If you work for a company which employs five or more full time employees then your employer must abide by the Alabama Worker’s Compensation Act which requires your employer to: (1) pay for your related medical expenses; (2) pay 2/3rds of your average weekly wage while you are off work; and (3) pay for any permanent vocational impairment that you suffer. However, there is no coverage for employees who are injured while intoxicated or who violate a written safety policy. That is why employers often require a drug and alcohol test right when the injury occurs.
Although the law states that you have to provide your employer with written notice of your injury within 5 days of the date of the injury, cases have held that written notice is not required as long as the employer has “actual knowledge” of the injury. However, I would rather be safe than sorry so my advice is to always provide written notice of your injury as soon as possible.
Worker’s Compensation is designed to cover employees who are injured at work in almost every situation. As long as the injury arises out of and in the course of your employment you should be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits. For example, if you trip and fall over a box left in the hallway of your workplace and injure your knee you should be covered under worker’s compensation even if you were simply not paying attention to where you were walking. On the other hand if you smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and have a heart attack while sitting at your desk, chances are you do not have a worker’s compensation claim because your employment most likely did not contribute to your heart attack. However, if you are an electrician and receive an electric shock at work that triggers a heart attack then you should be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits.
You might think that it doesn’t really make sense for the klutz who tripped over the box to receive worker’s compensation benefits but there is a trade off here. The trade off is that as an employee you are prohibited from suing your employer for anything other than worker’s compensation benefits even if your employer does something that directly results in injury. Usually you have a right to bring a lawsuit when you are injured due to the negligence of someone else. And in a negligence lawsuit you can usually recover money for any damage you receive such as, medical bills, pain, suffering, mental anguish, lost wages, etc.. However, worker’s compensation benefits are calculated according to a formula which does not necessarily take into account your medical expenses, pain and suffering, or other factors.
In fact, many people are surprised to learn that there is a chart in the Worker’s Compensation Act that sets out specific values for certain injuries called scheduled injuries. For example, if you lose a thumb in an on the job accident the law states that you are entitled to 66 and 2/3rds percent of your average weekly wage (capped at $220.00 per week) for 62 weeks which equals $13,640.00. If you lose a foot in an on the job injury you are entitled to 66 and 2/3rds percent of your average weekly wage (capped at $220.00 per week) for 139 weeks which equals $30,580.00. Maybe it’s just me but I’d rather have my thumb than $13,640.00. Here are some other values: an index finger $9,460.00; a hand $37,400.00; an arm $48,840.00; a leg $40,000.00; loss of vision in one eye $27,280.00; loss of hearing in both ears $35,860.00. Under the formula the most that you can get if you are 99% vocationally disabled is approximately $66,000.00. As you can see, the Worker’s Compensation Act is in need of serious updating by the Alabama Legislature. Although the price of a new car has probably doubled in the 12 years that I have been practicing law the worker’s compensation formulas have not changed at all.
As in most areas of law there are always exceptions to these general rules and you should always seek the advice of an experience attorney if you receive an injury that requires you to miss work or a permanent injury on the job. One exception to the general rule that excludes lawsuits against your employer that you should be aware of is if your employer or a co-employee willfully or intentionally does something that results in your injury such as removing a safety device from a machine. Also, there is always a possibility that a third party such as a manufacturer of a piece of equipment may be responsible for injuries caused by that equipment. Most attorneys offer free consultations in injury cases so it never hurts to pick up the phone and get some advice about your particular case.