Get Your Questions Answered Today By Iowa Workers' Compensation Attorney Nicholas Pothitakis
After an on-the-job injury, you probably have a number of questions about who was at fault, whether you are owed compensation, and whether you need an attorney to assist you with your claim. Below, we've answered some of the most common questions that we hear at our law firm.
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What is workers’ compensation?
Last year in the United States, there were nearly 3 million reported workplace injuries and illnesses. To ensure the continued well-being of everyone, each state has adopted workers’ compensation laws. These laws protect the interests of both employers and employees, and they ensure the continued well-being and success of both by providing certain compensation to injured employees.
Iowa Workers’ Compensation Provides Vital Care and Compensation
The Iowa workers’ compensation system, like others across the country, offers remuneration in three main categories for injured workers and their families:
- Medical bills: Pending review, medical expenses related to a workplace accident may be covered under workers’ compensation, including hospital stays, surgery, medication, doctors’ appointments, and others.
- Wage replacement: Often, injured and ill workers are forced to miss work because of their injuries. Hence, they are unable to earn income as they did before the injury. The workers’ compensation system can provide payments while the employee is out of work. The payment amounts are based on a number of factors, including the severity of the injury and the employee’s previous wages.
- Rehabilitation services: The goal of any care program is to help a person recover after suffering from an illness or injury. The workers’ compensation system may pay for treatment that enables an injured employee to regain as much function as possible, including physical and emotional therapy. This can also include vocational rehabilitation to help the employee rejoin the workforce.
In the event a workplace injury results in an employee’s death, surviving family members may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits, including funeral costs and wage replacement.
Workers’ Comp Exists to Protect Everyone in the Workforce
Workers’ compensation protects both employees and employers after an accident or other scenario causes a worker to suffer injuries or fall ill. The system is based on two main tenets:
- Workers can obtain benefits regardless of who was at fault. Injuries and illnesses occur as a result of many different circumstances. Sometimes, the employer is at fault if the work environment is unsafe. Other times, potentially careless behavior of the employee causes the injury. However, under workers’ compensation, employers agree to offer benefits no matter what caused an accident.
- Employers are shielded from further costly and time-consuming litigation. Before workers’ compensation existed, employers were often involved in arduous and expensive litigation, in which they had to show that an employee or some other party was negligent. In exchange for disregarding fault, employers no longer have to do this, and employees may not sue their employer if they receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Types of Injuries Covered by Iowa Workers’ Compensation
The workers’ compensation system covers most workplace injuries and illnesses. Injuries sustained both at work or outside the job location but during the course of employment duties are likely covered. For example, if an employee is injured in a car accident while traveling on work business, he may be able to obtain benefits. Workers’ compensation can also cover injuries and illnesses that occur over the course of time due to work-related factors, such as repetitive use injuries, hearing loss, carpal tunnel, chronic back pain, and other conditions.
However, there are exceptions to the system. Employers and their insurance companies do not have to pay benefits when employees exhibit behavior that is well outside the realm of carelessness, including situations when:
- The employee is drunk or under the influence of drugs.
- The employee’s behavior is in violation of stated company policy.
- The employee’s injuries are self-inflicted or the result of a fight.
- The employee was injured while committing a crime.
Additionally, workers’ compensation only covers eligible employees. In Iowa, certain types of workers are excluded from receiving benefits. Some of those positions include:
- Domestic and casual employees who earn less than $1,500 per year
- Agricultural laborers who work for a farm with a payroll of less than $2,500 the previous year
- Safety forces eligible for pension funds
- Individuals considered independent contractors
If you or someone you love has suffered injuries performing job-related tasks, you may be eligible for Iowa workers’ compensation benefits. At the Pothitakis Law Firm, our experienced attorneys have helped many injured Iowa employees obtain the medical care and wage replacement they deserved. Call our office or complete the convenient online contact form to learn more and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.
Who chooses my doctor under Iowa workers’ compensation?
When an Iowa employee is hurt in an accident at work or falls ill due to job conditions, he is typically eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation is a system that provides medical care and wage replacement for injured and ill employees. These benefits are meant to ensure that employees are able to recover as fully as possible, and state law requires most employers to provide this to employees at no cost to the employee. However, when the employer or his insurance company is paying the bill, they are able to exercise some control over the care.
Employers Typically Are Able to Dictate Eligible Providers
In general, Iowa employers choose the medical providers for injured and ill workers. When an employee sustains an injury, he should file a report with the employer as soon as possible. Once that claim is accepted, the employer will typically provide the injured worker with a list of approved providers. When a worker is treated by an approved provider, the employer is required to pay for the care.
An employee may want to see a doctor not approved by his employer. In some cases, the employee and the employer may agree to an alternate provider. However, the employer is not obligated to do so and may deny the request. Should a worker choose to pursue care outside the approved list, the worker would be responsible to pay that bill out-of-pocket. It is also worth noting that many health insurance carriers will not pay for care if workers’ compensation benefits are available but unused.
There Are Some Exceptions to Employer-Chosen Medical Care
There are a few exceptions in which the injured employee is allowed to select his own provider. These exceptions cover situations in which the employee is unhappy with the care for a variety of reasons and those in which the employee disagrees with the impairment rating offered by an employer-selected physician. In both these cases, it can be possible to petition the workers’ compensation commission for a change in care or second opinion by a doctor of the employee’s choosing.
How much does it cost to hire an attorney for my Iowa workers’ compensation case?
When on-the-job injuries or illnesses force employees to miss work, many seek benefits from the workers’ compensation system. This system provides medical care and wage replacement for injured workers when they are unable to perform their normal work duties. Not only can this time be stressful as the worker deals with a painful physical and emotional recovery, the financial strain can impact the entire family. It is natural to try to save money wherever possible, and many employees wonder if they can resolve their case without the help of a qualified attorney. While this can be true for small, straightforward cases, many workers’ compensation cases grow quickly complex, and the advice of an experienced attorney who has helped others navigate the system can be invaluable. Additionally, it is often much more easily managed than one might think.
Contingency Fee Agreements Help Employees Obtain Quality Representation
Many attorneys and clients will agree to what is known as a contingency fee agreement. In a contingency fee agreement, the client does not pay the attorney for his services unless the case is won. The attorney and the client agree on a percentage at the start of their relationship, and when the case is over, the legal fees will be drawn directly from the settlement. The injured worker does not have to pay the lawyer out of pocket, nor does he have to pay if the case is not resolved in his favor. For many injured workers, this system is a good option, especially for those who cannot afford an attorney’s hourly rate.
Some Court-Related Items Do Not Fall Under a Contingency Fee Agreement
The contingency fee agreement addresses only the fee charged by the lawyer for his knowledge and time. It does not cover some of the other costs associated with a workers’ compensation case, which may include:
- Court filing fees
- Records fees
- Police report fees
- Investigator fees
- Expert witness fees
Not all of these fees may be incurred in every case. Additionally, the attorney and the client should agree on how these fees will be handled before starting the case. Sometimes, these fees are paid by the client as they accrue, while other times it is agreed that those fees will also be taken from the settlement amount. If no settlement is obtained, the client may need to pay those fees out of pocket.
It is best to discuss the fee agreement with your lawyer upfront, so there are no surprises as your case progresses. Effective representation can be affordable, however, and the lawyers at the Pothitakis Law Firm, P.C., are here to work with you as best we can.
If you or someone you love is facing a workers’ compensation case, don’t risk your health or financial future by going it alone. Take a moment to fill out one of our online contact forms, and you’ll receive a prompt response from a member of our team who can help you learn more.
How long will it take to settle a claim?
This is a question that our office is asked all the time--and for good reason. On top of daily living expenses, those with injuries have medical bills, lost wages, and oftentimes have years of expensive medical treatments and therapies ahead of them. Unfortunately, there just isn't a clear-cut answer. It could take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.
The amount of medical treatment needed is the primary determinant of when a case will settle. A patient must receive the maximum benefit of treatment and a long-term diagnosis before settlement takes place. In the most traumatic cases, this means waiting longer, but it's necessary to recover for current and future medical expenses.
Preparing the documentation to send to an insurance company can draw the process out. The extent of the injury, preexisting conditions, and the amount of work missed all require a great deal of documentation. Something seemingly simple, like getting a response for medical records, can sometimes take repeated letters and phone calls. The insurance company will play a part in how long a case takes to settle. Some are more reasonable than others, but they will often refuse to pay a fair settlement. At that point, a suit may be filed.
There are many factors that influence the length of settlement. If you or a loved one has been injured, feel free to call our office for a confidential consultation.
What are my rights if my employer retaliates against me for filing a Workers' Compensation claim?
Several states protect workers from an employer who discriminates against an injured employee by harassment or unfair termination. In these states, workers may sue their employer for "retaliatory damage" in civil court if the worker has been discriminated against or terminated because he or she filed a Workers' Compensation claim. The injured worker must show that it was more likely than not that the termination was unjustified. It is important to note that the worker does not have to show that the Workers' Compensation claim is the sole reason for his or her termination, but that the decision was based significantly on the claim. The worker may also experience retaliation in the form of a demotion or pay cut. It will be necessary to discuss this type of case with an attorney experienced in Workers' Compensation to determine the best course of action to take.
I injured my shoulder and back working at an Iowa company. My shoulder injury occurred in one incident at work. My back injury was caused by continuous bending and lifting at work. How long do I have to file an Iowa Workers' Compensation claim?
The deadline for filing an Iowa Workers' Compensation claim is within two years from the occurrence of the injury when no weekly benefits have been paid or within three years from the last date weekly benefits were paid. Since your shoulder injury occurred during a specific incident, then you will have two years to file a claim for this Iowa injury. Your back injury would be considered a cumulative injury because it came on gradually and over time during your employment at your Iowa company. Your have two years from when you realize that the back injury is a condition serious enough to have an impact on your employment. If you received weekly benefits then the deadline for filing a claim is three years from your last payment.
For a dispute in an Iowa Workers' Compensation case, who makes the decision on what is owed?
Disputes in Iowa Workers' Compensation cases are decided by the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner within the Iowa Workforce Development.
If my Iowa work injury was not caused by one traumatic incident or accident, will I still be eligible for Workers' Compensation benefits?
Yes, you may still be eligible to receive Iowa Workers' Compensation benefits if your Iowa work injury was caused by repetitive or cumulative trauma at work over a time period. Some examples include: back injuries, shoulder injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome. If you are not sure if your injury would be eligible, contact an attorney who specializes in Iowa Work Comp. Many firms, such as Pothitakis Law Firm, offer free initial consultations to discuss your case.
I have to seek medical care for my Iowa work injury. Who chooses the doctors who will treat me?
It is your employer who decides who you will go to for your medical care and they must provide care reasonably suited to treat your injury. If you are not happy with your medical treatment for your work-related injury, you may request alternate care from your employer. If alternate care is not approved by your employer (or the Work Comp insurance company), then you have the right to file a petition for alternate care with the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner.
What is your fee for talking about my case?
Initial consultations about your case are free.