In a given year, thousands of people in Irvine and other parts of California suffer injuries in the course of their jobs. In 2014, the last year with available data, over 431,000 workers in the state sustained occupational injuries, according to data from the California Department of Industrial Relations. With unreported incidents factored in, the total number of injuries may have been even greater.
In many cases the victims of these job-related injuries may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. For a variety of reasons, from financial concerns to confidence in securing benefits, many workers may choose to handle the claim process on their own. This can be a risky choice, however, in light of the following factors:
1. DIFFICULTY OF RECOVERING BENEFITS
Research suggests that many employees who meet the criteria to receive workers’ compensation benefits never actually secure those benefits. In a 2015 report, the Department of Labor notes that research points to the following low rates of compensation among injured workers:
As few as 40 percent of eligible workers receive workers’ compensation benefits, according to estimates from various studies.
Even the victims of severe or catastrophic injuries may be at risk for going without compensation. According to one study, in about one in three cases in which employers in California knew that workers had suffered amputation injuries, the workers never received benefits.
Compensation rates are especially low for the victims of occupational diseases. As few as 3 percent of these workers receive compensation, according to estimates from another study.
In some cases, workers may not attempt to seek benefits due to misunderstandings about the claim process or the effects that a claim may have on their employment. In other cases, workers may fail to obtain benefits due to missteps during the claim process. An attorney may be able to address both issues by advising a worker of his or her rights and assisting the worker in properly filing a claim.
2. FINANCIAL IMPACTS OF WORKPLACE INJURIES
The same DOL report indicates that the financial cost of workplace injuries can be substantial. One study found that even if injured workers receive benefits, they lose an average of 15 percent of their earnings, or $31,000, over the decade after the injury. Workers who don’t receive compensation may experience even more severe financial hardship. An attorney may be able to reduce the risk of this outcome by helping a worker file a convincing claim and seek all benefits that may be available.
3. EASE OF CLAIM DENIAL
Even if a work-related injury is severe and readily apparent, a claim may be denied on various grounds. In California, a worker’s failure to report an injury to a supervisor on time or file a claim within the statute of limitations may provide cause for dismissal. Other oversights or errors during the workers’ compensation claim process can similarly harm a worker’s chances of receiving compensation. Workers who consult with an attorney soon after an injury occurs may be able to avoid many of these common grounds for claim denial.
Obtain professional advice
Before proceeding in the claim process alone, injured workers may want to consider at least consulting with an attorney about their situation and options. An attorney may be able to help a worker weigh the risks of self-representation and the potential benefits of navigating the claim process with professional assistance.