Friday, June 16, 2017

DON’T BLAME YOUR LAWYER

DON’T BLAME YOUR LAWYER
By Chad Snow, Founding Partner

HAVING A WORK INJURY IS FRUSTRATING.  WITHOUT ANY WARNING THE INJURED WORKER’S INCOME IS CUT OFF, HE OR SHE IS IN PAIN, AND THEIR ENTIRE FAMILY AND SOCIAL LIFE IS DISRUPTED, SOMETIMES PERMANENTLY.  LET ME START OFF BY SAYING THAT IT IS ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA TO CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY WHEN YOU’VE HAD A WORK INJURY.  AS I’VE DISCUSSED IN OTHER BLOGS, SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO HIRE AN ATTORNEY AND SOMETIMES YOU DON’T – BUT IT’S ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA TO KNOW YOUR RIGHTS RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING.  WHEN WE ACCEPT REPRESENTATION IN A CLAIM, IT’S BECAUSE WE THINK WE CAN MAKE THE CASE BETTER THAN IT WOULD BE IF THE INJURED WORKER PROCEEDED WITHOUT REPRESENTATION.  

BUT SOME PEOPLE THINK THAT JUST BECAUSE THEY HAVE AN ATTORNEY, EVERYTHING WILL GO SMOOTH IN THEIR CLAIM.  UNFORTUNATELY, THAT IS NOT ALWAYS THE CASE.  REMEMBER THAT WE ARE DEALING WITH AN INSURANCE COMPANY WHOSE MAIN GOAL IS TO MAKE A PROFIT – WHICH THEY DO BY LIMITING THE AMOUNTS PAID TO YOU IN COMPENSATION AND MEDICAL BENEFITS.  WE ARE ALSO DEALING WITH A GOVERNMENT AGENCY, THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION OF ARIZONA, THAT DOES NOT ALWAYS ACT WITH THE URGENCY WE WISH THEY WOULD.  AS ATTORNEYS, WE ARE OFTEN LIMITED IN WHAT WE CAN DO TO FORCE THE INSURANCE CARRIER TO PAY THE BENEFITS THE WORKER IS ENTITLED TO WHEN WE WANT THEM.  WE DO EVERYTHING IN OUR POWER TO MAKE SURE OUR CLIENTS SUFFER THE LEAST AMOUNT OF PAIN AND ANXIETY POSSIBLE.  BUT SOMETIMES, THINGS ARE OUT OF OUR CONTROL.  REMEMBER THAT YOUR LAWYER IS ON YOUR SIDE AND HAS AN INTEREST IN KEEPING YOU HAPPY AND GETTING YOUR BENEFITS PAID.  


Friday, June 9, 2017

When Will My Worker’s Compensation Case End?

When Will My Worker’s Compensation Case End?  

This is a common question I get from my clients.  This can actually be a difficult question to answer.  Some worker’s compensation cases are quick.  For example, a person cuts part of their body while working, gets the necessary medical treatment and heals quickly with minimal scarring and no damage to the underlying nerves and tissues.  This person’s worker’s compensation case would “end” quickly, basically as soon as a doctor declared the person stationary with respect to the industrial injury.  

However, what about a person who has a knee injury involving a torn meniscus, the person gets the surgery for the torn meniscus and the case is closed.  A few years later the person returns to his doctor with new symptoms to the same area and the doctor says the person now needs a total knee replacement.  The person would then have the right to file a Petition to Reopen the claim and if it is denied by the insurance carrier, he or she can take the issue to an Administrative Law Judge at the Industrial Commission.  

The point at which  a worker’s compensation case ends really depends on the injured worker and their healing process, each case is different. In fact, the injured worker has a lifelong right to file a Petition to Reopen their industrial claim therefore technically the worker’s compensation case doesn’t end until death.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Labor Market Expert

The Labor Market Expert
By Nicholas Wearne, Associate Attorney

In addition to you and your attorney, there will be a hearing monitor, the judge, and a labor market expert present at your hearing for social security disability benefits.  This blog post focuses on the labor market expert and his/her part in the hearing process.

In order to qualify for social security benefits you must show that you cannot do your past work, nor can you do any other “relevant work.”  What is relevant work?  Well that depends on your age, what kind of work you did in the past, among other things.  The labor market expert is a job specialist who gives an opinion about what a person can and cannot do as far as “relevant work”. 

What usually happens is the judge will ask a number of hypothetical questions, for example, “If I believe the claimant is limited to 10lbs lifting and cannot sit for more than one hour, is there any relevant work that he/she can do?” The vocational will then give an expert opinion about “relevant work”.  The judges normally do not decide whether a person will be approved during the hearing thus they will get ask a broad range of hypothetical questions. 



Friday, May 26, 2017

The Long Hearing Process

The Long Hearing Process
By Erica Melendez, Associate Attorney

A truly frustrating fact for injured workers is the length of time for the hearing process.  A case goes through the hearing process when the injured worker and the insurance carrier cannot agree as to the worker’s right to a certain benefit.  Issues include whether the person was even injured at work from the outset of the case, whether the person is entitled to additional medical treatment and whether the person is entitled to a permanent benefit.  One worker’s compensation case can go through the hearing process several times for different issues.  The hearing process is necessary is so that an Administrative Law Judge can hear evidence and determine the injured worker’s right to a certain benefit based on the Judge’s determination of the credibility of the lay witnesses.  If there is a conflict between doctors, (for example, your doctor believes that you need a certain surgery but the insurance company’s doctor says you do not need any further treatment) the Administrative Law Judge decides which doctor’s opinion is more probably correct. 

Given the number of cases in the system, the fact that many cases will have to go through the hearing process multiple times, plus the time necessary for parties to prepare the case for hearing, the time for a case to even get to a Judge for the initial hearing is currently approximately 2 ½  months.  At the initial hearing before the Judge, the injured worker and any lay witnesses (non-medical) will testify.  Next, the Judge determines if medical testimony is necessary and will set “further hearings” for the doctors to testify.  The doctors are set to testify by telephone and they are set according to the doctor’s schedule, the Judge’s calendar and the calendar of any attorneys assigned to the case.  The number of calendars which have to be coordinated makes setting the further hearings difficult and often means there is a months-long wait for the doctors to testify.  Although Judge’s staff work their hardest to get the hearings scheduled quickly and efficiently, the wait can be excruciating for an injured worker waiting for benefits.  After the hearings are completed, the Judge has 30 days to make a decision in the case. 


The wait for hearings and decisions in industrial cases can be frustrating but it is a necessary part of the process and it’s important to know that  the individuals involved in the hearing process try to make the wait as short as possible. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

What does it mean when my Workers' Compensation case is made stationary?

What does it mean when my Workers' Compensation 
case is made stationary?  
By Erica Melendez, Associate Attorney

When a doctor finds that your medical condition has stabilized to the point that no further medical treatment will improve your condition, or that you have reached “MMI- maximum medical improvement”,  your worker’s compensation case can be determined to be stationary.  This does not mean that the doctor is saying you are completely healed, it just means that your healing has stabilized and the doctor isn’t recommending any further treatment that will help your condition get better.  At this point the doctor should also give their opinion as to whether you have permanent impairment to your body, if you have permanent work restrictions and whether you need “supportive care”.  

“Supportive Care” is treatment to keep your medical condition at the same point that it is when the doctor stated you were at maximum medical improvement.  If your case is stationary the carrier will send out a notice that says you are stationary and will send out notices that award you the payment for the permanent disability and award the supportive care.

Your treating doctor can give the opinion that you have reached maximum medical improvement and give opinions as to the impairment and supportive care.  If the carrier accepts the treating doctor’s recommendations that is ideal.  However at times the carrier will decide to send you to an Independent Medical Examination (IME) with another doctor and that doctor will indicate whether he or she agrees with the determination that you are stationary and will give opinions as to how much permanent impairment and supportive care you should be awarded.  If this is different from your treating doctor’s opinion and you wish to appeal the determination of the carrier, you can Request a Hearing with the Industrial Commission.  

If the carrier closes the case using an IME to determine you have reached MMI, you can show the IME to your treating doctor, if your doctor does not agree with the determination that you have reached MMI, you can request a hearing with the Industrial Commission.  An Administrative Law Judge will then determine which doctor they find to be more probably correct and will determine if your case should be made stationary or not.  If your case is found to be stationary based on the opinion of a doctor that is not your treating doctor, always take the opportunity to request that your treating doctor review the other doctor’s opinion and find out if your doctor agrees with the opinions as to whether you require additional treatment, how much permanent impairment you are granted and your supportive care award.

For more information about Snow, Carpio & Weekley, visit www.workinjuryaz.com


Friday, May 12, 2017

What to expect at a Social Security Disability Hearing

What to expect at a Social Security Disability Hearing
By Nicholas Wearne, Associate Attorney

Social Security Disability hearings can be intimidating so this is a general idea of what to expect. 
First off, I tell people to arrive about an hour early.  You never know what traffic is going to be like.  Make sure you have researched the address the night before and you know where the hearing office is located.  I always meet with my clients in the half hour before hearing just to review their case and go over things one last time.

When you arrive you will check in with security and if you have an attorney you will wait for them.  About 5-10 minutes before the hearing begins a hearing monitor will come check on you to make sure you are there and to make sure everything is ready for the judge.  They generally leave and will come back once the judge is ready. 

Expect your hearing to last about an hour.  In the hearing room it will you, your attorney if you have one, the judge, the hearing monitor, and usually there will be a vocational expert.  The judge and your attorney will ask you a series of questions to get an idea of why you think you are disabled, to get an idea of what you do during the day, and to figure out what your past work was like.  The judge will them ask some hypothetical questions to the vocational expert.  Generally, you will not receive a decision from the judge at that time but he will conclude the hearing and send you his decision a month or so later in the mail.  On occasion the judge will end the hearing by letting you know what he or she is going to do.

If you have a hearing scheduled and you are nervous about how things are going to play out, contact our office for a free consultation.


Friday, May 5, 2017

How Long Does it Take To Get Benefits and What Resources are Available Until I Get a Decision?

How Long Does it Take To Get Benefits 
and What Resources are Available Until I Get a Decision?
By Nicholas Wearne, Associate Attorney

The answer to this question is one you are probably not going to like. As I have explained in prior blogs there are three levels of application.  The first two take about 4-6 months.  The third level of application is a hearing and it takes 1-1.5 years to get a hearing after you have gone through the first two steps.  Generally speaking, I tell people it takes about two years.  The process is an extremely long one and perhaps one of the most difficult things about it is you cannot be working while you wait.  You can work a little bit but consult with an attorney before trying to do so.  Your ability to work is very limited and if you work to much you will start your application period over again.

So what are you supposed to do while you wait?  How are you supposed to survive?  This the question I do not enjoy answering.  As far as healthcare goes, you can get on AHCCCS assuming that our new president elect does not try to scale back AHCCCS funding once he is in office.  As far as food goes, you can apply for and get on food stamps.  As far as shelter goes, this is often the hardest one.  Most of my clients are living with family and friends.  Some are in homeless shelters.  If you are in the beginning stages of applying for social security disability I would have some very open talks with your family members about what will happen if you are unable to keep the lights on or pay the mortgage as it likely it may come to that.  If you have a spouse that works, that is great. 

Finally, do not apply for unemployment though it may be tempting.  When you apply for unemployment you are certifying that you are able and looking for a job.  Social Security will hold this against you.  If you are applying for Social Security Disability and have questions about how to prepare for the long haul ahead, call Snow Carpio and Weekley or visit us on our website at www.workinjuryaz.com.