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If you think it could not happen to you, think again. Each year, tens of thousands of Australians suffer a work injury in their place of employment and often, they are just going about their daily routine.
Whether you work with dangerous mechanical equipment, or whether your job is in a seemingly safe office environment, you never know when you could find yourself in a situation that might lead to temporary or permanent physical injury. The job situation may also be causing you serious stress, which could even lead to temporary psychiatric injury.
WorkCover is supposedly there to protect your rights as a person with a work injury. It is a system that claims to help injured employees obtain weekly payments and other benefits such as rehabilitation, medical expenses and lump sum compensation for the injury, including work injury damages where the injury has occurred as a result of the negligence on the part of the employer.
But Rossana Court, Principal Solicitor with Newport Law in Newport on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, has just one thing to say, “Do not trust everything you are told by your employer or their workers compensation insurer when it comes to your work injury entitlements.”
“People who are injured at work should immediately go and speak with a solicitor that is experienced in workers compensation to work out what their rights are, and not be bullied by insurance companies to settle a claim early or to just let a claim go.” Rossana, who has been running Newport Law since 2008, explains. “Sometimes people who receive a work injury are pressured by insurance companies and their rehabilitation providers to basically get them back to work and get them off their ‘books’. Some injured workers are even pressured to resign from work. They should not do anything until they see a solicitor.”
Workers who receive a workplace injury often do not realise that they can challenge what they are being told by the insurance company through the Workers Compensation Commission. It would be heartening to believe the insurance companies have our best interests at heart, but that is not always the case. Sometimes it might not be practical or good for an injured person’s long-term health to return to work early, or at all! And no matter how nice your claims officer may seem, Rossana warns that there is often a catch.
“The insurance company has an agenda to limit the claim and try to get the worker rehabilitated and back to work sooner than necessary,” says Rossana. “The insurance companies will tell you, ‘We will look after you, we will sort out a rehabilitation plan for you and pay all your treatment and medical expenses’. And people just accept what the insurance company says, without questioning.”
The truth is, you are often at your most vulnerable after the shock of a workplace injury. It can be frustrating and the temptation to return to work after injury as soon as possible, especially if you are nearing retirement, worried about losing your job, or your employer, insurance company or WorkCover-allocated treating doctor are making you feel your injury is not serious enough to warrant taking further time off work. It can be overwhelming.
But the fact is, you may be entitled to more financial assistance, both in the short and long term, than the insurers are offering you. And, like getting your injuries checked out by your own treating doctor, it’s incredibly important to get a second opinion.
“Certainly any worker that has been offered any lump sum compensation payment from the insurance company should go and seek legal advice first, to make sure it is in the right range,” says Rossana. “Also, workers are often not advised that they do not have to pay for legal advice. Ever. Legal fees are covered by the insurer, including the fees for obtaining medical reports.
“And if they have suffered a serious injury and they think the employer has done something wrong – that the employer has acted negligently and caused that injury – then the worker should definitely seek legal advice.”
Although the WorkCover NSW website offers workers who have received a work injury a do-it-yourself compensation option over the internet, Rossana repeats just one mantra, “Do not sign anything before you get proper legal advice!” And no matter how far down the road you are with your insurance company if you are yet to put pen to paper then it is never too late to seek that legal advice.
“It is a really complicated, complex system, the workers compensation system we have, and a lot of injured workers out there will try and do it on their own. It’s just tragic.” Rossana says, simply. “People, once they have received that letter from the insurance company saying ‘We are going to offer you this amount of money for your injury’, think that that is all they can get. Workers do not realise they can actually obtain their own independent medical assessment and, if necessary, dispute what the insurer is offering them. They just should not do anything until they get proper legal advice. And it is free, so there is really no excuse.”