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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Four Ways to Give Notice of Being Hurt at Work

Everyday I deal with the issue of people who are hurt at work. A very common situation is when an individual is hurt at work, and they tell their employer but no record is made of the incident. Then the employee goes to a doctor and the case is denied by the insurance company because "there was no first report of injury."

Protect your interests. Make sure the injury is properly reported!

One of the leading concepts in Workers' Compensation is that the employer is obligated to present the employee with the applicable claim forms once the employer has knowledge of the injury. This is called Reynolds Notice. Named for the case Reynolds v. WCAB (1974) 12 Cal.3d 726 (Reynolds). In this case, Mr. Reynolds had a heart attack at work in 1968. In 1970 he discovered he may have a right to a workers comp claim. He filed a claim in 1971. The WCAB denied his claim on a statute of limitations ground, saying Mr. Reynolds waited too long to bring his case.
The Supreme Court of California reversed the WCAB decision because the employer, PG&E, failed in their obligations under the Department of Industrial Relations Regulations which state, "In every case where an employer has notice or knowledge of an injury," the employer must inform the employee of their right to benefits or denial thereof as well as the employees right to appeal the decision to the WCAB. PG&E never provided the notice to the employee of his right to benefits. So the Supreme Court reasoned if the employer is going to ignore certain detrimental rules of the State, it can not benefit from other technical rules of the state.
This case created what is called Reynolds Notice. Once an employer knew or should have known of an injury, the employer is obligated to inform the employee of their right to workers' compensation benefits.

Regardless of Reynolds Notice, it is important that the employee also take appropriate action to make sure their rights are protected. Here are Four easy things you can do:

1. DWC-1 Forms- This simple form called a DWC-1, (available here) is the form all employers should have an employee fill out as soon as their is an injury at work. If the employer does not have you fill out a DWC-1 after an accident. AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, Fill out a DWC-1 and provide a copy to your employer and get the employer to sign it. Even if it is blank.

2. Wake-up in an Ambulance - Nothing is a more clear indication of a work injury then being transported from your work to a hospital. It makes clear that there was an injury and there is a record from the ambulance company. Many of my clients as a result of head trauma wake up in an ambulance or at a hospital. The employer denies the claim because no DWC-1 is filed. Judges are always astonished by this tactic because the ambulance record proves that a DWC-1 could not be filed.

3. Get thee to an M.D. - The sooner you see a doctor or hospital after an injury the better. Whether a company clinic or a county hospital. Going to the Doctor shows a need for medical treatment. The longer you wait though, the less sympathetic a judge will be. If you have been injured at work, ignore your evening plans, go to a hospital and get a record of your injury.

4. E-mail HR - Modern offices run on emails. The easiest way to establish Reynolds Notice in a modern office is to send an email to your supervisor or HR. It is time stamped and date stamped. Save a copy for yourself. Similarly you can send a text message and save a copy for yourself. Any time and date stamped communication to a supervisor is golden under the Reynolds case.

A good lawyer can do a lot to help your workers' compensation claim but sometimes a case is won or lost before you set foot in a lawyer's office. Help yourself and your attorney by setting a strong foundation for your case. If you have questions about Reynolds notice do not hesitate to ask.

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