Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides benefits to injured workers. Although workers’ compensation is recognized in every state, the laws are complex and vary significantly from state to state.
What’s more, Colorado workers’ compensation laws were enacted during the industrial revolution and, needless to say, the laws have changed a lot over the last century.
For these reasons, there’s a lot about workers’ compensation that Coloradoans simply don’t know.
Let’s help fill the knowledge gap by looking at 5 little-known facts about workers’ compensation in the Centennial State.
Colorado workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance system.
When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you need to prove that someone was at fault for the accident that caused your injuries in order to receive compensation. But when you file a workers’ compensation claim in Colorado, this isn’t the case.
When an employee is injured on the job in Colorado, fault isn’t taken into account. The injured employee only needs to prove that:
- The employer has workers’ compensation insurance,
- The injury occurred while on-the-job, and
- The injury is covered under the workers’ compensation statute.
You can’t sue your employer for a work-related injury if you receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers’ compensation is considered an “exclusive remedy” for workers in Colorado. This means that a worker can’t sue their employer for a work-related injury if they’re receiving benefits from workers’ compensation.
While a lot of people think workers’ compensation is solely a benefit for employees, Colorado workers’ compensation laws were actually enacted as a compromise between employees and employers. The injured worker is entitled to benefits regardless of fault and, in exchange, the employer gets protection from civil lawsuits.
Your employer might be exempt from carrying workers’ compensation insurance.
In Colorado, most workers are covered by workers’ compensation insurance, but not all.
The following is a partial list of occupations and/or individuals that may be exempt from mandatory coverage under Colorado’s workers’ compensation laws:
- Individuals who perform certain casual maintenance or repair work for a business for under $2,000 per calendar year
- Individuals who perform certain tasks for a private homeowner on a less than full-time basis
- Licensed real estate agents and brokers working on commission
- Independent contractors (except most independent contractors who perform work on a construction site)
- Any person who volunteers time or services for a ski area operator
- Railroad employees (there is a separate federal statute that covers railroad-employee injuries)
What’s more, the exemptions listed in the Act are stated generally; it’s important that you speak to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to see if an exemption applies to your specific situation.
You can receive workers’ compensation benefits for a mental injury.
You can, of course, receive workers’ compensation benefits for a physical injury (such as a broken leg or back injury). But few people know that you can also receive workers’ compensation benefits for a mental injury (such as anxiety or depression).
In order to receive workers’ compensation benefits for a stand-alone mental claim, you need to show that you suffered a “psychologically traumatic event that is generally outside of [your] usual experience and would evoke significant symptoms of distress in a worker in similar circumstances.”
What constitutes your “usual experience”?
Colorado law clarifies that a workers’ usual experience includes disciplinary action, work evaluations, job transfers, lay-off, demotion, promotion, termination, and retirement.
With that in mind, here are some mental injury claims that are likely to result in compensation:
- An anxiety disorder claim based on an employer’s outrageous intimidation tactics
- A depressive disorder claim based on harassment and retaliation suffered after the employee testified on behalf of a co-worker
- A fireman’s PTSD claim after witnessing a fellow firefighter fall to their death
And here are some mental injury claims that are unlikely to result in compensation:
- A retail manager’s claim for panic attacks resulting from stress due to increased responsibilities associated with a store transfer
- An executive’s claim for anxiety due to poor performance reviews
You can receive help with your workers’ compensation claim even if you don’t think you can afford an attorney.
Although you’re not required to hire an attorney to help you with your workers’ compensation claim, you have the right to do so.
What if you can’t afford an attorney?
First, it’s important to understand that most attorneys offer free initial consultations. On top of that, Colorado workers’ compensation attorneys generally work on a contingency fee basis. This means that you don’t pay any fees unless and until you recover benefits from the insurance company.
In addition to lawyers, there are others who may be able to help you with your claim, including:
- Your immediate supervisor
- Your department workers’ compensation liaison
- Your claims adjuster
- Workers Compensation Division of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment
While these other people and agencies exist, it’s important to realize that only your attorney has a legal obligation to make decisions based on your best interests.
If you’ve been injured in a work-related accident, your best option is to contact an experienced lawyer who specializes in these types of cases as soon as possible.