Workers’ compensation is meant to create a simple, streamlined, less adversarial way for injured employees to secure payment of their medical expenses and replacement income. The process is simplified in the early stages and most injured workers are able to get their medical costs covered and receive temporary total or partial disability benefits. But, securing workers’ comp benefits can be more contentious than you might expect. That’s especially true if you’ve suffered a permanent injury.
While this post is about setting yourself up for the most favorable workers’ comp settlement possible, it’s important to keep in mind that if you aren’t satisfied with the offer, you’re under no obligation to settle. If you’re not happy with the settlement you’ve been offered or are uncertain whether the settlement is fair and will adequately support you and your ongoing medical needs, it’s time to talk to a Florida injury lawyer that has extensive experience with workers’ compensation cases.
What Happens When You Settle a Workers’ Comp Claim?
Many people who have lost income and are adjusting to long-term injuries are eager to get the claim settled. In part, that’s because managing the claim and negotiations is one more stressor in an already-difficult situation. But, it may also be because receiving a lump sum payment sounds like it will take the pressure off and open up options.
For example, living on periodic disability payments that are a fraction of your previous income can be stressful and make it difficult to plan for the future or invest in changes like a residential move. And, having your medical care covered directly by workers’ comp may limit your ability to choose your own providers and make decisions about your medical care.
Settling your claim and receiving a lump sum payment can be liberating. But, you’re trading something important for that freedom.
The Downside to Workers’ Compensation Settlements
In most cases, a workers’ comp settlement cuts off your access to any further compensation. That makes sense, since a settlement is a give-and-take. The workers’ compensation carrier gives you a lump sum payment, and you give up any additional claims against them.
That’s true even if you later discover that your injuries are more extensive than you realized, or that you need unexpected follow-up care.
Imagine, for example, that you settle your claim in October of 2022, expecting that the only ongoing medical care you’ll need as a result of your injury is several months of physical therapy. You account for the cost of that treatment in your settlement. But, the following year your pain worsens and you go in for scans. Your doctor delivers bad news: you need another back surgery, which will probably be followed by a month of inpatient rehabilitation.
Suddenly, you’re looking at tens or even hundreds of thousands of additional medical expenses–and you generally won’t be able to go back to workers’ compensation for help with those bills.
Talk to a Workers’ Comp Attorney
If the information above came as a surprise to you, you’re not alone. Unanticipated issues like the need for additional medical care are one reason it’s generally in your best interest to have an experienced workmans’ comp attorney review your settlement.
Negotiating a Fair Workers’ Compensation Settlement
Depending on the terms of the settlement and your circumstances, a workers’ comp settlement can solve a lot of problems…or cause them.
Here’s what you need to know to make good decisions about a workers’ compensation settlement:
- Wait until you’ve reached maximum medical improvement (MMI): It’s rarely a good idea to settle a claim without having a solid idea of what your future expenses will be, and whether you may face increased limitations in the future. While MMI isn’t a guarantee that your medical condition will never take a turn for the worse, it’s a good checkpoint to give you some degree of confidence in the extent of your injuries and associated costs.
- Consider how much risk you want to take on: In some cases, your doctors may have told you that there’s a small chance you’ll require additional surgery or other extensive medical care in the future. The workers’ comp carrier may be willing to pay a portion of possible future costs as part of the settlement, in return for you taking on responsibility for whatever costs arise. If you’re offered this type of settlement, make sure it won’t leave you unable to get necessary medical care in the future.
- Understand exactly what you’re giving up: Though it’s unusual, some workers’ compensation settlements leave the door open to payment of future medical expenses. Don’t make any assumptions about the impact of your settlement, and don’t rely on the insurer for information. If you’re unsure about some aspect of your settlement offer, consult a workers’ compensation lawyer.
- Weigh the risks and benefits of settling: Settlement generally gets money in your hands more quickly and gives you greater freedom to pursue medical care at your own discretion. And, it allows you to know exactly what you’re agreeing to, whereas a ruling at a workers’ comp hearing could be more or less than the settlement offer. But, it may mean receiving less in the long-run, and may leave you on the hook for future medical bills. Make clear-headed decisions about the trade-off.
- Don’t just look at the bottom line number: The dollar amount in a workers’ compensation settlement may represent different things. For example, in some cases there will be separate amounts offered for medical costs and for disability payments. The total amount set forth in the offer may or may not include amounts that have already been paid to you–such as weekly disability checks–or paid to medical providers on your behalf. Make sure you understand exactly what you’ll be receiving and when.
- Know when to get a workers’ compensation lawyer: Negotiating a settlement for a serious injury is complicated, and you can’t afford to make mistakes. A seasoned Florida workers’ comp lawyer can be your best resource for ensuring that you don’t overlook anything important, ensuring that all compensation you’re due is included in the settlement agreement, and fully understanding what you’re receiving and what you’re giving up.
Talk to a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer at Harrell & Harrell
The workers’ comp attorneys at Harrell & Harrell fight for the rights of injury victims in Florida, including those who have been injured at work. We have the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to assist you in securing the most favorable workers’ compensation settlement possible in your circumstances.
You can schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our workmans’ comp attorneys right now. Just call 904-251-1111, fill out our contact form, or click in the bottom right corner to chat.