What you should do if you suffer a work injury in Birmingham or elsewhere in Alabama
Birmingham, Alabama, was founded in 1871 through the merger of 3 pre-existing farm towns. In the subsequent decades, Birmingham became the largest iron and steel producer in the southern United States.
Today, Birmingham's largest employer is the healthcare industry. Major hospitals in the city include University Hospital, Trinity Medical Center, St. Vincent's Birmingham, St. Vincent's East, Princeton Baptist Medical Center, Birmingham VA Medical Center, and Children's of Alabama.
Whether you work for the healthcare industry or some other industry in Birmingham, your employer probably carries workers' compensation insurance.
What is workers' compensation insurance?
Workers' compensation (or "workers' comp") is a form of insurance that provides financial benefits to employees who are injured on the job.
There are 3 important things to understand about workers' compensation:
- Workers' compensation is an exclusive remedy. In other words, by accepting workers' compensation benefits, you waive your right to sue your employer for your workplace injury (in most cases).
- Workers' compensation is a no-fault insurance system. Injured workers can receive benefits regardless of who's at fault for their injury.
- You must file a workers' compensation claim to receive benefits. If you're injured on the job, you won't automatically receive workers' compensation benefits. Instead, you'll need to file a workers' compensation claim.
Does your Birmingham employer carry workers' compensation coverage?
The Alabama Workers' Compensation Act requires almost all Alabama employers that employ 5 or more employees (full or part-time) to carry workers' compensation insurance.
Employers that are exempt from carrying workers' compensation coverage are as follows:
- Employers in the business of constructing single-family, detached residential dwellings
- Employers of domestic employees (e.g., housekeepers)
- Employers of farm laborers
- Employers of casual employees (e.g., temporary workers performing work that is not part of the employer's regular business)
To determine whether your employer carries workers' compensation coverage, you can use the Alabama Department of Labor verification tool.
Simply type the name of your employer into the tool to find out whether your employer has active workers' compensation insurance, the name of your employer's insurer, and their policy number.
What injuries are covered by workers' compensation?
Most injuries and illnesses are covered by workers' compensation insurance so long as the injury or illness arose out of your employment and was not self-inflicted.
An injury arises out of your employment if:
- There is a relationship between the employment and the accident;
- The injury occurs within the period of employment;
- The injury occurs at a place where the employee may reasonably be; and
- The injury occurs while the employee is fulfilling the duties of their employment or is engaged in something incidental to their duties.
An injury isn't considered to have arisen out of your employment if it occurred at work but would have occurred anywhere (such as a heart attack caused by high cholesterol). Mental health conditions are generally not covered in Alabama unless the employee can prove that the stress related to the job was a "substantial contributing factor to the onset of the illness."
Workers' compensation covers both traumatic work injuries and occupational work injuries:
- Traumatic work injuries are those that result from a 1-time accident at work (e.g., suffering a back injury as a result of a fall from construction scaffolding).
- Occupational injuries occur over a period of time (e.g., repetitive movement injuries).
Somer Smith, who was married to Jacob at the time of the accident, regularly joins ALDOT for Work Zone Awareness campaigns.
"When you pass the work zones and don't move over or you don't slow down, you are putting people's loved ones at risk, you could potentially take away a brother, a sister, a mother, a father," said Somer.
What benefits does workers' compensation provide?
In Birmingham, injured workers can receive the following workers' compensation benefits:
- Reasonable and necessary medical expenses (doctor visits, hospital bills, prescriptions, crutches, artificial members, etc.)
- Wage loss benefits
- Death benefits for certain dependents
Wage loss benefits are calculated according to the nature of the injury, with injuries falling into 1 of 4 categories:
If you're able to return to part-time or light-duty work while you're recovering but earn less than your normal wages, you may be eligible for temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits. TPD benefits are two-thirds of the difference in your average weekly wages (subject to an ever-changing statutory maximum).
TPD benefits are paid when you return to work and cannot exceed 300 weeks.
If you're temporarily unable to work, you may be eligible for temporary total disability (TTD) benefits. TTD payments are two-thirds of your average weekly wages (subject to an ever-changing statutory maximum).
There is no maximum number of weeks that TTD may be paid.
If you suffer a permanent injury but are still able to work in some capacity, you may be eligible for permanent partial disability benefits. Your award will be based on the permanent impairment rating assigned to you by your doctor, as well as a state schedule that lists degrees of impairment based on loss of use of certain body parts.
PPD benefits cannot exceed 300 weeks.
If you're totally and permanently disabled (i.e., you're unable to obtain gainful employment), you may be able to receive two-thirds of your average weekly wages (subject to an ever-changing statutory maximum).
There is no maximum number of weeks that PTD benefits may be paid.
Death benefits are determined by multiplying the employee's average weekly earnings prior to the accident by 50 percent (if the employee has 1 dependent) or by 66 ⅔ percent (if the employee has 2 or more dependents).
If the deceased employee has no dependents, then within 60 days of their death, the employer shall pay a 1-time lump sum payment of $7,500 to the deceased worker's estate. Additionally, the employer shall pay $6,500 toward the burial expenses of the deceased.
How do you file a workers' compensation claim in Birmingham?
There are 4 critical steps to filing a workers' compensation claim in Birmingham or elsewhere in Alabama:
- Notify your employer. Alabama law requires you to provide written notice of your injury to your employer within 5 days of the injury. The failure to provide written notice within 5 days may result in the denial of your workers' compensation claim.
When providing notice, avoid drawing any definitive conclusions about your accident or your injuries.
- Seek medical attention. Alabama law allows your employer to select your treating physician. This employer right begins the moment you provide your employer with written notice of your injury.
In most cases, emergency services will be covered even if they're not pre-approved or performed by the authorized physician. Accordingly, if you are facing a medical emergency, don't hesitate to call 9-1-1.
- Make sure your employer files the required form. Once you report your injury, it's your employer's responsibility to file a First Report of Injury Form (also known as "WCC Form 2").
WCC Form 2 includes information about your injury and how it occurred. It also includes information about your wages.
If your employer refuses to file WCC Form 2, you should contact an Alabama workers' compensation attorney or the Alabama Workers' Compensation Ombudsman Program as soon as possible.
- Appeal a bad decision. Unlike most states, Alabama does not have a court process available to hear workers' compensation disputes. Instead, you must file a lawsuit with the Alabama district court or attempt to resolve the dispute with the help of the Ombudsman if your claim is denied.
In either case, it's a good idea to consult with an experienced Birmingham workers' compensation attorney.
How do you find a Birmingham workers' compensation attorney?
A workers' compensation attorney can help ensure you receive the workers' compensation benefits you deserve.
Here are 7 signs you need to hire a Birmingham workers' compensation attorney:
- Your employer drags their feet or refuses to file the required forms. To receive benefits, your employer needs to file a WCC Form 2 with their workers' compensation insurer. If you've been injured, you can't afford to wait around for benefits. If your employer refuses to file a WCC Form 2 or drags their feet (the form is only 1 page and straightforward), it's time to involve a lawyer.
- You suffered a permanent disability that will prevent you from fully returning to work. Insurance companies are more likely to contest expensive claims, such as claims involving a permanent disability.
- Your doctor recommends treatment and the insurance company refuses to pay for the treatment. It's not uncommon for insurance companies to refuse to pay for necessary medical treatment. If this happens, you should contact the insurer and ask them to send you a written explanation as to why the payment was denied. If this explanation is insufficient, it's time to consult with an attorney.
- Your workers' compensation claim is denied. There are all sorts of reasons an insurer may deny your claim. For example, the insurer may claim your injuries were actually the result of a pre-existing condition or that you weren't injured while performing a work-related task. If you believe your claim is legitimate, it's worth fighting for your benefits.
- You plan to file for Social Security disability benefits. You can receive workers' compensation and Social Security disability benefits, but there are some additional hoops you'll need to jump through. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can help you navigate this complex situation.
- Your employer retaliates against you for filing a claim. Although many employers are sympathetic when an employee suffers an injury, some are not. If your employer attempts to convince you not to file a claim or retaliates against you for filing a claim, you should reach out to an attorney.
- You have a 3rd-party claim. Generally speaking, injured workers are prohibited from filing personal injury claims against their employers. Instead, injured workers must file workers' compensation claims.
However, an injured worker may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against a 3rd-party (anyone other than an employer or colleague) if the 3rd party's negligence contributed to or caused the injured worker's accident. In these situations, it's a good idea to hire an attorney to make sure you receive all the compensation you deserve.
Fortunately, there are Alabama attorneys who have spent their entire careers guiding injured workers through the workers' compensation system.
You can locate an experienced workers' compensation attorney in Birmingham using our free online directory.
Once you locate an attorney near you, click their profile to find out more about them, including their contact information, work experience and even client reviews.