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Avoid a Workers' Comp Nightmare

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Handling Workers’ Compensation Rights
How to deal with the sometimes unavoidable injuries in your shop.

From lift incidents to dangerous slips and falls, there are a litany of accidents just waiting to occur in your shop.

Scott Goldstein has seen these and more issues occur in various shops throughout the years. He works as a partner for Ankin Law, one of the largest workers’ compensation firms in Illinois, and has had over 50 technicians work with him to handle their injury settlements.

Laws differ from state to state, so Goldstein recommends looking at your state’s workers’ compensation website or Department of Labor page for information on the laws and regulations that will directly impact your shop.

Educating workers on this process can be simple, as owner Richard Gauthier of Bakersfield, Calif.-based G&G Auto Repair has posters on the wall of his shop that outline everything employees should know about their rights. But Gauthier says the easiest way to deal with these problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

In interviews with Ratchet+Wrench, Gauthier covered how to prevent shop-related injuries, and Goldstein outlined employees’ various rights and how to legally handle workers’ compensation.


How to Prevent Injuries

Goldstein says that being proactive is very important for a shop in preventing injuries that lead to workers’ compensation. He suggests hiring an ergonomics expert to observe your workspace and note any immediate safety hazards.

Gauthier has been in the industry for over 30 years, so he says he has a good handle on the possible hazards in his shop. However, he suggests that newer owners who aren’t as familiar with workplace safety should take advantage of the resource if it’s offered by your insurance company.

Gauthier hosts weekly safety meetings with his staff and focuses on safety awareness.

“We want people to take every step, every movement on purpose,” Gauthier says. “We don’t want people moving around the shop casually.”


Employees’ Rights

Sometimes, however, accidents are unavoidable, and Goldstein says you have to deal with it as a cost of doing business.

When injuries do occur, Goldstein lends some insight on what to expect with a workers’ compensation claim and how to handle it. Each state handles these claims differently, but there are three overarching rights most employees have when facing a major injury.


Temporary Total Disability

If employees are injured and forced to miss work, they are entitled to receive money to help replace their lost income. Goldstein says that this involves one of two situations: your employee physically can’t work due to an injury, or he or she is on light or restricted duty and your shop doesn’t have any light-duty work available.

In the case of both of these options, the worker is eligible for temporary total disability (TTD). Through this, he or she will get time off and workers' compensation payments each week to make up for the loss of work time.

Payment for this differs from state to state, but in Goldstein’s home state of Illinois, recipients of TTD get two-thirds of their average weekly wage. In most states, however, he says the compensation is around 60 percent of a worker’s gross wage.


Medical Treatment

In addition to workers' compensation, injured workers are eligible to get most, if not all, of their medical treatments covered by their employer.

“Generally speaking, no matter which state, the injured worker is entitled to get money and medical treatment paid for by workers’ compensation,” Goldstein says.

Depending on what state you’re in, either the employer or the employee chooses what doctor the injured party will visit. Generally, the shop will have a list through its company, detailing which medical providers are covered by their insurance.

In Indiana, for example, this is the case—the employee has no choice of doctors as it is employee-directed care. If the employee feels he or she has not received adequate medical care, the employee may file for an application for adjustment of claim with the state’s workers’ compensation board.

If your shop is in a state where the worker chooses, the process is relatively the same, but Goldstein says that the chosen doctor may consider the patient’s interest more than the interest of the employer.

With workers' compensation in this situation, the worker does not have to pay a copay for their treatment, as it is generally entirely covered by workers' compensation.


Permanent Partial Disability

Based on how significant the injury is, the employee may be eligible for permanent partial disability. If a worker has a severe injury with a lasting impact on his or her physical health, he or she may be compensated for the permanent nature of the injury—often with a lump sum payment. The compensation process is often directly tied to how much money the employee makes.

“People with the same injury and different wages are going to have potentially different settlements,” Goldstein says.

Goldstein settled one case where a woman had shoulder surgery, but had a lower wage and only received $5,000. He settled the case of another worker with almost the exact same injury but a much higher wage, and he received $50,000.


How the Filing Process Works

Generally speaking, your shop will deal with all three of these situations at separate times in the case.

The TTD and the medical payment process starts right away when the worker gets hurt. At the end of the case, a workers' compensation firm like Ankin will negotiate the permanent partial disability payment, if applicable.

When an employer does suffer an injury, he or she will file for benefits received under the workers' compensation statute. In Illinois, the document is called an “application for adjustment.” When the employer files the document, Goldstein says it acts like a lawsuit, in respect to the compensation required.

Generally speaking, Goldstein says, the worker has three years to file a workers' compensation claim from the date of the injury, or two years from the last date the employee received any benefits in the case. A workers' compensation firm, like Ankin, will work to file that claim within this time frame to make sure the case is filed within the appropriate statutory scheme.


Common Injuries

As Goldstein has dealt with a wide variety of injuries to technicians throughout the years, he’s seen some of the major recurring hazards. Here’s a short list of some of the most common hazards he sees from his clients:

  • Weight-bearing injuries: If you're manually pushing or lifting tires when installing them or other shop equipment, it's common for a technician to hurt his or her back.
  • Slip-and-fall injuries: If a shop is unorganized or unclean, a worker may slip and fall on oil or another liquid in the shop. This could lead to severe injuries for a worker's shoulder, back or knee. 
  • Repetition Injuries: These are some of the most common injuries a shop will face. After days, months or years of yanking on wrenches or other tools, Goldstein says technicians can get repetitive trauma injuries, like carpal tunnel in their wrists, or cubital tunnel in their elbows. Shoulder injuries can stem from this, as well.

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