Workplace injuries are more common than most people think. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were approximately 2.9 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2016, the most recent year on record. In addition, there were 5190 work-related fatalities, the highest since 2008. Being injured on the job is an unsettling experience, and it often difficult to know what to do next to ensure your injuries are treated and your legal rights are protected.
There are some steps you should take immediately after being injured at work, here are four of the most important:
Obtain First Aid and Any Other Necessary Medical Treatment
Before anything else, make sure your injury is treated and you have the medical assistance you need. See a doctor as soon as you can after the incident. Some injuries are not apparent right away, and they may take time to manifest themselves. This is why it is important to have an examination as soon as possible, so you will know the extent of your injuries and ensure they are properly addressed. In West Virginia, you are allowed to select your own doctor for Workers’ Compensation purposes, at least for the initial visit. Your doctor will determine if you are unable to work, your treatment plan, and when you can return to work.
Notify Your Supervisor of Your Injury
You should report your injury in writing to your employer as soon as it is convenient. In West Virginia, you have six months from the date of your injury to file a Workers’ Compensation claim. If you were exposed to a hazardous worksite condition and/or your doctor informs you that you have an occupational illness, you have three years from the date of your last exposure or from the date you were informed of your illness to file a Workers’ Comp claim.
Find Out if Your Employer is Covered by West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Laws
Most employers in West Virginia are required to maintain Workers’ Compensation insurance for their employees. There are some exceptions, however. First of all, sole proprietors, partners, LLC members, and corporate officers are usually included in a Workers’ comp policy, but they can elect to be excluded. Secondly, there are certain types of employers that are exempt from the requirement to provide coverage. These include:
- Employers in the agricultural industry who have five or fewer employees;
- Employers of domestic services;
- Employers with three or fewer employees who have temporary casual employees that work no more than 10 days per calendar quarter;
- Employers who are churches and certain non-profit organizations;
- Employers who are engaged in professional sports. However, coverage must be provided for certain employees who are not professional athletes and work only on the business side.
Though these types of employers are not required to carry Workers’ Compensation insurance for their exempt employees, many of them still do. Be sure to check with your employer to be certain.
There may also be a question about whether or not you are considered an employee or an independent contractor. Non-exempt employees are covered by the West Virginia Workers’ Compensation statute, while independent contractors are not. However, just because an employer says you are an independent contractor does not necessarily mean this is the case. It all comes down to the employer’s “right to control” or supervise the work you do. If that right to control exists, you are likely to be classified as an employee.
Speak with an Experienced West Virginia Personal Injury Attorney
Once you have determined whether or not you are covered (or likely to be covered) by Workers’ Compensation, it is best to speak with a seasoned personal injury lawyer with extensive experience handling Workers’ Comp claims. There are several reasons why it is a good idea to speak with an attorney:
- The Workers’ Compensation claims process is complex and confusing, and many employees are wrongfully denied benefits often because of technicalities. This is especially true if the employee is not working with an attorney. By having strong legal counsel by your side, you can help ensure that your claim is processed smoothly and successfully, and that you receive maximum compensation for your injuries.
- Your injury may not be covered by Workers’ Compensation because you are an exempt employee or independent contractor. Or your injury may have resulted from the negligence or reckless actions of a third-party other than you or your employer. In any of these scenarios, you may have a strong basis for a personal injury action against the party responsible for your injuries.
- Although West Virginia employers are generally immune from civil liability for work-related injuries that are covered by Workers’ Comp insurance, state law provides for an exception if it can be shown that the employer acted with “deliberate intent” to place the employee at risk for injury. In such cases, an employee may be able to sue the employer for damages above and beyond what is paid out by Workers’ Compensation.