to the doctor.
If you later become dissatisfied with the doctor chosen by the employer, you have the right to request a change in doctors, at which time your employer is required to provide you with a list of 4 doctors from which you may choose. Unless it’s an emergency situation however, you are not entitled to treatment from any doctor not authorized by workers comp – so do not seek out medical treatment from any outside doctors.
You are entitled to medical benefits related to your injury for the rest of your life. However, in some instances, the workers comp insurance company may try to offer you a lump sum payment to cover your future medical expenses. If your injury is of the type that will need long term ongoing treatment, or that may require future surgery, or that may worsen over time, we recommend that you NOT settle your future medical benefits for any amount. This is because if you do settle and then have large medical bills in the future, you will have to pay these out of your pocket. Group or individual medical insurance policies usually will not cover treatment related to on-the-job injuries, nor will Medicare or Medicaid in most instances. You need to strongly consider contacting an attorney before agreeing to any lump sum settlement of your future medicals.
Workers Compensation Payments
In addition to payment of your medical bills, if you are not able to work due to your injury, you are entitled to workers compensation payments for the time you are off work. In most cases the time off work will need to be verified by your treating doctor. You should normally expect to begin receiving compensation payments within 30 days of your injury. The payment amount will be based on 2/3 of what your average weekly wages have been during the year prior to your injury. If you’ve not worked that entire year, there are other formulas provided in the workers compensation act for calculating the amount of benefits.
You are entitled to compensation payments for the entire time that the doctor has you off work. If the doctor returns you to light/restricted duty, the employer has to either provide you with work within those restrictions or continue the full amount of your compensation payments.
At some point the doctor will determine that you have reached maximum medical improvement (mmi) – which means that you have in the opinion of your doctor – recovered as much as you’re ever going to recover. Once that happens, your right to future compensation payments will depend on whether and to what extent the doctor says you are permanently disabled. The Alabama Workers Compensation Act includes provisions for calculating the amount of permanent disability payments depending upon which part(s) of your body are injured, how the permanent injury affects your potential earning capacity, whether you are able to return to your prior occupation, and other factors.
At the point that you reach maximum medical improvement the workers comp insurance company may try to offer you a lump sum payment to cover your future permanent disability benefits. You need to strongly consider contacting an attorney before agreeing to any lump sum settlement so that you will know whether the offer is fair.
Other Things You Need To Know
- If your employer fails to secure workers compensation insurance as required by law, you could be entitled to double the amount of compensation that you would normally receive – as punishment for the employer’s neglect.
- If you are a “maritime worker”, which includes shipyard workers, dock workers, longshoremen and others, then you will probably be covered under the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) instead of the Alabama Workers Compensation Act. The workers benefits and rights under the LHWCA are usually much more generous than under the Alabama act.
- If you are a crewmember of a vessel – tugboat, ship, crew boat, supply boat, floating oil/gas platforms – you will probably be covered under the Jones Act instead of the Alabama act. Again, your rights and entitlements are completely different than under the Alabama act.
- Employers having less than five (5) employees are not required to provide workers compensation under the Alabama act. In that case, you are not entitled to any workers compensation benefits, but you may be able to bring a claim against your employer under the Alabama Employer’s Liability Act if your injury was caused by such things as dangerous conditions at work, defective machinery/equipment, or negligence of the Employer or your coworkers.
- If your injury is caused by the negligence of someone (or some company) who is not an employee of your employer, then you may – in addition to claiming workers compensation benefits from your employer – be able to bring a claim against that person or company for negligence. This situation usually arises when there are subcontractors or workers from other companies on the same jobsite as you.
Consulting With A Lawyer
As you can see, protecting your rights if you are injured on-the-job can be a complicated and daunting task. If at any time you are uncertain as to what to do or what you’re entitled to, you should contact a competent attorney for advice. Lawyers at Lattof & Lattof have been assisting people injured on-the-job for over 70 years. We will be delighted to discuss your rights with you at any time free of charge – even if you are not ready to hire a lawyer. We often sit down with injured workers shortly after their injuries and provide them with information and guidance as to what their rights are and what to expect and advise them as to when they need to hire a lawyer. We also frequently consult with injured works to evaluate whether any settlement offer they’ve received is fair and reasonable. Feel free to contact us any time for a free consultation by calling (251) 432-6691 or by visiting our offices at 156 Saint Anthony St., Mobile, Alabama 36603. We look forward to meeting you and doing our best to help you!