Approximately 13,000 to 15,000 Mississippians suffer reported lost-time injuries each year in Mississippi. Ten years ago the numbers were twice that, revealing that fewer and fewer employers in Mississippi are complying with the statutory obligation to provide workers' compensation insurance coverage, or qualify as self-insurers, for the protection of their employees. Twice in the last decade employers and various trade organizations have banded together to engage in open warfare against injured employees and their representatives, resulting in changes in the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Law ("The Act") that have made receiving the meager benefits available under the act much more difficult. Nowdays, an employee who is injured in the course and scope of his or her employment must negotiate an obstacle course to force payment and receive medical treatment and "disability" benefits for lost-time injuries.
The Griffin Jones Law Firm is a leader in representing the interests of injured workers and their families, and has been for 25 years in Mississippi. The successes obtained by the firm on behalf of injured workers can be tracked by following the decisions of the Mississippi supreme court and the Mississippi court of appeals, as well as by inquiry to the Mississippi workers' compensation commission. And because the firm is so small, clients are provided with personal service by both John and Hewitt, and every client benefits from their over 33 years of experience in handling workers' compensation cases.
The act covers a wide variety of workplace injuries, from the usual lifting injury to the lower back to joint injuries resulting from sudden trauma or falls at work to cumulative or repetitive trauma injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or occupational lung injuries to extreme mental stress injuries resulting from an untoward event on the workplace. The definition of compensable "injury" under The Act is intentionally broad and encompasses preexisting conditions that are aggravated, accelerated or the symptoms are brought to light as a result of the work. If you suffer an injury that your treating physician says was caused or significantly contributed to by the work, you will have a right to benefits.
The chief benefit of the compensation system is payment of 100% of all medical expenses incurred for treatment of a work injury (including all medications, therapies, and mileage for going to and from the doctor's office or medical provider), with no deductible or employee contribution to purchasing coverage allowed. Most importantly, medical benefits are unlimited in amount (even if the necessary medical reaches into the millions, the employer must pay it) and duration (medical benefits are available for the life of the worker, or for so long as medical treatment is necessary in the opinion of the treating physician.)
The other benefit is a partial wage replacement for "disability," both temporary and permanent in nature. Benefits are paid at two-thirds of the workers' gross weekly wage, subject to a statutory cap (for 2015, the cap is 4.92), and for a maximum of 450 weeks (8.6 years; presently capped at _______) for permanent disability or death. "Disability" means the effect the injury has on the injured workers' ability to earn money, or his or her "capacity" to earn wages in the open job market. Between the physician's assessment of permanent physical impairment resulting from injury and the statutory maximums are a series of pitfalls and legal hurdles that are put there to trip up workers and diminish the value of the case.
If you are injured on the job, please keep these tips in mind:
- Immediately report the injury to your direct supervisor and the company's health nurse, and take down the names and addresses of all witnesses;
- Do not sign a form in which you "select" the company's doctor or any other until you have a diagnosis and know what type of specialist you truly need. The act provides each employee with a right to select one physician for treatment of a work injury, and any specialist or sub-specialist to whom he or she is referred. But if the worker, out of lack of knowledge or inability to concentrate following serious injury, "selects" the company's doctor, the treatment provided will likely be cursory, incomplete or incompetent, yet the worker will have already made his or her one "selection." Be very careful about exercising this right of selection as it will in most cases be the difference in getting the best treatment available by a physician who is not in the company's pocket (for any number of reasons), and being released to return to work before the injury is properly diagnosed and treated.
- Since the medical treatment, and the doctor who provides it, is critical to every case, make sure to explain to each and every doctor you see exactly what happened at work and why you believe the condition for which you are seeking treatment is work-related. Doctors only know to treat what you tell them hurts, in all but the most extreme cases, and telling the same version of events to each physician may be critical if the company contests the claim.
- In the usual case where there is no dispute, your first payment of "disability" or indemnity benefits should come to you 14 days from the date of injury. If you are off that long or longer and do not receive payment, you need to check with the employer or insurance carrier, and absent satisfactory response, a qualified compensation attorney.
- You do not have to allow a nurse or other representative of the employer/carrier in to your doctor visits. Your doctor owes you a duty of confidentiality, regardless of who is paying the bills, and you should invoke it freely. Under the legal rules applicable to this problem, the employer/carrier can talk to your doctor behind your back until a petition is filed on your behalf by a lawyer. But that doesn't mean that their nurse can invade your confidential relationship with your doctor at any time.
- When, in the immediate aftermath of a serious injury or death on the workplace, you or your family have serious questions, do not hesitate to call our firm or another qualified and competent compensation attorneys and get your questions answered early on. Believe it or not, most of the better attorneys in any field are willing to help needy individuals without charging a fee, and most are honest enough to tell you when you don't need to hire a lawyer.
- However, in cases in which you do need a lawyer, the maximum attorney fee that can be charged is 25% of any final settlement or award from the commission. The fee is set by the statute, and it can go up to 33 1/3% if there is an appeal from the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission to the Mississippi Supreme Court. But if you are asked to pay a lawyer more than this, you should exercise your unrestricted right to fire that attorney in writing.
This listing of immediate concerns for a seriously injured worker is for your general information. Each case is, of course, different, but the above general instructions apply across the board. If you would like to talk to us, the initial office conference is free. We look forward to assisting you.
Typical Workers' Comp Situations
- Catastrophic Injury
- Construction Site Injury
- Slip and Fall Injuries
- Fatal Accidents
Four suggestions for injured workers.
- Tell your supervisor about your injury immediately.
- Ask to see a doctor.
- Tell the doctor exactly and truthfully what happened.
- Call an attorney.