Tupelo Workers’ Compensation Attorney Defending the Rights of Injured Workers in Tupelo, MS
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, there have been 2.8 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported in 2019 in the U.S., which corresponds to 2.8 cases per every 100 full-time workers. Out of those cases, 888,220 injuries or illnesses caused a worker to miss at least one day of work. When an employee gets injured at work, he or she may be entitled to coverage through their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Learn how workers’ comp works in Mississippi and why working with an attorney may be in your best interest.
Are All Employees Covered by Workers’ Compensation in Mississippi?
In Mississippi, most workers employed by a private employer are covered by workers’ compensation. If the employer has 5 or more employees, the employer is required to provide workers’ compensation coverage, but for businesses with less than 5 employees, coverage is not mandatory but may be provided if the employer chooses to do so.
However, certain categories of employees are not typically covered by workers’ compensation insurance. These include agricultural and domestic workers, employees working for a non-profit organization, and employees that may be covered by federal workers’ compensation insurance, such as federal workers, transportation employees, and maritime workers. Employers who fail to offer workers’ compensation coverage for eligible employees may face significant consequences, including fines and a potential misdemeanor charge.
Workers covered by workers’ comp may receive coverage for job-related injuries and occupational diseases. Both traumatic and occupational injuries are usually covered. A traumatic injury occurs after a single event or accident, whereas an occupational injury develops over time (due to repetitive movement, for example). In addition, workers also receive coverage for occupational diseases, which are illnesses developed over time as a result of one’s job activities or work environment.
What Should I Do if I Am Injured on the Job?
Workers injured on the job need to notify their supervisor as soon as possible. Let your supervisor know about your injury shortly after it happens or soon after you receive an occupational disease diagnosis. It is best to report your injury or illness in writing and no later than 30 days after it occurred (or after receiving your diagnosis). After being notified of your injury or illness, your employer is required to report the injury to the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission in addition to filing a report with their workers’ compensation insurance carrier. Be prepared to provide proof of your injury, including exam results and medical records.
Your employer may then make recommendations for you to see a certain doctor, which you may accept or decline at your own discretion. In Mississippi, you are allowed to choose your own doctor for the treatment of your work-related injury.
How Long Can I Wait Before Filing a Workers’ Comp Claim?
Observing the necessary deadlines for filing a workers’ compensation claim is extremely important. You should report your injury or illness to your employer within 30 days of the accident or occupational disease diagnosis. Your employer needs to notify the Workers’ Compensation Commission if you missed work for more than five days, and that report should be done within ten days. Workers in Mississippi have up to two years to initiate a workers’ compensation claim. However, the sooner you take action, the better your chances may be of recovering fair compensation.
Two years may seem like a long time, but the process of filing a claim is not always as straightforward as one would expect, especially if you require the help of an attorney. In addition, it is easier to support your claim if the evidence you present (such as exam results and medical records) is more recent and easier to obtain. Taking prompt action also allows your attorney to have enough time to put together a strong case on your behalf if necessary.
Can I Get Workers’ Compensation Benefits Even if I Was at Fault for My Injury?
Mississippi workers who are covered by workers’ compensation insurance may initiate a workers’ comp claim for a job-related injury or illness regardless of fault. Unlike a regular personal injury civil suit, workers’ compensation insurance in Mississippi is based on a no-fault system. Even if the employee was somewhat responsible for the accident, he or she might still receive benefits.
There may be an exception for employees who got injured due to being intoxicated or under the influence of illegal drugs and alcohol. If the proximate cause of the accident was the use of illicit drugs or the consumption of alcohol, the employee could potentially be barred from receiving workers’ compensation benefits. On the other hand, because Mississippi is a no-fault state for workers’ compensation claims, employees cannot sue their employer for negligence, even if the employer was largely responsible for the accident or hazardous condition that led to an occupational illness diagnosis.
Can I File an Appeal if My Claim Is Denied?
It is not unusual for many workers’ compensation claims to be denied, but that does not mean you have reached the end of the road. If you have been notified that your claim was denied by the insurance company, the first thing you should do is to find out the reasons for the denial. Sometimes, a claim can be denied because of a simple mistake, such as failure to file a certain form or lack of sufficient medical evidence to support your claim. The insurance company must provide the reason for the denial, preferably in writing.
Next, you may initiate the appeal process to dispute a denied claim. At this stage, it is best to retain a workers’ compensation attorney, as the appeal process can become quite complex. It begins by filing a request (called a “Petition to Controvert”) with the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission. This needs to be done not more than two years after the date when your injury occurred. After the Commission receives your petition, your case is assigned to a workers’ compensation judge. The insurance company that denied your claim would then receive a notification and must submit a response in writing.
Many cases that reach this stage are resolved by negotiating with the insurance company, but not everyone is able to reach an agreement in this manner. If negotiations fail, you may move your case to the administrative hearing phase. This is when both sides will appear before a workers’ comp judge, and the judge will listen to each side and then make a decision. Cases that require an administrative hearing may go through a discovery phase, a step that allows each side to collect evidence and get ready for the hearing.
The insurance company and the injured worker may likely be asked to submit a prehearing statement. This written document contains an explanation of the issues being disrupted and an overview of the evidence that each side is planning to present. When it is time for the hearing, each side will present their arguments and produce evidence to support them, which may include the testimony of witnesses. The judge will then make a decision in writing and mail it to the insurance company and the worker following the hearing.
If you don’t find the judge’s decision satisfactory, you may appeal it to the Full Commission. This should be done within 20 days of receiving the judge’s written decision, and no hearing is necessary unless both parties require it. All arguments and evidence can be submitted in writing, and the Full Commission will analyze all documentation and mail a written decision to both parties.
In the event that you believe the Full Commission’s decision was not in your favor, you may appeal it. Within 30 days of receiving the written decision from the Full Commission, you may request that the Workers’ Compensation Commission send your case to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The appeal process can be time-consuming and require knowledge of all the steps and formalities required for a successful appeal, making it essential for the injured worker to retain a seasoned workers’ compensation attorney at all stages of appealing a denied claim.
Is It Illegal for My Employer to Fire Me While I Am on Workers’ Comp?
Mississippi is an at-will employment state. This has some unfavorable implications for workers receiving workers’ comp benefits because employers in an at-will employment state may fire a worker for any reason and at any time. A worker may be fired for not having adequate work performance, inappropriate behavior, attendance problems, and any reason at all, with very few exceptions. So yes, it is possible that you may be fired while filing for workers’ compensation benefits since there isn’t any type of job protection for injured Mississippi workers.
However, it is important to observe that when a worker is fired after being hurt on the job, the judge overseeing your case can automatically assume that your injury was the main reason why you were fired, and that assumption may override any other justifications your employer may present. This could potentially provide some added leverage for your attorney to negotiate a more favorable settlement on your behalf. In addition, your employer may not fire you for reasons related to your race, gender, age, religion, nationality, or disability. If you believe that you have been fired for any of these reasons, you may file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
How Can a Workers’ Compensation Attorney Help?
Workers’ compensation claims do not always go smoothly or work in the employee’s favor. At Rundlett Law Firm, PLLC, our workers’ compensation attorneys provide legal services and advice to injured workers in Tupelo, MS, and surrounding areas. They work hard to defend the rights of workers to receive fair compensation for their job-related injuries and can assist you with your claim both in and out of the courtroom. If you have been hurt on the job or have been told your claim was denied, contact Rundlett Law Firm, PLLC by calling (662) 502-5195.