Why Injured Workers Hire Attorneys (and What Employers Can Do About It)

September 18, 2012 Insurance Topics 21

Special thanks to myremoteradio.com for the pic.

(The discussion based on this blog was named a “manager’s choice” by Mark Walls, moderator of the Workers Compensation Analysis Group–LinkedIn’s largest workers’ compensation group. Thanks Mark!)

Workers’ compensation got started about a century ago to remove workers and their employers from the tort system when occupational injuries and deaths occurred. Unfortunately this oldest form of American social insurance remains highly litigious – and costly.

Attorney involvement in claims is expensive for injured workers and employers alike. Claims involving attorneys cost an estimated 30 percent more in expenses. And too often, workers do not understand they could stand to lose 10 to 25 percent of their compensation to attorney fees.

Hiring attorneys is often unnecessary. When employers do an effective job communicating to workers about workers’ compensation – especially the claims process — litigation can often be avoided.

The Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) published a study in 2010 that points to this reality. Forty-six percent of injured workers who hired attorneys said they did so because they felt the claim had been denied, according to the study, “Avoiding Litigation: What Can Employers, Insurers, and State Workers’ Compensation Agencies Do? (In full disclosure, WCRI is a client of Lipold Communications.)

It turned out, however, that these workers did not understand that their claims had not yet been accepted into the workers’ compensation claims process.

Insufficient information about what happens after a work-related incident occurs can breed fear. Twenty-three percent who hired attorneys strongly agreed they did so out of concern of being fired or laid off. Fifteen percent also strongly agreed that they needed an attorney because they were worried that their employers might consider claims as illegitimate. (By the way, the WCRI asked 6,823 injured employees with lost-time claims in 11 states that represent 46 percent of paid workers’ compensation benefits.)

Thankfully, there are ways that employers can minimize unnecessary legal action.

Employing a communication plan can discourage uncertainty and save thousands of dollars in potential workers’ compensation cases as I outlined in a previous blog. Training supervisors, also covered in a past blog, also makes a difference because they are often in the best position to communicate and set the tone for injured workers’ experiences.

Insufficient information about what happens after a work-related incident can breed fear.

Since the largest reason why workers hired attorneys was due to fear of their claims being denied, timely communicating a claim’s status should reduce the likelihood of attorney involvement. This reinforces my contention that workers need communication tools that explain the claims process, telling them what to expect and when. Employers would do well to make that investment.

Employers also need to communicate to workers in language they understand. Those interviewed in Spanish hired attorneys twice as often as those who were interviewed in English. Given that workers’ compensation is hard to understand for those of us who speak English, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for those who do not know the language well.

The WCRI study offers more reasons why workers hire attorneys. I’ll cover those in next week’s blog!

(Note: This is part of my ongoing series on What Every Employer Should Know About Workers’ Compensation. Check out the “workers’ compensation” in tag in the left-hand column for more tips.)