Imagine this scenario: You have been injured at work. Whether you were hurt when a piece of equipment malfunctioned, you slipped on wet stairs, or were struck by a falling tool, the end result is this: you have to miss work, you have medical expenses to pay, and you have a home and family to take care of. A day or two after the accident or incident, you go to your employer to report your injury. “No, sorry,” they say. “You did not report within 24 hours, so it’s too late to file a claim.”
What’s happening here? Under Florida workers compensation rules, have you just lost your chance to receive compensation for your injury? Have you essentially waived any right to a claim?
You have 30 days from the date of the incident to report your injury to your employer or 30 days from the date you knew or should have known the injury was work-related. There are fuzzy areas of the law that some employers will try to use to avoid workers compensation claims (which increases their insurance premiums).
What do you need to know about workers compensation claims so you can protect your rights?
Can Your Claim Be Waived?
Some employers require individuals to sign a pre-employment waiver that releases them from responsibility if employees are injured on the job and/or make them sign a form stating that no injury occurred so they can receive their paycheck. This, employers argue, prohibits employees from filing a claim for workers compensation.
Employers cannot circumvent Florida workers compensation rules. They cannot require employees to waive rights that statute grants to them. According to court rulings, attempts to do this are “unconscionable and void.” If they are required by law to provide workers compensation insurance (depending on factors such as the size of the business), then they must.
By law, you cannot waive your right to file a claim. This is legal protection to which you are entitled, and according to public policy, you cannot “opt out.” Nor should you want to: workers compensation can provide critical financial resources as you cope with you injury.
What If Your Workers Comp Claim is Denied?
There are cases in which your workers compensation claim may be denied. Some common reasons include:
- No one witnessed the accident or incident. Insurers question these workers compensation claims the vast majority of the time. If you were alone, report your injury immediately, inform coworkers, and make sure your details are consistent.
- You did not report your injury within 30 days.
- Your accident report and initial medical records show inconsistencies or discrepancies.
- Your medical records show that there were illegal drugs in your system at the time of the incident.
- You filed the claim after you were terminated or laid off.
- You refuse to provide the insurance company with a recorded statement.
- You refuse to sign medical authorizations.
Can You Sue Your Employer?
If you qualify for workers compensation, you cannot sue your employer. Workers comp is your “exclusive remedy.” That is, it is the sole source of compensation you receive. It is a bit of a trade-off system: you receive this compensation and give up your right to sue.
But as always, there are exceptions to the rule. You may be able to sue if you meet certain criteria. (If you do, you give up your right to receive workers compensation). In which situations does legal action make sense?
If your employer knowingly and intentionally caused harm, you can file a case in civil court. “Intentional torts” include physical injury, as well as emotional distress and pain and suffering. Common ones include:
- Assault (the threat of bodily harm and/or attempted physical contact)
- Battery (physical impact)
- False imprisonment
- Fraud (lies led you to suffer an injury)
- Defamation (someone says or writes something about you that is false and it causes you harm)
- Invasion of privacy (e.g. private information or photos are exposed)
These are intentional acts, and you have the option of seeking legal remedy via a civil case. You may also sue if your employer does not have sufficient workers compensation coverage. Most employers are required by law to have coverage, but if they’re trying to skirt around the legal system, you can take action.
You may also sue a third party, if they were at fault for your injury. For example, if you were hurt when operating a piece of defective equipment, you can file suit against the manufacturer. If you do get damages from the third party, you may have to pay a portion back to your employer or their insurance company to repay any workers comp benefits you’ve received. Or your employer and their insurer may be able to join your lawsuit so they can recover these benefits themselves.
It can be complex, but you do not have to navigate the situation alone. Consult with an experienced workers compensation lawyer to determine the steps you should take next.
LaBovick Law Group has decades of experience in workers compensation law and we have successfully helped clients win the compensation they need to recover from their injury and make ends meet. If you need an advocate on your side, contact our team today.