In some cases, your lawyer might not make it clear to you that you don’t have to accept the first workers’ compensation offer made by your employer’s insurer.
If you’re employed in Virginia and suffer a work-related injury or occupational disease in the course of performing your job duties, you’re generally entitled to file a claim for workers’ comp benefits.
Workers’ comp is no-fault insurance that covers employees’ on-the-job injuries and illnesses. You don’t have to show proof that your employer caused your accident, and you cannot be fired for filing a claim.
If your claim is accepted, workers’ comp should pay all your medical expenses and two-thirds of your weekly wages for every week that you can’t work.
Most Virginia employers with three or more workers must carry workers’ comp insurance, and most employees are covered, but there are some exceptions:
- Federal employees
- Casual or domestic workers
- Railroad employees
- Some agricultural workers
- Elected officials
- Some taxi drivers
- Independent contractors
If you fall into any of these ineligible categories, you might be able to pursue other sources of compensation with the help of an attorney.
Big Claims vs. Small Claims
Not every workers’ compensation claim requires the help of a lawyer. If you suffer a minor injury, your medical bills are low, your employer does not dispute your claim, and you miss little or no time from work, you might be able to handle the claim on your own and receive fair benefits as long as you file correctly and meet all deadlines. If, however, you have a large claim with serious injuries, expensive medical treatment, and a long recovery or disability, everything changes.
Like any other company, your employer’s insurance company is in business to earn a profit for its shareholders, not to lose money by paying expensive claims. They know you generally cannot sue your employer for a work-related injury, and they don’t have to compensate you for pain and suffering (which you could get in a personal injury suit). They will use this leverage to deny or devalue your claim in order to save money, especially if you’re not represented by an attorney.
A workers’ comp lawyer, however, can turn the tables and get some leverage for you by negotiating. Your attorney can counter the company’s offer and demand a better one by focusing on:
- The possibility that you might need more medical care or surgery in the future
- The chances of your employer finding you a light-duty job if you return to work
- What it would cost the company to defend an appeal in a hearing before the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission (VWCC) or in civil court.
For these reasons, you’re well advised to have a workers’ comp lawyer on your side to help you negotiate for fair benefits.
Be Patient and Let Negotiations Play Out
If you do retain an attorney, that still doesn’t mean the first offer you get is the one you have to accept. Of course, you want to get the workers’ comp process finished, put it behind you, get well, and get back to work. Even your attorney might want to get your case resolved and move on to others.
Knowing this, the insurer could offer you a fast, low settlement even before you file your claim, hoping that the pressure of mounting bills and your desire to receive benefits soon will make you agree to its first offer before you can consult a lawyer or a doctor. You should not accept such an offer.
Instead, be patient and let your attorney make a demand based on a thorough examination of your claim: your job, your salary, your injury, your diagnosis, your prognosis, your lost earning capacity, the chances of finding you a light-duty job, the cost of vocational rehabilitation, the likelihood of your needing future medical treatment, and the expense of a hearing or trial if a settlement is not reached.
The insurer is then likely to counter your first demand with a very low offer, knowing that your lawyer will probably counter that offer with higher demand. This could happen a few times or dozens of times before an acceptable compromise is reached, but getting an acceptable offer is well worth the time it takes, considering the long-term effect it could have on your life.
Have You Suffered a Work-Related Injury or Illness in Virginia?
An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can negotiate patiently to help you seek a fair settlement.
Contact the workers’ comp attorneys of Dulaney, Lauer & Thomas online or call us at 540-341-0007 to schedule your free consultation.
You pay no attorney fees until we win your case.