Coccidioides is a fungus that thrives in the soils of the southwestern United States and can be the starting point for a severe illness called Valley Fever.
Valley Fever results in night sweats, chills, cough, chest pain and rashes. Most people exhibit few, if any, symptoms, but others will take months to recover from it.
The farmers in Southern California know all about Valley Fever. When their land is disturbed, the fungus releases tiny spores into the air, putting them and their workers at a greater risk of contracting Valley Fever than the rest of the population.
“If we get a bad storm or have construction activity where the soil is being disturbed, these spores can find their way into the lungs of the people working out there,” said James A. Yoro, a senior partner specializing in workers compensation with the law firm Chain, Cohn & Stiles.
In 2018, nearly half of all Valley fever cases in the U.S originated in California. More than a third (38.9%) of those cases came out of Kern County, where Bakersfield is the county capital.
Along with energy production (oil), agriculture is a critical industry in Bakersfield. Around 13% of the population call themselves farmers, fishers, or forestry workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These industries make up the largest percentage of workers in Bakersfield. They also consistently rank among the most dangerous in America, making them prime candidates for workers compensation.
Reasons to Hire a Workers Comp Attorney in Bakersfield
Bakersfield is home to many labor-intensive industries. Residents working in these industries should understand the benefits of working with a workers comp attorney, should they suffer a work-related injury.
Getting injured at work sets in motion California’s highly-involved workers compensation process. If you’re dealing with a superficial injury, you may be able to handle the process solo. However, with a more serious injury or illness, like Valley Fever, the greater the likelihood you need an attorney.
“The people who get hurt in these industries usually have more serious injuries related to orthopedic conditions,” Yoro said. “That’s because of the nature of the work in particular, oil field work, agricultural, and warehouse work.”
When it comes to infections like Valley Fever, there are added complications workers may not be prepared for.
“The challenge is to establish that it occurred in the scope of employment,” Yoro said. “It has a latency period of 10-14 days. This makes proving you were infected at work complicated because you could be away from the job site for up to two weeks before feeling any symptoms.”
Here are situations when you know you need to contact a workers comp attorney:
- Your employer threatens to fire you if you report the injury
- Your employer or his insurance carrier disputes whether the injury happened at work
- You’ve been out of work two or three weeks after reporting the injury and haven’t heard a word from your employer
- You receive written notice from the carrier that they are disputing the claim
- Your injury is severe enough that you may never return to work
- Your employer retaliates against you because you filed a claim
- You had prior injuries to the same body part
- The insurance company admits one injured body part claim, but rejects another. For example, accepts a shoulder injury but rejects a neck injury
What do Workers Comp Attorneys in Bakersfield Do?
An attorney coordinates medical treatment, expediting the process and ensuring you receive proper care on time. They also hold the insurance company accountable for any necessary medical procedures. Lawyers know the legal angles from which to approach your case because they’re well versed in the nuances of the complex workers compensation system.
“When it comes time to do the medical-legal evaluation to determine the final outcome, an attorney is going to be crucial,” said Yoro, “particularly when it comes to deciding who that doctor might be.”
Injured workers seeking benefits must undergo a medical-legal evaluation. This includes a medical examination, the results of which directly impact the benefit amount you’re entitled to receive.
Without an attorney, the state may randomly select your medical evaluator. This means you’re leaving your treatment to chance.
If you hire a lawyer, they’ll have a say in the doctor to perform your evaluation. Workers compensation attorneys have industry insight, which means they often know which doctors favor insurance companies and which favor patients.
If there’s any dispute regarding your workers comp benefits, you need an attorney to bring the matter before a judge.
Here are more things a workers comp attorney can do for you:
- File the petition for the correct benefit and with sufficient specificity
- Conduct settlement negotiations with the insurance carrier
- Depose doctors involved in the treatment
- Depose claims adjuster representing insurance company
- Develop sufficient admissible evidence to carry the burden of proof
- Handle all preparations and meet all deadlines if the case goes to a trial
- Use experience with trial judges to know what expert witnesses to call
- Prepare your side of the argument, giving you the best chance of a favorable outcome
- If necessary, appeal the outcome
How Much Does a Workers Comp Lawyer in Bakersfield Charge?
Workers compensation attorneys can only charge clients for cases they win. If they lose the case, they don’t get paid. This means you only pay a workers comp lawyer when or if you receive a workers comp settlement.
The amount you pay can range from 9%-15% of the benefit amount. “It depends on the amount of work that an attorney does,” Yoro said. “The attorney doesn’t get paid until the end. When that happens depends on how long and how difficult it is to obtain the result.”
Without an attorney, you risk becoming a bystander in the process of determining your benefits. Most people have trouble confronting their boss even when they know they’re right. Likewise, not many have it in them to badger an insurance company into compliance.
“If you don’t have an attorney, you’re relying on the insurance company,” Yoro said. “The insurance company operates by reducing the liability they have on the cases they do have to pay on. In other words, the insurance company’s goal would be to pay as little as possible. “In essence, you’re a hen letting the fox determine your outcome,” Yoro said.
How to Handle a Workers Comp Case on Your Own in Bakersfield, CA
Most claims do not require the help of a workers comp attorney. When the system works as intended, you simply have to notify your employer to kickstart the process of filing a workers compensation claim. If things do not work out in your favor, you have the option to appeal a claim denial. This will require the help of a workers comp lawyer, but for reference, the step-by-step guide is detailed below.
How to File a Workers Comp Claim in Bakersfield
Employees injured on the job in Bakersfield should notify a supervisor immediately to ensure receiving benefits, including medical care. If the injury or illness developed gradually, it should be reported to the employer as soon as you believe it was caused by your job.
To protect your rights, file a claim form as soon as possible. Your employer must give or mail you a claim form within one working day after learning of your injury or illness. The California claim form can be downloaded online. Workers also can contact the Department of Industrial Relations’ Information and Assistance Unit online or by calling 1-800-736-7401.
Once you have the claim form, fill out the “employee” section, sign and date it, and send it to your employer right away. Always keep a copy. The claim form should be returned to the employer in person or by mail. If you mail the claim form, use certified mail (“return receipt requested”) so there is a record of the date it was mailed and received.
Failure to return the completed form to your employer puts you at risk of losing your right to benefits. If your employer does not give you a claim form, contact an information and assistance officer.
Employers Responsibility in Bakersfield Workers Comp Claims
Employers are responsible for completing the “employer” section of a claims form and forwarding the completed claim form to the insurance company. Employees should receive a copy of the completed claim form from their employer; if you don’t, request a copy and keep it for your records.
Deadlines for Bakersfield Workers Comp Claims
There are multiple deadlines for all parties a Bakersfield workers comp case and following them is essential to make sure your claim is processed efficiently.
The most important deadline for injured workers is reporting an injury or illness within 30 days of when you believe it incurred on the job. For most workplace maladies, determining when the injury occurred is simple enough, but repetitive-stress injuries or occupational diseases that occur gradually, can make that determination complicated.
For those cases, the timeline for reporting and filing your workers comp claim starts when the following happen:
- You first missed work or saw a doctor for the injury or illness
- You knew or should’ve known that it was caused by your work, generally because the doctor explained that to you.
Once your injury is reported and your completed claim form submitted to the insurance company, your employer must authorize medical treatment for you within one day, to a maximum of $10,000, while your claim is investigated. If that authorization is not provided, you should immediately contact California’s Information and Assistance Unit for help.
When the claim is submitted, the insurer has 14 days in which to mail you a letter with the status of your claim. Contact the insurer if you don’t receive a letter within 14 days.
If your employer does not deny your claim within 90 days, you can presume that your injury is covered. If the injury or illness forces you to miss work, you should begin receiving temporary disability benefits within 14 days after the insurer learns about the injury and your temporary disability. If the insurer doesn’t start the payments by then or respond to the claim by denying it or asking for more information, it will be required to pay a 10% late penalty on the disability payments.
How to Appeal a Claim Denial in Bakersfield
If your workers comp claim is denied, you can file an appeal with the state Division of Workers Compensation Appeals Board using this form. After completing the form, you must file it at the Bakersfield DWC office. You must serve the appeal to all other parties.
Phone: (661) 395-2723
1800 30th Street, Suite 100
Bakersfield, CA 93301-1929
The DWC office will send you a notice confirming that it has been filed. The notice will include your assigned case number, which will begin with the letters “ADJ” followed by a sequence of numbers. Use the assigned case number on all documents and correspondence.
Next, you must file a Declaration of Readiness to Proceed to request a hearing before a workers compensation administrative law judge. Your case will be scheduled for a hearing called a mandatory settlement conference (MSC). At the hearing, workers will want an experienced workers comp attorney in their corner.
The judge will discuss the case with you and your claims administrator and try to assist the both of you in reaching a settlement. If your case is not settled at the MSC, you will need to prepare documents that outline the dispute, identify the items each party will present at trial and the names of the witnesses that each party will ask to testify.
The trial will be held before another judge, and you will be required to attend. The judge will issue a written decision after the trial and send it to you by mail, usually 30-90 days after the trial. If either you or the claims adjustor disagrees with the judge’s decision, a Petition for Reconsideration can be filed.
If there is a disagreement between you and your claims administrator over the diagnosis of your injury by your treating physician or treatment plan, you most likely will need to request a qualified medical examiner (QME) to review your case and issue a medical-legal opinion. These are doctors that meet additional educational and licensing requirements
If the worker is represented by an attorney, the attorney may try to convince the claims administrator to agree to a doctor to review the case, known as an agreed medical examiner (AME). This can be a quicker more efficient process than a QME.
What to Do If Your Employer Does Not Have Workers Comp Insurance
It is illegal for an employer to run a business in Bakersfield without carrying workers compensation insurance. Those that fail to do so are subject to steep fines, having their business shut down, criminal charges, and even jail time for the employer.
If you believe your employer is not insured, contact your local Department of Industrial Relations Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) office and make a complaint. Go to www.dir.ca.gov/dlse to find a local office.
About The Author
Bill Fay has touched a lot of bases in his 45-year career. He started as a sports writer, gaining national attention for work on college and professional sports. He had regular roles as an analyst on radio and television and later became a speech writer for a government agency. His most recent work is as an internet content marketing specialist. Bill can be reached at email@example.com.
- N.A. (2020, May) Occupational Employment and Wages in Bakersfield. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/regions/west/news-release/occupationalemploymentandwages_bakersfield.htm
- N.A. (2021, October 10) How Common Is Valley Fever? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/coccidioidomycosis/statistics.html
- N.A. (ND) Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis) in Kern County. Retrieved from https://kerncountyvalleyfever.com/
- N.A. (2020, December 14) 25 Most Dangerous Jobs. Retrieved from https://www.facilities.udel.edu/safety/4689/