The Answers You Need for the Questions You’re Forced to Ask
One of the worst aspects of pursuing a case—whether you’re fighting for injury compensation or trying to settle a divorce—is not knowing what to expect. Before you get yourself knee deep in the details of your case allow us to answer some of your questions first. We’ll help you be more fully prepared and more confident as you move forward.
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Is it legal that my employer self-insures instead of purchasing workers’ compensation insurance?
All employers who are subject to the Workers' Compensation Act are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance under Rhode Island law. However, it is possible for employers to pay for the costs of a work injury out of their own profits instead of purchasing workers’ compensation insurance (known as self-insuring). These employers must meet eligibility requirements and go through a certification process in order to legally provide benefits to injured workers.
Rules for Self-Insured Employers in Rhode Island
There are a few different ways an employer can offer its own workers’ compensation benefits, such as self-insuring by statute (applies to municipalities), or to become certified by the Department of Business Regulations as part of a self-insurance group. The most common way for businesses to self-insure is to be certified by the state Division of Workers' Compensation (DWC). The certification process takes approximately 60 days and requires:
- Proof of financial guarantee. Every applicant for workers’ compensation self- insurance must be financially secure and must provide evidence of guarantee of coverage with minimum limits of several thousand dollars. Applicants may also be required to carry commercial stop-loss insurance during their first five years of self- insurance to ensure all employee claims will be paid.
- DWC investigation. A DWC investigation may include employer site inspections, feasibility studies, financial obligation requirements, records from a parent guarantor; bonding and payment facilities, and other requests necessary to satisfy the DWC that the employer is eligible for approval or re-certification.
- An administrative hearing. Initial approval will only be granted after a hearing before the Director of the Department of Labor & Training to review the results of the DWC investigation.
- Adherence to workers’ compensation rules and regulations. Self-insured employers are still required to comply with all requirements of workers’ compensation laws, including data processing regulations, workers’ compensation procedures, and the rules and orders of the Workers’ Compensation Court.
- Commitment to payment and reporting standards. Employers are responsible for paying application fees and yearly assessments to the RI Workers’ Compensation Fund, submitting payroll records and other documents to the DWC in a timely fashion, and renewing certification every year to prevent lapses, revocation, or expiration.
If you need help accessing your workers’ compensation benefits, simply fill out the online contact form on this page, or call Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum to set up a consultation with our work injury attorneys.
Should I accept a workers’ compensation settlement?
Rhode Island workers’ compensation settlements are usually final decisions. That means, once you and the workers’ compensation insurance company agree to a settlement, you are unlikely to get any future compensation for your workplace injuries. Thus, you need to make sure that the settlement fairly compensates you for all of your injuries before you accept it.
Types of RI Workers’ Compensation Settlements
In Rhode Island, you may agree to one of the following types of workers’ compensation settlements:
- Denial and Dismissal Settlement. This type of settlement is used in disputed claims and settles before liability is determined. The injured worker agrees that his claim will be denied and dismissed in exchange for payment. The insurance company pays out a lump sum to the employee but doesn’t acknowledge liability, and the employee must pay all medical bills as a result of the injury. Often, the employee will be asked to resign from his position as a condition of the settlement.
- Commutation Settlement. In this type of settlement, the insurance company has already admitted liability and has paid your workers’ comp benefits for at least six months. The settlement will be for all the rest of the workers’ comp benefits you may receive.
Both types of settlements are final, and you give up your right to receive any future workers’ comp benefits, including medical coverage, beyond what is included in the settlement that you sign.
We Can Help With Your Workers’ Comp Case
It’s important that you understand the extent of your injuries before accepting a workers’ compensation settlement. Thus, your doctor should determine that you’ve reached maximum medical improvement for your injuries or illness.
Before you accept any settlement, you should consult with our experienced Rhode Island workers’ compensation attorneys. We will review your medical records and the proposed settlement amount to make sure that the settlement provides you with fair compensation under Rhode Island law. Call us, or reach out to us via this website today to learn more.
Can an employer fire me for filing a workers’ compensation claim?
While most people know that workers' compensation provides medical and lost income benefits to workers who suffer an injury on the job, they may not know of the additional employment protection it affords a worker after filing a claim. Some employers may be tempted to threaten or harass an employee to discourage him from filing a claim, or the employer may simply want to fire the employee. If this happens, employees can take action against the employer to recover civil damages for unfair treatment.
Protection From Employer Retaliation
To ensure that employees are able to collect their work injury benefits without punishment, workers’ compensation laws prohibit employers from taking adverse action against a worker who has brought a claim in good faith. The employee is protected from retaliation immediately after the qualifying injury occurs, even before the claim is filed or the employer notified of the accident.
Under workers' compensation laws, employers are forbidden from retaliating against workers in the following ways:
- Termination. Workers' compensation laws typically prevent an injured worker from suing an employer. However, if the employee was laid off or fired because he sought workers’ compensation benefits, he may bring a retaliatory discharge lawsuit against the employer.
- Workplace harassment. Employers may make threats against employees who file claims, including blacklisting them from future job opportunities.
- Discriminatory treatment. Discrimination can come in many forms, including disciplinary action, salary reduction, demotion, being passed over for promotion, or being assigned a new title or another position.
- Forced leave. Employers cannot force an employee to use or forfeit accrued paid time off, paid medical leave, pension benefits, or other earned income in lieu of workers’ compensation income replacement benefits during recovery.
If you believe you have been discriminated against or discharged in retaliation for seeking workers’ compensation benefits, we can examine the details of your case and help you get what you’re owed for your injury. Simply fill out the easy online contact form on this page, or call Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum to set up a consultation with our work injury attorneys.
What penalties can an employer face for not having workers’ compensation insurance?
Employers can face significant penalties for failing to protect their employees with workers’ compensation insurance. First, the employer can be ordered to pay a fine of up to $1,000 per day for each day insurance is not provided. Employers can also face criminal felony charges, which carry a sentence of up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $10,000 upon conviction. Finally, if the failure to secure workers’ compensation insurance is determined to create a significant danger to employees, business operations can be suspended until workers' compensation and employers' liability insurance is secured.
When Your Employer Doesn’t Provide Workers’ Comp
If you suspect your employer does not have insurance, you can report Rhode Island workers’ compensation fraud to the Fraud Prevention and Compliance Unit. As long as you make a complaint to the Fraud Unit in good faith, the employer cannot take any legal action against you for making the report.
The Fraud Unit can help in a variety of matters concerning bad faith on the part of an employer, including:
- Premium fraud. Employers may not have sufficient insurance to cover work-related injuries due to premium fraud such as underreporting the number of employees in order to pay less for insurance. Premium fraud is a criminal offense.
- Falsifying claims information. Any employer who intentionally makes false statements to prevent an employee from filing a claim or obtain benefits may be prosecuted.
- Encouraging fraud. Employers may be charged with a criminal offense if they encourage workers not to file claims or command workers to report any work-related injuries they suffer as happening outside the workplace.
- Penalties. Any person convicted of workers’ compensation fraud may be ordered to pay monetary penalties up to $50,000 and face imprisonment for up to five years.
If your employer did not secure workers’ compensation insurance, you and your fellow employees are not prohibited from filing lawsuits against the employer. For this reason, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible after an injury at work. Simply fill out the easy online contact form on this page, or contact Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum at 401-946-3200 to set up a consultation with our work injury attorneys.
Is workers’ compensation paid under state or federal law?
In Rhode Island, any worker employed by a private employer, state agency, or local government is owed benefits under the state workers' compensation board. However, there are some Rhode Island residents—such as federal workers or maritime employees—who may qualify for workers' compensation under a federal law.
Qualifying for Federal Workers’ Comp Benefits
While the majority of workers’ compensation programs are administered under state law, some workers are exempt from state workers’ compensation due to the location, risks, or injuries associated with their work. In these cases, injured workers can collect wage replacement benefits, medical treatment, vocational rehabilitation, and disability payments through the U.S. government.
Federal laws make compensation for a work-related injury or an occupational disease payable to:
- Federal and postal employees. The Federal Employees' Compensation Act grants workers' compensation benefits to millions of federal employees, including postal workers. Injured federal employees can make a claim for benefits through the nearest district office of the Division of Federal Employees' Compensation (DFEC).
- Maritime employees. Employees who work on open water, oil rigs, or offshore platforms can collect injury benefits under federal maritime laws, including the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), Defense Base Act (DBA), and Jones Act.
- Energy employees. The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) provides compensation to current or former employees of the Department of Energy (DOE) who have been diagnosed with a radiogenic form of cancer after exposure to radiation, beryllium, or silica during their term of employment. The EEOICPA also provides survivors’ benefits to families of employees who have died as a result of work-related radiogenic cancers.
If you are seeking compensation after an injury at work, our attorneys can examine your situation and help determine how much you’re owed for lost wages, medical bills, and other accident costs. Simply fill out our easy online contact form, or call Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum to set up a consultation with our work injury attorneys.
Can the family sue for wrongful death if their loved one received workers’ comp death benefits?
Rhode Island workers’ compensation statutes guarantee benefits to injured workers regardless of fault, which is beneficial to both workers and employers. In exchange for these guaranteed benefits, an injured employee is prohibited from suing an employer for any costs related to the accident. However, there may be exceptions to this rule for the survivors seeking compensation after the wrongful work death of a loved one.
How Survivors Get Compensation After a Wrongful Work Death
If your spouse or loved one died in a wrongful work death, you may experience many different kinds of loss. You may face economic problems caused by lost income and financial difficulties due to medical bills and funeral costs. But surviving family members may obtain compensation through:
- Workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation should pay for any medical bills that were incurred due to a work-related death. In addition, workers’ comp death benefits provide up to $15,000 to the deceased employee’s dependents to help with funeral and burial expenses, as well as weekly wage payments to the deceased employee’s spouse. However, workers’ compensation does not allow for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and punitive damages.
- A lawsuit against a negligent employer. Workers’ compensation death benefits often provide far less than the surviving family members need to recover. For this reason, Rhode Island law allows family members to sue employers in cases where an employer directly or deliberately caused the action that resulted in their loved one’s death. These kinds of cases take extensive legal knowledge to win, since survivors must prove that a company deliberately and knowingly placed their loved one in unreasonable danger.
- Third-party cases. If you are barred from suing your loved one’s employer, you can still sue another party whose negligence contributed to the death. These third-party claims involve someone other than the employer (such as a property owner, maintenance company, project manager, or defective product manufacturer), and there are no limits on the types of damages that may be collected.
If your loved one died in a work accident, our attorneys can gather evidence on your behalf and help get you the compensation and justice you deserve. Contact Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum via our online contact form to schedule an initial consultation at no cost to you.
Can I get pain and suffering through a workers’ comp claim?
While the workers’ compensation system guarantees payment regardless of fault, the payments offered are limited to medical expenses and lost wages. Pain and suffering is not considered a covered loss and cannot be collected through workers’ compensation. However, pain and suffering can be obtained by filing a lawsuit against the person responsible for causing the injury.
How Injured Workers May Be Paid for Their Pain and Suffering
Workers’ compensation is known as the “exclusive remedy” against employers for injuries suffered on the job. This means, if an injury qualifies for workers’ compensation, claimants are barred from suing the employer. The only exception is if the employee has suffered workplace discrimination or defamation, in which case the employee is allowed to sue the employer for damages (including pain and suffering).
How Workers Comp Can Pay for Pain and Suffering
In some cases, accidents are caused not by the employer, but by the negligence of a third party. Third-party claims can be sought regardless of workers’ compensation status and may include the costs of pain and suffering, punitive damages, mental anguish, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life.
For example, workers may pursue a third-party claim against:
- A driver of a vehicle (not employed by the same employer) who caused a car accident
- A general contractor or sub-contractor responsible for a construction site injury
- A company who manufactured a defective piece of equipment
- An engineer or designer who created hazardous machinery or working conditions
- Property owners who allowed a dangerous condition to exist on their premises
- Maintenance companies who failed to adhere to cleanliness or safety standards
It is important to note that workers may have to pay the workers’ compensation insurer back if they recover damages from a negligent third party. A successful negligence claim often includes payment for lost earnings and medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering, and employees who have already been paid for some of these costs through workers’ compensation can be ordered to reimburse the insurer. This prevents claimants from being paid twice for the same losses and allows the third party to be held liable for the full costs of the accident.
More Questions About Pain and Suffering for Workers Comp Law?
The attorneys at Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum know how to properly negotiate the amount you are owed for your injury and will explore all options to maximize the value of your claim. Call us today at 401-946-3200 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a no-cost initial consultation.
Are there time limits on workers’ compensation benefits?
Most injured workers have their hands full with emergency medical care and follow-up health appointments to begin thinking about filing a workers’ compensation claim. However, these claims are subject to a variety of different deadlines, beginning with the time frame to report a workplace accident to an employer.
Time Limits Applied to Workers’ Compensation in Rhode Island
There are time limits on nearly every aspect of a workers’ compensation claim. Here is a brief overview of those deadlines:
- How long do I have to give my employer notice of my injury? You have 30 days to report an injury or illness to your employer. However, it is best to report your condition as soon as possible, since your employer is required by law to file a declaration form with the Rhode Island Division of Workers’ Compensation.
- How long do I have to file a claim? Workers can file a workers’ compensation claim up to 2 years from the date of injury. The deadline is lengthy because many injuries and occupational diseases covered under Rhode Island workers' compensation may take a long time to manifest. Employees who file workers’ compensation for repetitive stress injuries or work-related cancers often do not have one sudden incident that results in injury but suffer day-by-day exposure that causes injury over time.
- How long must I be unable to work before I can collect workers’ compensation? There is a waiting period of 3 days on wage loss benefits. You are officially considered disabled on the 4th day of missed work.
- How long can a person receive benefits? Employees who are temporarily or partially disabled may continue to receive benefits for up to six years as long as they maintain disability status. If a person is permanently and completely unable to work, benefits may continue indefinitely.
- How long does my employer have to hold my job? Rhode Island is one of only a handful of states that protect your right to return to your old job. Once you are cleared for return to work by your doctor, you must claim your position within 10 days.
Questions About How Long You Can Be On Workers Compensation?
No matter the time limits, you should take action immediately to report your injury or file a claim. Any hesitation to do so may be seen as evidence that your injury isn’t severe, potentially damaging your case. The attorneys at Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum can examine the details of your case and help you get the benefits you deserve. Call us today at 401-946-3200 or fill out our online contact form to tell us what happened in your no-cost initial consultation.
Can I get workers’ compensation for a repetitive stress injury?
Yes, but it can be difficult to prove your claim. Although a repetitive stress injury (RSI) is a common type of work injury, it is generally harder to get benefits for it. A claim that’s based on a single event such as a pallet falling on a worker’s foot and breaking a bone is typically more clear cut that a claim that involves the cumulative trauma of day-to-day work.
Employees May Have Trouble Getting Fair Payment for Repetitive Strain Injuries
RSIs, also known as repetitive motion or repetitive strain injuries, are caused by repeated movements that create wear and tear on a particular part of the body. A common RSI is carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes severe wrist pain in people who work on assembly lines or computers.
Problems with these types of claims often include:
- Proving that the injury is work related. The biggest hurdle in these kinds of claims is establishing that the injury is work related. This is usually done with medical evidence and a doctor’s opinion that links the type of work performed to the specific injury. Insurers may try to deny claims with a weak link between the injury and the workplace, so a strong connection is vital in proving that the injury occurred on the job.
- Filing a timely claim. Rhode Island workers' compensation law requires workers to report injuries in a timely manner. However, this can be difficult when an injury occurs over a long period of time. Cases are typically stronger when they’re filed as soon as the injury becomes problematic or soon after the worker first seeks medical treatment.
- Getting proper payment. Workers' compensation provides benefits for lost income, medical bills, and even disability caused by a work-related injury. However, the worker cannot get additional financial support for pain and suffering, and usually he cannot sue the employer. If a repetitive stress injury has resulted in large financial losses or significant impairment, it is a good idea to speak with an attorney to determine whether your employer could be subject to a lawsuit to make up the additional costs of your claim.
While many RSIs may heal with rest or surgery, some can lead to lifelong complications such as arthritis or a disability. In order to get fair compensation for your suffering, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to learn about your options. Contact us today to schedule a no-obligation consultation with our legal team.
Are independent contractors eligible for workers' compensation in Rhode Island?
Some workers are exempt from claiming workers’ compensation benefits. Babysitters, domestic employees, sole proprietors of businesses, and independent contractors are not entitled to workers' compensation after an injury on the job in Rhode Island.
However, this does not mean that workers who are injured have no way to get payment for their injuries. Depending on the facts of the case, a worker who has been labeled an independent contractor may be eligible to seek payment through a work injury lawsuit.
Independent Contractor vs. Employee
An independent contractor is hired by an employer to do a specific job for an agreed-upon rate. Contractors are not only exempt from workers’ compensation but also unemployment, overtime, and other work-related benefits. As a result, employers often wrongly classify employees as independent contractors. So, if you’re injured while working, you should closely examine the terms of employment to determine if you fit the definition of an independent contractor. Contractors differ from employees because they:
- Are free to work for other employers
- Have a signed contract outlining the responsibilities of the worker and employer
- Are free to perform work at the time and manner they prefer
- Perform work that requires a particular or specialized skill
- Set their own hours and use their own tools
- Can be paid either by the job or by the hour
- Do not have a long-standing working relationship with the employer
- Operate their own business or have their own employees
Even if an injured worker is an independent contractor, he or she can still get compensation. Unlike regular employees, contractors are not barred from suing an employer for a workplace injury or illness. We can examine the facts of your case and advise you on the best way to move forward with your claim. Contact our work injury attorneys today to schedule your no-obligation consultation.