When you're hurt at work, you need to take it seriously right from the beginning, even if your injury seems minor. Your first step should be to notify your employer, using their protocol to complete the first report of injury. Your next step should be to see a doctor. Here's why.
Seeing a doctor protects your health
It's not uncommon for work injuries to have delayed or hidden symptoms. If your accident involved a blow to the head, for instance, you could have a concussion, even if you're not currently experiencing symptoms. Likewise, an impact to the midsection could cause an internal injury. A full medical screening will uncover those hidden injuries and make you aware of any precautions you need to follow, such as taking on lighter duties at work. If you have a concussion, for example, it's important to be aware of it so you can avoid second impact syndrome, a potentially fatal complication if you sustain a second concussion while the first is still healing. In short, delayed treatment is dangerous for your health.
When you see a doctor after a work injury, explain what happened and describe all of your symptoms. Don't leave anything out; even a mild symptom could be the key to diagnosing a more significant injury. Follow your doctor's instructions; if you're told to rest, then rest. If you're prescribed medication, take it as prescribed and notify your doctor of any complications or side effects. Put your health first and focus on making a smooth recovery.
Seeing a doctor also protects your legal rights
By law, workers' compensation is required to pay for reasonable and necessary medical treatment, as well as a percentage of lost wages for an injury sustained on the job. The key phrase there is "on the job." If the insurance company disputes whether you were actually injured at work, they can try to deny your claim on that basis. Delayed treatment makes it more likely that your workers' compensation claim will be denied because the insurance company can argue that you sustained some other injury in the intervening time.
Seeing a doctor creates a record of your injuries that makes it harder for the workers' compensation insurance company to dispute them later. Tell the doctor what happened and make sure to get copies of any documentation of your visit.
Your doctor helps to establish your eligibility for benefits
Workers' compensation benefits are based in part on whether you are found to be partially or totally disabled. They are also based on whether your disability is temporary or permanent. Your doctor can assess the extent of your disability. They can also help you understand how it impacts your ability to do your job. Depending on that assessment, you may be eligible for compensation for lost wages or even vocational retraining to help you change jobs if you can't return to your current job.
If you have a permanent injury, your doctor will establish when you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI); that is, when your condition has stabilized and further improvement is unlikely. It's at this point that you can get an impairment rating evaluation (IRE). You can then potentially qualify for permanent partial or total disability benefits.
Remember, it costs nothing to see a doctor
If you're hurt on the job, workers' compensation pays for the full cost of your reasonable and necessary medical treatment -- period. There are no deductibles, co-pays or other out-of-pocket expenses. That means it costs you nothing to get checked out by a doctor after a work injury. The potential ramifications for your health and your financial future are huge.
In short, if you're hurt at work, we urge you to see a doctor right away. We also strongly encourage you to contact us. We can help you navigate the workers' compensation system. We'll do it while you focus on going to your medical appointments and getting better. Give us a call or contact us online to schedule your free consultation with O'Malley & Langan.