April 7, 2024 | Article by Beatriz Trejo

How do I get Workers’ Compensation benefits?

If you’re injured at work and want to receive workers’ compensation benefits, the basic workers’ compensation claims procedure is simple. First, report the injury to your employer as soon as possible—at the latest, within 30 days. Next, fill out a workers’ compensation form (called DWC-1) and return it to your employer. Your employer must complete the remainder of the form and send it to their workers’ compensation insurance company. The insurance company processes your claim and awards you the benefits you deserve. Unfortunately, the claims process is often more complicated than this. Your employer may not agree that your injury occurred at work. The insurance company may delay your claim, deny it, or award benefits that are less than what you need for your medical treatment. If any of these things happen, you can negotiate with the claim administrator for your case or file an appeal. You can also get help from one of the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark.

The insurance company is providing all benefits, should I wait to hire an attorney?

Unfortunately, many injured workers wait until it is too late, or a crisis has occurred before they consider hiring an attorney. The injured worker should consider the following facts:

  1. The insurance company’s interests are not the same as those of the injured worker.
  2. The Workers’ Compensation system is highly complex, with many procedural requirements and
    time limitations.
  3. The insurance company has attorneys who represent their interests regarding the extent of
    your Workers’ Compensation benefits.

If an injured worker retains an attorney, there is no charge for the initial consultation. The attorney’s fee is 9-l5% of any settlement or award at the end of the case (the fee may be higher in complex cases). If there is no settlement or award at the end of the case, there is no fee. Therefore, the fee will not be any higher if the attorney is retained at the beginning of the case.

Should I change treatment to a doctor of my own choice?

In most cases in California, the employer, or insurance company, has the right to control the choice of doctors for the first thirty days following an injury. Doctors selected by employers or insurance companies are often selected because the doctors are biased toward the employer. As a result, the injured worker should consider changing physicians to a doctor of their own choice. This is especially important for all injuries occurring before January 1, 2003, since the opinion of the treating physician is presumed to be correct regarding all medical issues. The treating physician is required to give an opinion on the following issues:

  1. The type, length, and amount of medical treatment needed.
  2. The ability of the injured worker to return to work.
  3. The degree of any permanent disability suffered by the injured worker determines
    the amount of any settlement or award.
  4. The ability to permanently return to the pre-injury occupation determines the need for vocational rehabilitation.

As a result, it is important that an injured worker exercise the right to change treatment to a
doctor who can report on behalf of the injured worker rather than the insurance company. If the
injured worker does not know a suitable free choice physician, a Workers’ Compensation attorney
should be consulted for a list of suitable physicians in the appropriate medical specialty

How long will the employer be responsible for my medical treatment?

There is no time limitation on the provision of medical treatment. The employer or their insurance company is required to pay for all of the medical treatment that is reasonably necessary to cure or relieve the effects of the industrial injury. This treatment is required to be continued for as long as it is medically necessary. This can be for months, years, or even for the rest of the injured worker’s life. The treating physician’s opinion regarding the ongoing need for medical care is presumed correct for injuries before January 1, 2003. Therefore, it is extremely important that a physician who will be reporting for the injured worker rather than for the employer treat the injured worker. If the injured worker does not know a suitable free-choice physician, a Workers’ Compensation attorney should be consulted for a list of suitable physicians in the appropriate medical specialty.

I received a list of three doctors, should I select one?

Beware of three doctor panels! When a worker who was injured after January l, l994 is released by a treating doctor, the worker has the right to a medical evaluation to determine the amount of his or her award or settlement. However, if the worker does not have an attorney, he or she is required to select a doctor from a three-doctor panel. Unfortunately, the law changed in l994 to preclude an injured worker from getting a second opinion if they disagree with the opinion of the doctor from the three-doctor panel. If the panel doctor says that there is very little wrong with the injured worker and that the worker does not need future medical care, the injured worker does not have the right to hire an attorney to obtain a second medical opinion, as workers injured before l994 could.

Essentially, the injured worker is stuck with that doctor’s opinion. On the other hand, a worker who hires an attorney can be sent to any Qualified Medical Examiner. The attorney can select a doctor who will listen to all of the symptoms of the injured worker and prepare a report for the injured worker, not the company. As a result of this change in the law, injured workers may want to consider hiring an attorney if they have a permanent disability, instead of playing “Russian roulette” with the three-doctor panel.

Can my employer terminate me while I am out on disability?

The law in California states that it is illegal to terminate or in any manner discriminate against a worker as a result of their industrial injury. If such conduct occurs, the employee may have their compensation increased by one-half up to a maximum of $l0, 000.00, plus costs up to $250.00, reinstatement on the job, and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits. Proceedings under Labor Code Section l32 (a) for these benefits must be instituted by filing the appropriate petition with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board within one year from the date of the discriminatory act or the date of the employee’s termination.

Failure to file the appropriate petition with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board within the proper time period will most likely prevent an injured worker from pursuing such a claim. Not every act by an employer is found to violate Labor Code Section 132(a). There are several exceptions in which the employer’s actions against the employee are not found to violate the law. For example, it has been found discriminatory if the employer’s conduct was necessitated by the realities of doing business. The issue of whether an employer’s actions constitute a violation of Labor Code 132(a) is a highly complex and technical legal issue.

What happens if my doctor releases me to light work, but my employer refuses to offer light work?

Often a treating physician will release an employee to limited work restrictions before the healing period is over. If the employer does not provide work within the doctor’s restrictions, the worker is considered to be temporarily disabled from their usual and customary occupation, and disability payments will continue. If the worker returns to modified work, but at fewer hours, or less pay than before the work injury, the worker may be entitled to temporary partial indemnity on a wage loss basis in addition to the worker’s earnings during this period. If the partially disabled employee refuses an offer of modified work, the refusal may be the basis for terminating payments of temporary disability indemnity.

If the doctor releases the injured worker to modified work on a permanent basis, then the employer must either provide work within the restrictions, or provide vocational rehabilitation benefits to assist the injured worker in finding other work in the labor market.

What types of settlement are available?

There are two ways to resolve a Workers’ Compensation case. The first type of settlement is called an Award. The Award differs from other types of legal settlements in that the insurance company may continue to be responsible for lifetime medical care to cure or relieve from the effects of the
industrial injury. Therefore, injured workers who will need a significant amount of future medical care, and are concerned as to who will be responsible for the medical bills favor this form of settlement. In addition, the injured worker is entitled to a monetary award for any permanent disability he or she may have. The monetary award is payable weekly over a period of time. The greater the degrees of disability, the longer the payments continue. The second way to resolve a case is called a Compromise and Release. In this form of settlement, the injured worker receives a lump sum of money, but the case is over for good, and the injured worker is not entitled to any future medical care. There can only be a Compromise and Release if both the injured worker and the employer or insurance company, agree to settle for a specified amount. If there is no agreement, then the injured worker is entitled to an award. In an award, the injured worker has the right to reopen the case for new and further disability within five years from the date of the award.

An experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney can advise an injured worker as to which form of settlement is appropriate under the circumstances. In the case of an Award, the attorney works to make certain that the injured workers’ access to appropriate future medical treatment is preserved, as well as obtaining a monetary award. In the case of a Compromise and Release, the attorney negotiates the highest settlement amount possible.

What is the amount of the attorney’s fees in a Workers’ Compensation claim?

There is no charge for the initial consultation in a Workers’ Compensation claim. Attorney’s fees are payable on a “contingency basis.” This means that if there is no recovery, there is no fee. The attorney receives a percentage of the settlement or award. If a person chooses to be represented by an attorney, the attorney’s fees will be deducted from the settlement at the end. Attorney’s fees normally range from 9-15% of the benefits awarded. The actual amount of the attorney’s fee will depend upon the complexity of the case. In complex cases, the fee may be higher. The fee has to be approved by the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.

If the attorney also represents the worker before the vocational rehabilitation unit, there may also be a fee in connection with this representation. In
that case, the employer or insurance company generally withholds l2-l5% of the vocational rehabilitation maintenance benefit as attorney’s fees. At the conclusion of the rehabilitation process, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board judge determines whether the attorney receives all, part, or none of the monies withheld. There are no other fees or costs charged. If the injured worker makes a complete recovery and receives no settlement
or award, there is no charge for the attorney’s services.

My doctor has declared my condition to be permanent and stationary. What does this mean?

The phrase “permanent and stationary” is a legal term, which means that the disability has reached the point of maximum healing. Disability reaches this state when change is not reasonably anticipated under usual medical standards. However, a condition may be permanent and stationary even when further deterioration is anticipated. Reaching a permanent and stationary status does not end the right to receive medical care. When the treating physician determines that an injury has become permanent and stationary, the doctor is required to give an opinion regarding the following additional issues:

  1. What medical treatment will be reasonably required in the future?
  2. Can the injured employee return to his or her previous occupation?
  3. What permanent work restrictions, if any, have resulted from the industrial injury?

Depending upon the answers to the above questions, the injured worker may then be entitled to an award of compensation for permanent disability, an award of future medical treatment, as well as the possibility of a vocational rehabilitation program to assist in returning to the open labor market.

Is the injured worker restricted to one change of doctor?

No. There has been a general misunderstanding that an injured worker only has the right to one free choice of physician. That is incorrect. The Court of Appeal ruled in September 1995, in the case of Ralph’s Grocery Company vs. WCAB (Lara) that after 30 days from the date of injury, the injured worker can have many changes of physicians, limited only by reasonableness.For the first 30 days after an injury, the employer usually controls who will be the treating physician. The confusion arose from Labor Code Section 4601, which allows the injured worker one change of physician during the first 30 days after the injury. However, the injured worker has the additional right to change physicians in Labor Code Section 4600. This statute does not limit the right to change his or her treating doctor on more than one occasion.

The Court of Appeal confirmed that while the injured worker can only change doctors once in the first 30 days, they are not restricted as to the number of changes after 30 days. The employer or insurance carrier does not have the right to unilaterally deny the request to change a physician. The Court of Appeals in Ralph’s case upheld a substantial monetary penalty against the employer for unreasonably refusing a second change of doctor. The court stated that the employer’s remedy, if they believe the requested change is unreasonable, is to allow the change, and then petition the Administrative Director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation to regain control or to request a hearing before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.

Can you explain the workers’ comp filing process?

The workers’ compensation claim filing process can seem daunting and complicated, but involves three key steps:

  • Filing an injury report.
  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim.
  • Getting a medical exam.

For a full explanation of the process, visit our “Filing Process” page by clicking here.

How are you qualified to handle my workers’ compensation case?

Attorney James Yoro has been handling workers’ compensation cases for nearly 40 years and is a Board Certified Workers’ Compensation Professional in California. Before joining Chain | Cohn | Stiles, attorney Beatriz Trejo practiced as a defense attorney in front of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, and is familiar with the inner workings of insurance companies, insurance carriers, and self-insured employers, which benefits clients and gives us the upper hand. Beatriz is also fluent in Spanish. And two workers’ comp lawyers are backed by a full team of legal professionals, including paralegal Lesleigh Johnston, who has more than 30 years of experience in workers’ compensation law.

Additionally, Yoro and Trejo have written dozens of articles on workers’ compensation law. Here are just a few of their recently published works:

What if I contract Valley Fever while at work?

Many people in Kern County have contracted Valley Fever while working and may not even know it. Industries that are commonly exposed to the fungus including agriculture, construction, law enforcement, fire safety, oil and gas, engineering, and more. Unfortunately, any industry that requires its employees to be outdoors in the Central Valley, exposing workers to dusty and windy conditions, may be exposing them to Valley Fever.

  • Valley Fever contracted while working may be subject to Workers’ Compensation benefits, which may include temporary disability, medical treatment, vocational rehabilitation, permanent disability, and benefits for surviving dependents in the event of death.
  • Click here to learn more about Valley Fever, who is most at risk, what you can do to prevent the spread, and what to do if you or your loved ones are affected.

If you or someone you know is injured at work or becomes ill due to work conditions, please contact the personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

How do I know if I have an injury that is covered under workers’ compensation?

There are two types of injuries that are covered under workers’ compensation. A specific on-the-job injury includes any injury or disease that arises out of employment. The injury can occur as a result of one incident or exposure. A work injury may be the result of tripping, dropping an object on your foot, or lifting a heavy object. A cumulative trauma injury (CT) is an injury that may be the result of work activities over a period of time. For example, a person whose job requires the lifting of heavy objects over a period of time may develop back or neck pain due to repetitive trauma on the job. It can also be the result of work stress causing an internal injury, such as a heart condition, high blood pressure, or a psychological injury.

What benefits am I entitled to under the workers’ compensation system?

Injured workers are entitled to temporary disability, all medical, surgical, chiropractic, and hospital care reasonably required to cure and relieve the effects of the industrial injury. This includes all medicine and medical supplies. If your injury results in any permanent disability, you may be entitled to a settlement.

Will I receive benefits while I am off work?

When an injured employee is unable to work because of an injury or illness, which was caused by their employment, the employee is entitled to receive temporary disability compensation. This benefit pays at 2/3 of the base salary with a maximum cap of $1066.72 for all injuries after 1/1/13. This benefit will only pay for 104 weeks maximum, with some exceptions. Payment of this benefit will also cease if you either return to work, or you have reached maximum medical improvement.

What is permanent disability?

Permanent disability is the degree of disability or impairment that remains after the employee has reached the point of maximum healing. A permanent disability may be partial or total. If a person suffers a permanent partial disability, the person is entitled to a permanent disability rating and award even though he or she may be able to return to work. Permanent disability ratings are provided under the law in the form of money payments, the amount of which depends on a number of things, including the injured worker’s age, occupation, the part of the body injured, and the extent of the disability. Disputes often arise regarding how much of the disability is due to the injury, and how much is due to the preexisting condition.

What if I am unable to return to my regular job?

If your employer is unable to accommodate your permanent work restrictions, you may be entitled to supplemental job displacement benefits. This is a non-transferable voucher that can be used to pay for job or educational retraining at a state-approved or state-accredited school.

Do I need an attorney?

You need an attorney to help you understand the benefits you may be entitled to. This system can be very complicated, involving issues of medical treatment, earnings, permanent disability, apportionment, and future medical care. We always recommend that you discuss your case with an attorney to find out the facts as they pertain to your case.