- Failing to take the long view.
In addition to the 7 Deadly Sins explained in our FREE BOOK for the benefit of injured workers’ in Pennsylvania (PA), Many seriously injured workers fail to look at the big picture. Where are you going to be five (5) or ten (10) years from now? Injured workers have to take both a short view of their case (getting better, dealing with the insurance company, getting appropriate medical care, and getting appropriate benefits) and the long view (how to maximize your financial position, how to take into account a series of long-term medical restrictions, whether or not to settle your workers’ compensation case, whether or not to go on Social Security disability, whether or not to seek re-training, when to collect your pension, etc.).
- Failing to realize that you and your employer have an adverse financial interest once you are seriously injured.
Many seriously injured workers have been with the same company for many years, have never abused their sick time, work extra hours when asked, have delayed taking vacation, and have taken the Mission Statement of the employer very seriously. Such valued employees identify with the employer and feel that they are part of the “employer family.” Employers encourage this. One big happy family, right? Wrong. Employers are in business to make a profit. They have to deal with inventory supplies, business taxes, customers, raw materials, technology and management. An employee with a serious injury and resulting restrictions is a big financial problem for an employer and most employers try and reduce that cost as quickly and efficiently as possible despite the long and loyal service from the employee. If you are seriously injured, you need to realize that your formerly valued position in the work force is a thing of the past in most cases and you need appropriate legal and vocational advice to plan accordingly. The Scarlett O’Hara who relies on the kindness of others would get squashed in the PA Workers’ Comp system.
- Failure to understand the complex relationship between Workers’ Compensation, Social Security Disability, Social Security Retirement, Severance Pay, Pension and Unemployment.
Many injured workers make the mistake of thinking that these regulatory themes have the same standards and the same requirements. They don’t. Many injured workers think that the relationship between, for example, Workers’ Compensation, Social Security Disability and Pension is common sense. It isn’t. Failure to gain a detailed understanding of how these conflicting benefit themes fit together, overlap and contradict each other is a big mistake. There is a proper chronology to what benefits to seek. Going out of step can have grave consequences, credits owed to the employer/insurance company and a greatly diminished case value. We provide FREE LEGAL ADVICE on what benefits to apply for and when.
- Failure to realize that medical records are not private.
What you say to your doctor is protected by law, isn’t it? Don’t federal and state regulations prevent insurance carriers and investigators from snooping through the medical records of an injured worker? The short answer is no. If you file for or are receiving workers’ compensation, you give up your right to privacy. You can assume that your medical records will be read by insurance carriers, investigators, adjusters, workers’ compensation judges, attorneys, rehabilitation nurses and vocational experts. Understand this when you are talking to your doctor.
- Believing what insurance adjuster, rehabilitation nurses or employer controlled doctors tell you about your workers’ compensation case.
An insurance adjuster has to tell an injured worker the truth, right? Wrong. The law creates some special relationships: doctor/patient; priest/parishioner; husband/wife; lawyer/client. Those relationships create higher stages of confidentiality. There is no such requirement placed on insurance adjusters. The adjuster tells an injured worker that they don’t have a claim and the injured worker believes them. Pennsylvania law says that is the fault of the injured worker to not get appropriate legal advice. The only person who has to tell you the truth about your workers’ compensation case is the lawyer you hire to represent you. A panel doctor is trying to serve two masters: you, the patient; and the employer/insurance company who is paying him or her. Guess which ethical duty they are going to take more seriously? A so-called IME doctor (independent medical examination) is not independent at all. Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Law doesn’t even use this term. The correct term is “Defense examination chosen by and paid for by the employer.” Even your treating doctor may give you well meaning but wrong advice about your workers’ compensation case. Your treating doctor means well and probably intends you no harm when they give you wrong or erroneous legal advice, which they frequently do. You should no more get legal advice from your treating doctor than you should get medical advice from the attorney.
6 You are better settling your own case without an attorney.
Insurance carriers will frequently try and settle the case with an injured worker directly, telling the injured worker that if they hire an attorney, the attorney will take all the money. As noted above, an insurance adjuster will not give you truthful advice about your case. The person who pays the fiddler calls the tune, the old saying goes. If you are approached by an insurance adjuster to settle your own case without an attorney, get the offer in writing. Then go see an attorney and ask the attorney (1) what the case is worth and (2) will they charge you on the difference between your offer in writing and what you eventually get. Studies prove that those with attorneys obtain much more than 20% in benefits than those without.
- Hiring a workers’ compensation attorney who pays for litigations costs and doesn’t ask you to do it.
Any litigated workers’ compensation case has two aspects: (1) an attorney fee and (2) litigation costs. This is similar to when you take your car to the mechanic and there are parts and labor charges. The attorney fee is payable only when approved by a judge and only when the attorney has legally achieved a result for you i.e., wins you something). Some workers’ compensation cases also involves costs of litigation. These are the actual charges from people other than the lawyer (doctors, hospitals, expert witnesses, vocational witnesses and court reports) who charge for their services. You are better off hiring a law firm that does not pay for the costs of litigation, rather than a law firm that does. Why? Because most workers’ compensation cases settle. It is unfortunate but true that law firms who advance litigation costs (i.e., pay them and don’t require the client to pay them) generally get lower settlement values than do law firms that don’t advance litigation costs. Why? There is a tendency for attorneys to be cautious when they have their own money tied up in a case and they generally want to make sure they get their costs back. Debt can sometimes cloud the judgment of the attorney representing the injured worker. You don’t want this. You want an attorney who is completely clear and completely candid about the pros and cons of your case, the pros and cons of each legal option and the settlement value of your claim. You get this when you hire an attorney who will charge you an attorney fee for the work they have done but asks you to pay for the litigation costs. Work out a payment plan. It is better for you in the long run.
- Beware of the Internet.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Many injured workers spend lots of time on the Internet researching Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation law and Federal Social Security Disability law and then think they know what they are doing. This is a very bad idea for two reasons. First, the old saying is that “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” You cannot be objective about your own case. Even experienced attorneys hire an outside attorney to represent them if they are involved in a legal matter themselves for this reason. Second, injured workers who research law on the Internet and think they know what they are talking about are ignoring the experience factor. You may know in theory how to rebuild an engine or perform basic surgery; however, you won’t be good at it until you have done it hundreds or thousands of times. An attorney certified in Workers’ Compensation by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decades of experience and has handled thousands of workers’ compensation claims. A certified Workers’ Compensation attorney knows the judges, the doctors, the court reporters, opposing lawyers, insurance companies and expert witnesses through the huge number of cases they have been involved in. This actual experience of how the system works can’t be researched on the Internet. There is nothing wrong with education – go ahead and read up on the law. Just don’t think you know how to apply it in your own case.
- Listening to well meaning friends or family members who want to give you legal advice about your case.
If you have a serious work injury, you will find that your sister-in-law, your nephew who is going to law school in California, your doctor’s receptionist and your co-worker will have lots of advice on workers’ compensation and Social Security and will be only too glad to give you advice on how that applies to your case. Don’t listen. These people are usually well meaning but are ignorant. The cases they talk about are in a different state or county or even are not Workers’ Compensation/Social Security disability cases at all, but long-term disability or general workers’ comp. Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation is local. The correct strategy in any case depends on the workers’ compensation judge with authority for that county, the identity of the treating and IME doctors, the identity and track record of the insurance company, the competence and strategy of the insurance company attorney, and the individual employer involved. A family member who tells you about their friend’s case in Philadelphia will be of no help if your case is in Bedford.
- Hiring an attorney who advertises on TV.
Television advertising costs hundreds of thousands, or even, millions of dollars. Law firms who advertise on television or so-called “disability advocate” organizations just have huge debt to pay off each month to the television or cable networks. They can only do that by moving cases quickly and cheaply. Appropriate legal representation is not the same as fast food. You do not want to be represented by a Workers’ Compensation or Social Security attorney who has a lot of TV debt.
- Hiring a lawyer or doctor who talks down to you.
You wouldn’t hire a garage mechanic who talked to you in a language that you don’t understand. How can you make a decision on your car if you don’t know what’s wrong with it? There is no difference between an auto mechanic and a lawyer or doctor when it comes to getting advice. You want to hire an attorney who takes time with you, who answers your questions, who is knowledgeable and experienced and gives you the pros and cons of each of the available legal options in language that you understand. Don’t hire an attorney who refuses to talk to you, shifts you to the paralegal, refuses to answer e-mails or phone calls, or tells you what to do without listening to you. You should ask the attorney for his or her advice, but the final decision is yours once you understand the pros and cons of each option. Don’t listen to gobbledygook.
- Failure to be politically involved.
The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation law used to favor the injured worker since the injured worker “gave up” his right to sue the employer for negligence in 1915 when the law was passed. The courts were clear that workers’ compensation was remedial legislation and it was supposed to be a fact and not technical source of benefits which favored the injured worker. That all changed in the 1990’s when the first “reform” bill was passed. A lot of the politicians were scared because they thought that injured workers would vote them out. They didn’t. Nobody said much of anything so the Chamber of Business and Industry came back a few years later and passed yet another anti-worker bill. The Governor of Pennsylvania, listening to business interests, wanted Pennsylvania to be a cheaper state for Workers’ Compensation than New York, Ohio, Maryland or New Jersey and he succeeded. The workers’ compensation system in many ways is no longer tilted towards the employee; it is tilted towards the insurance carriers. The failure of injured workers to become politically involved and the decline in unionized workers meant that only the trial lawyers were there to oppose pro business reforms to the Workers’ Compensation Law. Most injured workers are horrified to find out how the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation system works now and will frequently say that it is not “fair,” “reasonable,” “common sense” or is an “outrage.” True. But this is shutting the barn door after the horse has already gone. Failure of workers to vote their political interests means that the law no longer favors injured workers.
The law firm of Calhoon & Associates represents injured workers Disability throughout Pennsylvania, including but not limited to, Altoona, Harrisburg, Pottsville, Allentown, Reading, Bloomsburg, Easton, Bethlehem, Norristown, Bristol, Williamsport, State College, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Lancaster, Waynesboro, York and all cities in Bucks County, Chester County, Columbia County, Dauphin County, Delaware County, Lackawanna County, Lancaster County, Lebanon County, Lehigh County, Luzerne County, Lycoming County, Montgomery County, Monroe County, Montour County, Northampton County, Northumberland County, Philadelphia County, Pike County, Schuylkill County, Wyoming County and York County, PA. Our offices are located at 2411 North Front Street, Harrisburg, PA and 14 North Main Street, Suite 300, Chambersburg, PA, and we can arrange for meeting locations at law offices throughout the State.
Calhoon & Associates
2411 North Front Street
Harrisburg, PA 17110