Undocumented Workplace Injuries Can Create Major Problems for Hurt Workers
A 40-year-old trucker is learning the hard way that if worker’s compensation insurance companies ignore the rules, injured workers often pay the price. This trucker sustained injuries to his back lifting and carrying heavy boxes at work, which created such terrible pain that the man had no choice but to undergo surgery. While the man’s case languished in bureaucratic limbo as various decision makers denied his workers’ comp claim, the trucker was forced to sell his pickup truck and his mother-in-law had to dip into her retirement to pay for care for herniated discs and spinal damage.
Are employers and insurance carriers rewarded for breaking the law?
Among the reasons the man was denied workers’ comp benefits was the fact that the employer and its insurance company allegedly failed to properly document his injury, as is required by state law. Failing to document injuries in this manner can be part of a strategy to avoid paying claims and extending the benefits injured workers should receive. “Undocumented” injuries appear to be part of a larger trend of underreporting, which is part of a climate that also involves intimidating workers into not reporting injuries for fear of retaliation.
This is particularly true in cases in which the injured worker does not miss more than 3 days’ time from work. We have found many instances in which a worker with a legitimate injury finds out too late that the insurance carrier never admitted liability for their workplace injuries. They are not required to file a notice of contest or an admission of liability in Colorado unless the worker misses 3 days or 3 shifts. They frequently will pay for medical care, leading the injured worker to believe that they have admitted liability, but unless they have filed a general admission of liability that is not the case. The workers frequently find out much later when they do start missing time that the insurance company is contesting their claim.
Workers deserve an advocate in their fight for benefits
This workplace accident victim’s case illustrates the uphill battle many injured workers face when they file for the compensation benefits to which they are entitled. The good news is that trained legal advocates are available who know the system and know the tricks that employers and insurance companies use to avoid paying the price when workers get hurt. As compensation boards and insurance companies become more sophisticated in their attempts to deny benefits, workers need experienced attorneys now more than ever to fight a system in which the odds are stacked against them.
Fines that do not help the ultimate victims
While the insurance company in this case may now be fined for its actions, the victim will never see the proceeds of such penalties. This is particularly tragic in light of the fact that this insurance carrier has been nabbed seven times in four years for shortchanging workers on benefits and paying late. With a total in fines for these violations of a paltry $193,600, it appears that the government has yet to apply punishments with teeth for such lawbreakers.
If an injured worker can show that they missed three days or will have a permanent disability there are penalties that might apply for the failure of the insurance company to file a notice of contest or admission of liability. For this reason, if a worker in Colorado misses time they need to tell the insurance company in writing so that they can document their notice in the event that penalties are sought.