Report injuries at work in writing as soon as possible
The first and most important lesson when handling workers’ compensation claims is to report injuries at work when they happen. If you don’t report it immediately, report it as soon as you can, and definitely within 30 days. The sooner an accident is reported the easier it will be for the insurance company to accept the claim and pay benefits.
When making the injury report, put it in writing. You may be given a form to complete or asked to sign one that the supervisor filled out. But even if you aren’t asked to sign something, you should write down what happened. You can send an email to your manager, fill out an Industrial Commission Form 18, or write it down on a piece of paper. Be specific with the details of what happened, and write down what made the injury an accident.
Remember that you want a complete record of what happened for yourself and for the company. You should also write down the names of witnesses for your own use. Take pictures of any visible damage you suffered, like your surgical scar. All of these tips are simple. But if you don’t report your injury right away, it can lead to a very hard lesson.
Ralph’s Workers’ Compensation case
For 14 years Ralph worked five or six days a week in a distribution warehouse, mostly driving a forklift. One day he got down from his forklift and shifted a wooden pallet. Immediately he felt a searing pain in his back. Not one to complain or make a scene, Ralph got back onto the forklift and kept working. The pain didn’t go away, and now and then it shot down his leg. But since he had just an hour left to work, Ralph figured he would get some ice or some pain reliever when he got home. He would get better after a couple of days. Ralph was no stranger to soreness after a long day at work.
Ralph didn’t tell anyone about his back pain. When it was time to leave, Ralph walked right by the bulletin board where a sign was posted: “REPORT ALL ACCIDENTS IMMEDIATELY,” along with others listing the number of days without an injury at his workplace and some notices that the company had posted about NC workers’ comp. Ralph passed the nurse’s office as he was leaving but he figured that he’d better get over to his son’s baseball game. When his supervisor yelled out, “Have a good weekend, Ralph!” in the parking lot, he just waved and slowly eased himself into his truck.
Ralph’s back was so uncomfortable that he couldn’t stay for more than a couple of innings at the baseball game. For the rest of the weekend Ralph couldn’t get comfortable and had trouble sleeping. On Monday, Ralph went back to work. Ralph wasn’t about to miss a whole day of work for a backache; he had child support and a car payment to worry about. He made it through the shift by gulping over-the-counter pain pills and survived working the rest of the week the same way. On Thursday, knowing that his daughter needed braces, Ralph even volunteered for two hours of overtime.
Another week went by. Ralph made it to work every day, praying that the pain would go away. But then one day he pulled some clothes out of the dryer and the pain in his back hit him so hard that he dropped to the floor. He crawled to the phone and called his sister to take him to the emergency room. He told the Emergency Room nurse what had happened at work but the date he gave her was off a day.
Ralph couldn’t give them any information about whether workers’ comp insurance would pay because he didn’t know. Ralph called into work from the ER. His supervisor said that he would fill out an accident report. By now, two-and-a-half weeks had passed since Ralph was injured at work.
After waiting hours for the MRI results, the doctor told Ralph that he would need surgery. There was a large part of a disc in his lower back that was pressing on a nerve. Ralph paid the $250 co-pay and went home, wondering when he would be able to afford those braces. Within five days, Ralph received a form from an insurance company saying that his workers’ comp claim had been denied.