Let me assure you from the outset that this has nothing to do with losing belly fat, curing diabetes with cinnamon, or buying real estate with no money down. An unlike these other enticing articles that make you wade through 30 minutes of hand-drawn illustrations before they tell you about that “One Old Trick”, I'll get right to it - - Communication with injured workers.
This is something that most workers comp professionals have known for a long time: generally speaking, most injured workers don't call the TV Plaintiff Attorneys because they want more money - - they call plaintiff attorneys to file a claim because the employer/carrier/tpa has not communicated with the claimant about benefits he can expect to receive or how the workers compensation process works.
I know this to be true because of what plaintiff attorneys tell me. When I have my first conversation with opposing counsel on a new claim, he or she will often say something along the following lines: "Brad, if your employer/carrier would have just explained to my client what was going on the claimant wouldn't have hired me to file a claim."
Once the plaintiff attorney tells the claimant about their workers compensation rights, the claimants then believe that they have "secret" information which creates a lack of trust towards the employer.
Listen, you can buy a kidney and find the schematics for a nuclear reactor online these days...and employers think that claimants can't find out about their workers comp rights? I have one word for you: GOOGLE.
So, why do many employers and carriers insist on giving claimants the “mushroom treatment” (kept in the dark and covered with....fertilizer)? I can think of 3 reasons.
First, many employers wrongly believe that communicating with the claimant about the workers comp process will encourage more claimants to hire attorneys and file claims. While this may seem intuitively correct, it is empirically false. Most claimants hire attorneys because of too little information, not too much.
I understand why employers have this concept. “If I have a safety meeting on what benefits injured workers receive when they file a comp claim, aren't I just teaching them how to get more money out of the workers comp process?” Legitimate concern. But once an employer understands that the motive to hire an attorney and file a claim is more often driven by uncertainly rather than greed (not always, but mostly), this concern tends to diminish.
Second, for workers comp professionals (HR directors, safety directors, adjusters, defense attorneys, nurse case managers, etc.) we know the workers comp process inside and out. We know all of the acronyms, we know the sequence of events, and we even know a lot of great big medical terms that sound really cool at parties (Epicondylectomy and Acromioclavicular are two of my favorites).
It is easy to forget that to a claimant experiencing his first work-related injury, he has NO IDEA about how doctors are chosen, how TTD benefits are calculated, or what MMI even means. Since we often fail to discuss comp rights and benefits with claimants without using the legalese and comp terminology that we throw around on a daily basis, the claimant becomes more confused than a dad reading a bicycle assembly guide translated from Chinese. "I don't know what that means and I don't know why that is important."
Third, I've been told by plaintiff attorneys that many claimants are treated from the outset of the claim as if their claim is fraudulent. Don't misunderstand me, I've seen my fair share of fraudulent claims - - most workers comp professionals have. But I also know that every claim is not fraudulent. The challenge is spotting the fraudulent claims that are hidden within the legitimate claims. If employers or carriers treat every claimant as a fraud even before there is evidence of fraud, we're giving free advertising to plaintiff attorneys.
I say bypass the cloak and dagger approach, tell the employee's up-front about what to expect, and watch the volume of litigated claims go down. Now, if I could only find that “One Old Trick” to regrow hair!
About the Author
J. BRADLEY YOUNG is a partner with the St. Louis, Missouri law firm of Harris, Dowell, Fisher & Harris, where he is the manager of the Worker's Compensation Defense Group and represents self-insured companies and insurance carriers in the defense of workers' compensation claims in both Missouri and Illinois. Brad is a frequent Conference Speaker and can be regularly heard on KMOX radio in St. Louis discussing a wide variety of legal topics. You can email Brad at email@example.com .
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