Back and neck injuries are two of the most common, and the most serious, ones sustained on the job. In extreme cases, these injuries can be life threatening, causing damage to the central nervous system or the spinal cord. Brain trauma can also happen as a result of neck injuries such as whiplash. Consequently, it is extremely important to seek medical attention as soon as an injury is sustained, without delay. This is equally true when the injury happens at work.
Once you have sought out emergency medical treatment, you need to think about your next steps. It is important to receive ongoing medical care as you recover from these injuries, or that you are able to retrain and have medical expenses funded if recovery is not possible. One option available is to seek workers compensation, which covers these types of workplace injuries. Benefits are retroactive, to a few days after the injury occurred. However, the earlier you file the earlier you can experience some financial relief.
It is a good idea to learn all you can about workers compensation as it relates to back and neck injuries early on. This helps you feel more familiar with the complex system and gives you a chance to determine if you qualify for benefits at all. Educating yourself on the requirements and benefits of apply for workers compensation can also help you decide if is the right method to pursue, or if you should consider filing a lawsuit instead.
What are Common Back and Neck Injuries?
Back injuries can happen to anyone, regardless of occupation. Even those employed in an administrative capacity can develop chronic back pain as a result of poor posture or a lack of ergonomic equipment. A few other common types of back injuries include:
- Pinched nerves
- Slipped, bulging, or herniated discs
- Fractured vertebrae
- Spinal cord damage
- Lower back strain
- Muscle spasms
There are numerous types of neck injuries that individuals commonly sustain on the job. In addition to whip lash, which occurs when the neck muscles are stretched too far or torn, the most commonly reported neck injuries include:
- Neck sprain, typically caused by stretched ligaments and resulting in stiffness and moderate to high levels of pain
- Pinched nerves happen when there is a ruptured disc or nearby bone that pinch down on the nerves, causing weakness and extremely high levels of pain
- Herniated discs, ruptured discs, or slipped discs happen when a sudden movement results in pressure on one of the discs in the neck, causing high levels of pain, weakness, and numbness
It is crucial for employees to seek medical attention the moment an injury is noted, especially if the pain is severe or there is associated weakness throughout the body. Early diagnosis and treatment is the best way to ensure you recover as fast as possible.
How are These Injuries Diagnosed?
Emergency room doctors see numerous back and neck injuries each day. This means they have developed the tools required to quickly and accurately diagnosis a variety of problems in the neck, back, and spine. In addition to a complete physical exam, the doctor you see may also use one of the following diagnostic tools to determine the nature and extent of your injury:
- X-ray, to get a detailed view of the bone structure
- CT scan, to obtain multiple images of your back or neck with more detail than a traditional x-ray can provide
- MRI scan to examine the brain and spinal cord
The proper diagnostic tool depends on the type of injury you have sustained. As a general rule, doctors do use one of the three listed above, especially when the injuries are sustained at work. This helps to form the basis of your workers compensation claim, providing hard evidence that the injury was work-related, as well as the extent of the damage caused.
In some cases, back and neck injuries are not the result of a one-time incident, and instead are the result of a repeated injury over time. It is important to keep an eye on your body, especially how your back and neck feel after a day of work. Even the slightest change could mean that you are starting to experience a chronic issue, warranting immediate medical attention.
What is the Difference Between Filing a Claim and Filing a Lawsuit?
In the state of California, most workers who are injured as a result of their working conditions have two options they can pursue. The first is to file a claim for workers compensation insurance. This involves filling out paperwork and submitting medical records to the insurance company. If approved, you may receive benefits including compensation for medication expenses and wage relief at about two-thirds of your prior income level. Filing this type of claim does not get you any money for pain and suffering, nor does it impose any punitive damages on your employer.
There are a few conditions that employees must meet if they are to qualify for workers compensation benefits:
- The individual must be employed by the employer, not working as a subcontractor or freelancer
- The employer must carry valid workers compensation insurance
- The back and neck injury in question must have been sustained at work or as a result of work-related activities
If you meet those requirements, you are eligible to file a worker’s compensation claim. Individuals who do not meet those three qualifications still have an option available to them for injury compensation – filing a lawsuit. This is typically a longer and more involved process, but it can result in more funds for you if you win. Unlike workers compensation claims, you can also request funds for pain and suffering as well as punitive damages when you file your suit. If you do want to pursue this path to compensation, you should contact a qualified attorney. The legal system is complex, and they have the skills you need to ensure you receive your maximum entitlement.
What Challenges are Involved with a Back or Neck Injury Lawsuit/Claim?
There are numerous challenges involved, both in filing a workers compensation claim and in pursuing a lawsuit against the employer. Both systems are complex and difficult for the average person to skillfully navigate. One of the biggest challenges faced by employees filing on their own is missing deadlines and filling out paperwork improperly. Both of these actions can result in a denied claim with very little chance of making an appeal.
Claims for back and neck injuries are also typically denied if the worker cannot accurately identify the precise location of the pain, something that is tricky to do with many types of spinal injuries. Individuals who have pre-existing injuries or a history of neck and back pain may suffer more due to this new injury but may not qualify for more funds. In those cases, pre-existing injuries sustained outside of the work place can actually harm your claim.
In addition, insurance companies often try to blame back and neck injuries on the aging process instead of the employee’s working conditions. This is one of the many reasons why it is helpful to have a skilled attorney on your side. They can help enforce your rights in the process, letting you know when you should obtain a second opinion for example. Skilled lawyers are also familiar with the entire process, meaning they can quickly and accurately complete any forms required without ever missing a deadline.
It is important to be mindful of the statute of limitations that applies to lawsuits for work-related injuries. In the state of California, employees only have one year from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. Once this timeline passes, you are precluded from seeking any type of legal remedy for that injury. If you have decided to take this approach, you should consult with a lawyer as soon as possible so they can begin work on your claim.
Under existing legislation, employees cannot file a claim for workers compensation and sue their employer. You must choose one course of action or the other. If you are eligible for workers compensation, it may be tricky to decide which type of compensation path you should follow. The most appropriate method to seek compensation depends on the unique facts of your matter. If you are considering a lawsuit, you should contact a workers compensation lawyer to learn about the benefits and drawbacks in your particular situation to both courses of action. They can then help you decide which one most likely to succeed.
What are the Employee’s Responsibilities?
Employees who are injured in work-related incidents have an obligation to mitigate their damages. This means they must take all reasonable steps necessary to seek out and follow medical advice, including attending all appointments and participating in all recommended courses of treatment. They are also obligated to report all injuries the moment they occur to avoid any treatment delays.
When filing a workers compensation claim, it is a good idea to start collecting a record of visits form healthcare professionals, documenting the steps taken to recover. Injured employees should consider starting a file to collect receipts, documents, and reports, making it easy to turn these things over to the insurance company when requested. It is particularly important to keep careful track of your medical bills and any funds you have had to spend out of pocket on your recovery. Insurance companies need this information before they can begin compensating you for those expenses.
If you are confused by the complex process or the nature of the requests from the insurance company, think about hiring a worker’s compensation lawyer. These individuals understand the system well and can handle the volume of requests from the insurance company with ease. This gives you the time you need to focus on your recovery with as little stress as possible.
What are the Employer’s Responsibilities?
When a work-related injury occurs, the employer also has a few responsibilities they must fulfill. The first is to provide workers compensation insurance and to properly classify all employees in the workplace. For example, companies cannot misclassify an individual in an attempt to seek a lower premium.
Employers must also provide a safe workplace, addressing any and all concerns as they are reported. When an injury happens, they must provide the means for the affected employee or employees to obtain medical attention without delay. Failure to fulfill these obligations is a violation of California labor law and could see the employer heavily fined or even jailed.
Back and neck injuries can be incredibly disruptive to a person’s life, especially if the injuries are severe. Employees who are injured on the job already have a lot to deal with in terms of attending medical appointments and arranging therapeutic treatments. Adding the complexity of workers compensations forms to this already stressful situation can quickly make a person feel overwhelmed. Failure to complete a form properly or submit a document by a certain deadline can result in the entire claim getting denied.
Contact an Experienced Back and Neck Injury Attorney
When you are injured at work, the first thing you should do after you seek medical attention is familiarize yourself with the steps involved in filing a compensation claim. Employees should know the difference between a lawsuit and a compensation claim, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each option. It is also important for employees to learn about their responsibilities and obligations post-injury, to ensure they take all steps necessary to mitigate the impact of their damages.
Navigating this complex field can be tricky on your own, especially if this is your first encounter with a work-related injury. Employees afflicted with back and neck injuries sustained as a result of their jobs should consider contacting a skilled attorney for assistance. Orange County Workers Compensation Attorney has years of experience successfully pursuing workers compensations claims. They can meet with you to discuss the unique facts about your situation, guiding you to the right compensation method and standing with you each step of the way. Contact their caring and compassionate staff today by calling 949-423-3212.