Arkansas has a workers’ compensation law designed to provide benefits to workers who are injured on the job. The idea behind workers’ compensation is to pay injured workers financial compensation without going through lengthy and costly litigation.
However, many workers’ compensation cases become more complicated affairs. Sometimes benefits are denied, are delayed, or the settlement amount is insufficient to cover an injured employee’s damages and financial losses. In other situations, an injured worker could have a viable personal injury claim against a negligent third party.
Having our experienced Arkansas workers’ compensation attorneys working on your behalf will increase your chances of receiving the benefits you deserve. Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law, can help you understand your legal rights and options. To schedule a free legal consultation, call (479) 316-0438.
Common Work Injuries That May Require an Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
Some jobs are inherently dangerous, such as many occupations associated with construction. However, work-related injuries are suffered by people employed in every type of job throughout Arkansas. Below are five of the most common types of injuries and accidents that occur in the workplace.
Slips, Falls, and Trips
One of the most common accidents that result in personal injury lawsuits is slip and falls. These types of accidents are also prevalent in the workplace. In fact, tripping, falling or slipping account for a significant percentage of all workplace injuries.
Slip and fall accidents are not limited to specific jobs. Wet floors, torn carpets, or broken thresholds could occur in an office space, garage, warehouse, or any environment where employees regularly walk. If a hazardous condition is not adequately marked, then an unsuspecting employee could fall and injure themselves.
Slip and fall accidents result in a wide variety of injuries ranging from fractured bones, soft tissue damage, or a concussion. Depending on the severity of an injury, a hurt employee could be facing long-term medical treatment, chiropractic care, and lost time at work.
Overexertion and Physical Stress Injuries
Another common type of injury that many employers fail to take seriously are repetitive strain or overexertion injuries. The most notorious repetitive stress injury is carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects a person’s upper body, including their elbows, wrists, hands, and neck. Often, carpal tunnel syndrome results from working on a keyboard on another activity that requires constant use of the hands, wrists, and fingers. Additionally, an employee could suffer back injuries or vision problems from simply working at a computer for many hours a day.
An employee can also injure themselves when they overexert, perhaps carrying two boxes of paper reams instead of one or lifting an item incorrectly. These types of injuries could linger for days, weeks, or months. In some situations, an injury could result in a lifetime of pain and discomfort.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Many employees are required to drive for their job. Some jobs, such as a truck driver or a delivery person, require a person to spend their entire workday on the road. Motor vehicle accidents are a common basis for personal injury lawsuits in Arkansas. Likewise, many employees file workers’ compensation claims for injuries sustained in car or truck accidents.
Even if an employee practices safety precautions, such as wearing a seatbelt, obeying traffic regulations, or even taking driving training courses, they could still be involved in an accident because of the negligent actions of another driver. Unfortunately, no matter how careful an employee is, they cannot predict what other drivers will do.
Some accidents are not caused by either the employee or another driver. If someone is using a company truck or car, it is usually the employer’s responsibility to ensure the vehicle is properly maintained. If a vehicle is not roadworthy or has some defect that was not addressed, an employee could be injured.
Car and truck accidents often result in severe injuries. It is not uncommon for accident victims to require extensive and lengthy medical care and physical therapy. In some cases, the injuries suffered in a motor vehicle accident are permanently debilitating or fatal.
Injured by Falling Objects
Another common cause of injuries in the workplace are objects falling from a high surface or area. These types of injuries typically plague construction sites or warehouses but could also happen in stores or an office. A person who is hit could suffer lacerations, cuts, or a concussion. Other potential injuries from falling objects range from hurt shoulders, traumatic head injuries, and even death. Many of these injuries are the result of other careless employees, improperly stored supplies, or faulty equipment.
Muscle Pulls and Strains
Any employee who engages in regular physical activity, such as lifting heavy objects or climbing up and down multiple work levels, is susceptible to muscle strains, pulls, and other injuries. Neck and back strains are particularly common to many types of employment.
One of the problems with these types of injuries is that the seriousness is not always readily apparent. Many employees will ignore the signs of injury or discomfort and avoid seeing their doctor. Unfortunately, hesitating to treat an injury of this type and continuing to engage in the activities that caused it could result in more severe damage. In many cases, muscle pulls and strains could be prevented by using proper techniques to lift objects and by avoiding carrying heavier loads than necessary. Unfortunately, some employers require employees to work at an unsafe pace.
Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Claims vs. Personal Injury Lawsuits
Workers’ compensation benefits were developed to provide injured workers with financial help to pay for medical expenses and supplement their lost wages. However, the benefits paid through a workers’ compensation claim are not always enough to fully cover an injured employee’s losses.
No Negligence Required in a Workers’ Compensation Claim
One of the significant differences between a workers’ compensation claim and a personal injury lawsuit is the necessity to establish fault or negligence. In a personal injury claim, a plaintiff must prove that another party or company acted negligently to receive compensation for their injuries. When an employee is injured on the job, they only have to establish that the injury occurred while engaged in conduct required for their employment. There is no need to prove fault or negligence on the part of their employer or another employee. However, there are several exceptions to this rule, so it is essential to speak with our experienced Bella Vista workers’ compensation attorneys if you have been injured in the workplace.
No Pain and Suffering Under Workers’ Compensation
While injured employees could receive compensation for their medical expenses through their workers’ compensation benefits, they are not entitled to recover for their pain and suffering. In a personal injury lawsuit, an injured plaintiff is often awarded a significant amount of money to compensate for the physical pain and emotional anguish they endured because of their injury. For example, if you loved to waterski in one of Arkansas’ many beautiful lakes, a severe back injury could prevent you from enjoying your favorite pastime for weeks, months, or maybe years. Through a personal injury lawsuit, an injured employee could be financially compensated for this type of loss.
Limited Wage Benefits
If you are injured at work and unable to perform your job for weeks or months, you could lose a substantial amount of income. While workers’ compensation benefits will typically cover all your medical costs, it does not cover your full lost wages. An injured employee will receive two-thirds of their salary and the total amount available is capped. In a personal injury lawsuit, this is not the case. A plaintiff is entitled to seek their full lost wages and the income they would have earned if they did not suffer the injury.
Benefits Are Paid Quickly
Personal injury lawsuits are often complicated and lengthy affairs. The legal process takes time, sometimes many months or several years to finally settle. However, the workers’ compensation process is designed to provide injured employees benefits in a significantly shorter amount of time.
Third-Party Claims for Work-Related Injuries in Arkansas
As discussed above, workers’ compensation benefits are designed to provide injured employees a streamlined mechanism to receive compensation if they are hurt on the job. Part of the trade-off is that, in nearly every case, an injured employee is prohibited from filing a lawsuit against their employer. However, that prohibition does not apply to third parties that might have contributed to your injury. In fact, under certain circumstances, you could file a workers’ compensation claim and pursue a personal injury lawsuit.
When a work-related injury is caused by a third party, you could be entitled to seek compensation through a civil lawsuit. Below are some common examples of situations where a party other than your employer could be held liable for your injuries.
Car accidents, as discussed earlier, are a common cause of work-related injuries. If another driver’s negligence causes an accident, then you could have a claim against the at-fault driver in addition to a workers’ compensation claim.
Defective Tools or Equipment
Workplace accidents happen because equipment, materials, or a tool is defective. For example, a power tool could cause an electrical shock if it is not operating correctly or a crane could malfunction, resulting in a catastrophic injury. Typically, these types of claims are based on three types of issues: design defects, manufacturing defects, or inadequate warnings or labels. Our Arkansas workers’ compensation attorneys also work on product liability claims. When an injury is caused by a defective piece of equipment or tool, the manufacturer could be held responsible.
Subcontractors, Other Employees, or Other Companies
Some jobs, especially construction sites, have workers from different companies and subcontractors working alongside each other. Typically, if another company does not employ you and one of their employee’s negligence causes your injury, you could have a claim against the company and the individual. Arkansas is also one of the few states that permit lawsuits against co-workers.
If you suffered an injury while working on someone else’s property, you could have a claim against the property owner or manager. For instance, you could have been sent to an office to perform an update to their computer systems and were injured because a file cabinet was not secured. In this case, the building owner or office management company could be held accountable for your damages.
Should a toxic or chemical substance cause you to become ill, you could have a viable personal injury claim against the manufacturer. This also includes illnesses whose symptoms could take significant time to develop. Some types of substances that could cause harm include fumes, asbestos, lead-based paint, and mercury. The long-term impacts from toxic exposure could last a lifetime.
Proving Third-Party Negligence for an Arkansas Work-Related Injury
If you file a workers’ compensation claim, you only have to prove that your injury occurred during the course of your job. A personal injury claim against a third party is very different. You will have to prove that the third party was negligent. To do this, our Arkansas workers’ compensation attorneys will have to establish four elements.
The Third-Party Owed the Injured Worker a Duty of Care
The first element an injured worker must demonstrate is that the third party owed them a duty of care. Duty of care is the legal obligation a person or company has not to cause harm or place another in unreasonable danger. Typically, duty of care is based on the relationship between the defendant and plaintiff. For example, if a subcontractor is tasked with erecting scaffolding at a construction site, they have an obligation to ensure the structure meets all required safety regulations and is properly erected.
The Third-Party Breached or Violated, the Duty of Care
At the heart of every personal injury lawsuit is a breach of the duty of care. The duty of care is violated when a person’s conduct does not conform to what a reasonable person would have done under the same circumstances. Using the scaffolding example from above, if it was installed without safety rails, then whoever built it could have breached their duty of care to anyone who would later work on the structure. A reasonable person would have installed the safety rails because it is foreseeable that someone could fall from an unprotected platform. Proving a violation of a duty of care is often the most challenging hurdle facing our Arkansas personal injury lawyers.
The Injury Happened Because of the Violation
The third element that an injured worker must prove is that the breach of duty caused their injury. If someone failed to install safety rails on scaffolding and another person fell to the ground below, their injuries were a direct result of the breach of duty. However, if someone on the scaffolding dropped a drill and injured their foot, the lack of safety rails played no role in their accident. Therefore, even though a breach occurred, there may be no basis for a personal injury lawsuit.
The Injured Employee Suffered Actual Damages
The purpose of nearly every personal injury claim is to recover damages, or the financial losses resulting from the injury. Therefore, the final element in proving negligence is demonstrating that actual damages were incurred. If your injury required medical attention or if you lost time at work, you suffered damages. The extent of those damages will determine if a lawsuit is necessary.
Evidence to Prove Negligence
Typically, two types of evidence are used to prove a negligence case: direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. Direct would include evidence derived from witnesses who saw the incident or video footage of the accident. By comparison, circumstantial evidence requires a finder of fact to draw conclusions and inferences based on the produced evidence.
The type of accident or injury a worker suffers will usually determine what type of evidence is necessary and available. For example, in a slip and fall case, an injured worker will have to prove that the condition that caused the fall existed for an unreasonable length of time. This means that the defendant had enough time to discover and remedy the situation.
In other cases, an injured worker could rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, or “the thing speaks for itself.” Under this doctrine, a plaintiff could raise a presumption of negligence based on the circumstances of the injury. Negligence could be presumed when the facts of the case present no reasonable alternative or explanation other than the defendant’s carelessness. Returning to the scaffolding accident, the mere absence of a required safety rail could constitute evidence of negligence.
Other evidence that a plaintiff will rely on includes witness testimony, accident reports, surveillance video, medical records, scheduling documents, and expert opinions. No matter how your injury occurred, our Arkansas personal injury attorney will work to gather sufficient evidence to support your claim.
Types of Workers’ Compensation Benefits Our Attorneys Can Help You Receive in Arkansas
While not as extensive as a possible award in a personal injury lawsuit, Benton county workers’ compensation law provides injured workers with a number of benefits.
Medical Treatment and Rehabilitation Costs
An injured employee will have their medical expenses covered under workers’ compensation, including doctor and hospital bills, surgical costs, and other expenses such as diagnostic tests, medical equipment, and medication. However, an employee must go to an approved doctor and the employer’s insurance provider must approve any medical procedure.
Many injuries require extensive physical or vocational rehabilitation. In some cases, this could be covered under Arkansas workers’ compensation law. There is a distinction between physical rehabilitation and vocational rehabilitation under the law. To recover from any physical rehabilitation, it must have been ordered by an approved doctor. Vocational training is only permitted if the injured worker is no longer able to perform the duties associated with their job due to medical restrictions associated with the injury.
What if you are unable to return to work for a significant amount of time or permanently? Worker’s compensation providers temporary disability benefits for 450 weeks at two-thirds of your salary. However, there are certain restrictions, so it is crucial to speak with our knowledgeable Hunstville workers’ compensation attorneys.
If an employee suffers a permanent impairment, they might be able to continue to receive benefits after they return to work. However, the amount and time will depend on the impairment.
In situations where an injury results in a permanent disability, making it impossible to return to work, a hurt employee could be entitled to disability benefits that are 66 2/3% of their salary. All benefits are subject to state-mandated maximums, so it is essential to speak with our Arkansas workers’ compensation attorneys to understand exactly how much money you could receive.
Medical Treatment Under Arkansas Worker’s Compensation
When you are hired, you should receive a copy of your comprehensive rights to medical treatment. Under Arkansas law, your employer must provide all reasonable and necessary medical care if you suffer a work-related injury. When you receive medical benefits through workers’ compensation, it will be through a certified managed care organization contracted by your employer and designated as your medical provider. This means that you will not have an initial choice of your doctor.
If you are injured while at work, it is critical that you do not seek medical attention on your own. Should this happen, your employer or their insurance provider might not be required to pay for the treatment you received. After your initial treatment, you are permitted to request authorization from your employer or their insurance carrier to switch to a doctor of your choice. No matter the case, you should cooperate with your employer and ensure that your medical treatment is coordinated with the insurance provider and your healthcare providers. Our Sebastian County workers’ compensation attorneys could prove helpful in getting the care you desire.
There are situations where your benefits could be denied but the insurance company is still liable for the cost of medical treatment you received. For example, if you submitted a written request to your employer for medical assistance or your employer refused to refer you to a doctor within 48 hours of receiving your request, they could be held accountable for any medical expenses you incurred.
In some situations, the injury that an employee suffered will require immediate emergency medical attention. Clearly, when this occurs, there is no opportunity to officially notified an employer or submit a written request for medical care. Typically, any expenses under these circumstances should be covered.
Once you see a doctor, it is crucial to follow through with any instructions the doctor gives you, including follow-up appointments, diagnostic testing, and further medical treatment or physical therapy. You are also supposed to return to work once your doctor clears you. If you believe you are not receiving the treatment you require or are asked to return to work before you are physically capable, contact our Arkansas workers’ compensation attorneys.
Qualifying for Workers’ Compensation in Arkansas
To qualify for workers’ compensation benefits under Arkansas law, your injury must have happened during the course of your employment. This is not always simple to establish, especially if you were working off-site or after the close of business. Nonetheless, if you were hurt while engaged in your job duties, you are entitled to benefits.
If you are injured on the job, you need to notify your employer or supervisor immediately. You cannot assume that your doctor will report an injury to your employer. After receiving medical treatment, you will have to complete an injury and accident report that describes the nature of your injury and what occurred. It is important to be as accurate and detailed as possible when filling out this report. Any misinformation or omissions could cost you your benefits.
In nearly every case, your employer’s insurance provider will request additional information. For example, the insurance company could ask for test results, medical records, or even your prior medical history. While this is going on, you should keep detailed records of your treatments and doctor’s appointments. Once an insurance company has evaluated the information provided, it will either approve or deny your claim.
Reasons Worker’s Compensation Claims Are Denied in Arkansas
If you are injured on the job and your worker’s compensation claim is denied, you could be facing a finical hardship. If this occurs, you should have our experienced Farmington workers’ compensation lawyers review your rejection.
If your employer or their insurance company alleges that your injury occurred outside of the scope of your employment, your claim will be denied. For example, you are not entitled to receive benefits if you are in a car accident while driving to work. However, what if you were required to drive from your office to an off-site location? It should be defined as in the course of your employment. Sometimes, an insurance provider will claim that you were engaged in work outside of your designated job duties to deny a claim.
Another reason for denying a claim is that an employee failed to notify their employer of the injury on a timely basis. If you were injured on Friday but reported it the following Monday, an insurance provider will claim that the injury occurred over the weekend and not while you were at work. It is of vital importance to notify your employer of an injury as soon as possible to avoid these complications.
One of the benefits of workers’ compensation benefits is not having to prove negligence or fault on the part of your employer or another employee. However, your conduct could impact your benefits. If you were speeding or otherwise driving recklessly and were in a car accident with a company car, you might not be entitled to benefits. Likewise, if you were drunk at the time of an injury, an insurance company will deny your claim.
Your employer or their insurance company must approve your medical treatment. If you go to another doctor, then your claim could be denied. Additionally, if you fail to follow through with prescribed medical treatment, your benefits could be lost.
If an employer or an insurance company denies your claim or disputes the facts you present, it is critical to have one of our Arkansas workers’ compensation attorneys, who understands the underlying law, working on your behalf.
Appealing a Denied Workers’ Compensation Claim in Arkansas
While workers’ compensation is supposed to be a streamlined method of recovering your financial losses, there are situations, as discussed above, when an employer or an insurance provider will deny a claim. If this occurs, our Springdale workers’ compensation attorneys can assist you in filing an appeal with the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission (AWCC).
Filing an Appeal
The first step to take if you are unhappy with the decision made on your claim is to submit a “Claim for Compensation” with the AWCC. This is basically a request for a formal hearing. When sending a letter, it is essential to carefully explain what occurred. This explanation should include the date of the injury, any benefits you previously received, what benefits you are requesting, and a detailed description of the accident and the disputed issues.
You must also comply with strict deadlines when filing a claim with the AWCC. For accidental injuries, a worker has two years from the date of the accident. If a worker has received benefits, the injured worker has one year from the date they received any compensation.
If your injury was caused by exposure to a substance that ruined your health, you have one year from the last exposure to file a claim. There are special time limits for specific diseases, such as silicosis. These special time limits also apply to injuries caused by exposure to asbestosis, radioactive substances, or ionizing radiation. You should review your case with our experienced Arkansas workers’ compensation attorneys if you experienced any of these types of harm.
Once your appeal is filed, an administrative law judge will be assigned to your claim. At this point, you should receive an official notice of the assignment. Once notice has been sent to all parties involved, your employer and their insurance provider will have twenty days to file a response to your claim.
The AWCC offers mediation as a way to settle disputes between you and the insurance company. Under Arkansas law, mediation is not mandatory unless the claim is for less than $2,500. This is usually a relatively informal process that lasts a few hours. The AWCC will have a legal advisor that will work with both parties to reach an amicable agreement. If an agreement is not possible, the case will continue to trial.
Before the hearing, you could be required to provide additional medical documentation or other evidence to support your claim. This portion of the procedure is called the “discovery” process. In some cases, an injured worker will have to attend a deposition or a formal questioning session under oath. During a deposition, you are entitled to legal representation. You will be asked a series of questions regarding the accident, your lifestyle, former injuries or medical conditions, and other questions that are pertinent to your claim. Other people, such as doctors or witnesses, could also be called to testify. Having the representation of our skilled Crawford County workers’ compensation lawyers will help you avoid any misstatements during the process and will protect your rights.
After the discovery phase, a hearing in front of the AWCC will take place. These hearings are not as formal as a court trial. Once each side presents their evidence and case, the matter will be decided by the administrative law judge.
Once a decision is made, the administrative law judge will send a written order with their decision. If you disagree with the ruling, you have thirty days to file an appeal with the full Workers’ Compensation Commission. The appeal should state precisely what issues you wish to appeal to. Once the appeal is filed, you have an additional thirty days to file a brief supporting your position.
If you are once again unsatisfied with the decision, you are entitled to file an appeal with the Arkansas Court of Appeals. This must be filed within thirty days of the Commission’s decision. The appeals process is complicated and frustrating, so it is crucial to have our experienced Arkansas workers’ compensation attorneys in our corner.
Call Our Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Attorneys for a Free Consultation
If you have been hurt at work or suffer from illness or another work-related medical condition, call Ken Kieklak, Attorney at Law. Ken is an Arkansas and Fayetteville, AR worker’s compensation attorney dedicated to providing professional and vigorous representation to his clients. Call (479) 316-0438 to schedule a free consultation.