Adapted from Chapter 8 of my free book, The Wounded Worker: Inside the Pennsylvania Workers' Comp Maze:
To receive good representation, you must be an effective partner to your lawyer in handling your case. This is particularly urgent when you have no income and you need the judge to decide your case as quickly as possible. The following is a discussion of the key ways you can assist your lawyer.
- Provide your lawyer with complete information, including the full names and addresses of your family doctor and all medical providers with whom you have treated for your work injury, prior injuries or pre-existing conditions. The mere fact that you suffered an injury to the same body part previously is not necessarily significant because the aggravation of an old injury counts as a new injury in workers’ comp. Why is it so important to reveal this information as soon as possible? Think about it. You “forget” the name of the doctor who treated you for an old back injury, and your lawyer learns the day before you testify that he doesn’t have those records. Delay! You shouldn’t say anything to the judge unless you know what’s in the records, and your lawyer will probably ask the judge to re-schedule. If your case involves a neck injury and that old car accident involved your low back, what’s the problem? The problem is that your memory, like everyone else’s, sucks. Medical records always contain surprises, often unpleasant. Nothing makes an insurance company lawyer happier than finding medical notes that contradict you. Take particular care to see that the description of your condition and the circumstances underlying your work injury are consistent with the information contained in the medical records. Don’t make it easy for the insurance company lawyer to make you look like an idiot, or worse, a liar. Your lawyer and your physician will depend on you to provide accurate information concerning your injury and any possible pre-existing condition
- Reveal prior claims, including injuries suffered in motor vehicle accidents and other incidents (if your case involves an orthopedic injury). If you have ever made a claim at any time against anyone, including an insurance company, the workers’ compensation insurance company already knows about it even if you never filed suit, because they can do an “index check” of records maintained by insurance companies of all claims made by anyone. Your lawyer can’t get this information. Why? Because he represents you, not the insurance company, and they are not likely to hand that information to you.
- If you treated in an emergency room, discuss with your lawyer any significant differences between the facts recorded in the emergency room records and your recollection of the events.
- Identify all witnesses who have any information relevant to your claim.
- Disclose negative information to your lawyer, who can place these facts in their proper context. Do not let the insurance company use negative undisclosed information to undermine and embarrass you, your witnesses or your physician during questioning. The last place you want to be when talking about a conviction for theft is when an insurance company lawyer is grilling you in a courtroom.
- Get your medical records for your lawyer, but talk to the legal staff first. Lawyers swamp medical providers with record requests, which are handled in the order received. Under the best of circumstances, it can take a provider three weeks to a month to send records to your lawyer. Sometimes medical providers send the records months after the initial request is made. It is much faster for you to get these records yourself.
- If your lawyer needs a medical report from your doctor, ask your physician to respond promptly. Otherwise, it can take a physician weeks or even months to respond to such a request.
- If there is any change in your condition or treatment, including surgery, a recommendation of new methods of therapy, or you seek treatment from a new medical provider; let your lawyer know as soon as possible.
- Get wage records to your lawyer. To calculate your compensation rate, you must analyze the wages you earned during the 52 weeks before the date of your work injury from all employers you worked for at the time you were injured. Though your lawyer will request this information from the insurance company or its lawyer, they are often achingly slow to respond, and they will not get the wage records from your other employer. If you keep your wage stubs, put them in chronological order and provide them to your lawyer. Unless you have a complete set, however, the wage information you provide may be useless. In the alternative, go to your employer's personnel office to request a printout of the wages you earned during the 52 weeks before the date of your injury. If you had more than one job, get this information for each employer.
- Do not sign anything without first consulting your lawyer. This includes applications for any types of benefits, and any agreements concerning your benefits presented to you by your employer or its insurance company.
- Your lawyer may have a staff of paralegals and secretaries available to answer routine questions. Let your lawyer spend time productively preparing your case for trial. If a staff member can’t help you, talk to your lawyer.
- Keep track of health insurance payments, medical bills, health and welfare payments, and unemployment compensation payments. Be prepared to provide accurate and complete information, with supporting documentation, at a moment's notice. You never know when the insurance company may decide to pay your claim or offer to settle. If all information needed is available, a stipulation to settle your case can be prepared very quickly.
- If you decide to retire, return to work, leave work on disability or pension, or seek any type of benefits, you must consult your lawyer first.
- Keep track of wages you receive after returning to restricted duty. You may be eligible for partial benefits if you are earning less than before you were injured. Keep track of your wages and save your wage stubs. Place your wage stubs in chronological order so they can be presented to your lawyer in an orderly fashion on short notice. If you do not keep track of your wages, your lawyer will have to rely upon the insurance company lawyer, who has to get them from your employer, who will deliver them on the back of a snail.
- The insurance company and its lawyers may investigate your claim by interviewing your friends, neighbors, and co-workers, so avoid speaking about your claim to anyone other than your lawyer and the legal staff. Some insurance carriers and their counsel gather evidence the dirty way: they may hire investigators to take hidden photographs or videos of you. You need to live your life, but remember that a video may come back to haunt you.
- Watch out for social media One of the easiest ways to investigate your activities is to look you up on Facebook. The video of you power lifting 450 pounds is going to be as helpful to your case as your 50 posts complaining about your employer or the insurance company. Stay off Facebook.
- Due to your physician's busy calendar, it may not always be possible to schedule a deposition to take place as early as you would like. Furthermore, your physician may be called away to attend to medical emergencies, resulting in additional delays. If you discuss with your physician the importance of bringing your case to a swift conclusion, the doctor may be more willing to be flexible in scheduling a timely deposition.