Okay, let’s not beat around the bush. Here are the two things I wish everyone knew about workers compensation in Oregon: First, it is complicated. It is not simple. It is not cut and dry. Second, it rarely, if at all, offers adequate or fair compensation for the losses experienced due to a work injury.
Prior to becoming a workers compensation attorney, I assumed that workers compensation was a straight forward and relatively simple system. I thought that if I walked into work Monday morning with no pain, no complaints, and no issues and then by Monday afternoon was in excruciating pain because of a work injury, it would be a cut and dry workers compensation claim. Any medical bills associated with that injury would be covered by the workers comp insurance and if I lost any wages due to the injury, I would be compensated accordingly.
Since becoming a workers compensation attorney, my eyes have been opened. The workers compensation system is not that simple. Arguably, it ought to be. In reality, it is not. It is somewhat of a broken system leaving many injured workers in very stressful and complicated situations. The laws structuring the workers compensation system in Oregon are complicated and tricky. In many instances, injured workers are blindsided by the application of these laws and the rug is suddenly pulled out from under their workers compensation claim.
For example, I received a phone call from a man that worked in a warehouse loading and unloading freight. He walked into work on a typical Friday morning with no issues. A few hours later, while lifting a heavy item, he felt and heard a pop in his shoulder followed by extreme pain. The doctor diagnosed him with a rotator cuff tear and recommended surgery. He had never had any shoulder issues or pain prior to that incident. He filed a workers compensation claim and the claim was accepted. He continued treating but was not improving as quickly as he had hoped. It did not concern him, though, because he was confident that the workers compensation system would assist him until he got back on his feet. Unfortunately, that was not the case. After approximately one year of treating, with no warning, he received a denial of the very condition that the workers compensation insurance accepted. No more medical coverage. No more lost wage reimbursement. No more benefits. Unfortunately, this man learned the hard way that the workers compensation system is not what he expected.
In addition to being complex, the workers compensation system is extremely modest financially–some may call it “cheap.” After enduring injury, financial stress, and the roller coaster ride of a workers compensation claim, the injured worker is often disappointed and sometimes appalled at the small amount of compensation he/she receives (if he/she receives anything at all). Many workers’ lives are turned upside down because of their injury and they expect the workers compensation system to make them whole again—physically and financially. That is not the case. The dollar amounts associated with workers compensation claims are, for the most part, regulated by law. These regulated amounts are low compared to the actual impact these injuries make in our lives.
These amounts are also quite low when compared with personal injury settlements (ie auto accident, medical malpractice, spilt coffee in a drive-thru, etc). Workers compensation claims are not in the same league as personal injury claims. It’s comparing apples to oranges. Do all you can to avoid comparing the two. The sooner you are able to avoid the comparison, the easier it will be for you to survive your workers compensation claim.
In the midst of all these warnings, it is important to remember that there are benefits available through the workers compensation system and they can assist you, to some degree, in getting back on your feet after a work injury. In most cases, however, having the assistance of an attorney is extremely beneficial in warning you against potential hidden pitfalls and in securing the maximum benefits available to you. Remember, the workers compensation system is complicated and it does not compare financially with other personal injury claims. If everyone knew these things, it would make their experience in the workers compensation system much more manageable.
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