Much of Michigan’s famed factory work was built on the pure sand from Lake Michigan and the waterways that support that Great Lake. Foundries turned the pure sand into molds for everything from military parts to equipment for automobiles.
Businesses thrived in places like Muskegon and so did workers compensation attorneys representing mostly union workers injured in accidents at those factories.
Fred Bleakley remembers those days. He started workers compensation practice in Muskegon in 1985 when “there were more than 30 workers comp lawyers in town, and we filed about 40,000 cases a year in Michigan,” he said.
“Now, there are three workers comp lawyers in Muskegon and maybe 5,000 cases in the state.”
Muskegon, like a lot of factory-based towns, underwent an economic slowdown when many of its jobs were shipped overseas. It took a while, but the city is making a comeback with automation, robotics, building smaller parts and a more diverse workforce and industrial base reviving the city.
The new companies are far less labor intensive, but still not immune from workplace accidents. And the laws governing workers compensation have gotten increasingly difficult to understand, meaning Bleakley and others who persevered, still have plenty to do.
“Like everything else in Muskegon, our business has had to go through a whole transition to survive,” Bleakley said.
“Now, we use the phone or Zoom meetings to conduct a lot of the business that we used to have to do in person. Less driving around means I can handle a lot more cases in a lot less time and still provide outstanding service to my clients.”
» More about: Workers Comp Benefits in Michigan
Reasons to Hire a Muskegon Workers Comp Attorney
The most obvious reasons to hire a Muskegon workers compensation lawyer are that injured workers won’t know the latest changes in the law, be aware of the most recent rulings or know how to get the best results in front of a magistrate.
Those are obvious reasons.
It’s the not-so-common signs that things are getting so complicated — or very soon will be — that you’ll need an attorney to lead you through the process.
“The client doesn’t always see the big picture and how all the benefits interact with each other,” Bleakley said. “Even if he injured worker is being voluntarily paid, there almost always is some benefit the carrier neglected to pay and we help them get those benefits.”
Bleakley listed a few warning signals that it’s time to contact an attorney:
- The company or its insurance carrier tries to control the doctor you see and when you see them.
- The doctor recommends testing, and the carrier won’t authorize it.
- Your medical bills aren’t being paid.
- The insurance carrier or your employer says the injury didn’t occur at work.
- 30 days go by, and you haven’t received a check for lost wages.
- You are assigned a nurse case manager who seems to work for the insurance carrier.
- You go to a medical appointment and the nurse case manager does all the talking.
- You receive notice that the carrier is disputing your claim.
“Anytime you have a claim, it’s a good idea to consult with a workers comp lawyer so you know your rights and the benefits you’re entitled to,” Bleakley said.
What Does a Workers Comp Lawyer in Muskegon Do?
It’s not uncommon for an injured worker to think they can handle their workers compensation case. What’s it take anyway? Fill out a claim, get medical benefits and lost wages paid by the insurance carrier and go back to work, right?
That is the case a majority of time, but what happens if your employer or the company’s insurance carrier disputes the claim? What happens if the case goes to trial? Can you do the things a workers comp lawyer does, like:
- Know the legal procedures involved in filing a case
- Know the rules of evidence and how cases must be presented
- Know the statutes that apply to the area of law being disputed
- Know the burden of proof
- Know the deadlines for when things have to be submitted or objections raised
- Know the doctors to be called as expert witnesses
- Know the questions that need to be asked of witnesses
- Know what is needed to have an appellate judge grant benefits on appeal
- Have the resources needed to fund a workers comp case
“I’ve handled and reviewed thousands of cases in my career and never once have I seen or even heard where a worker came out ahead by not hiring an attorney,” said Bleakley, who has been practicing workers compensation for 35 years. “Even magistrates have told me they have never granted benefits to an injured worker that didn’t have an attorney.
“I just don’t think it’s possible to handle a workers comp case successfully without an attorney these days.”
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Workers Comp Attorney in Muskegon?
The quick answer to how much it will cost to hire a workers comp attorney is easy.
“Nothing!” Bleakley said, emphatically. “People need to know that calling a workers compensation attorney is not going to cost them any money. We don’t get paid by the hour so you’re getting free advice on the first visit. We only get paid if we win your case and there is a lot better chance of winning if we start on the case early.”
That’s because Michigan is contingency fee state, which means that a workers comp attorney only gets paid if he/she wins or settles the case. The lawyer pays the costs of preparing the case, which could include expert witness testimony, obtaining medical records and interviewing witnesses. Those costs get reimbursed, but usually only if the attorney wins the case.
Technically costs are the obligation of the client, but in an unsuccessful case, trying to collect from the client is just not practical or likely even possible.
The state of Michigan has laws governing attorney fees in workers comp cases. The attorney will be paid based on the outcome in one of three categories:
- Redemption while benefits are being voluntarily paid: This is where the settlement occurs while the insurance carrier is voluntarily paying the claim. The attorney receives only 10% of the settlement award.
- Redemption before trial: Most litigated workers comp cases end in settlement, meaning there is an agreement on the amount the carrier will pay. In a settlement, the attorney receives 15% of the first $25,000 awarded and 10% of any money over that.
- Trial: If the case goes to trial, no medical and/or wage benefits have been paid and the attorney wins the case, he/she is reimbursed for expenses and receives up to 30% of the award. Not of the whole reward, just the accrued compensation benefits ordered by the magistrate.
Handling a Workers Comp Case on Your Own in Muskegon, MI
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 Compensation Claim in Muskegon
An employee injured in the workplace should report it to a supervisor immediately, regardless of the severity of the injury, and promptly seek medical assistance. It is in everyone’s best interest to document an injury and have it treated as quickly as possible.
If you report the injury to your employer, it is their responsibility to inform their insurance carrier. If the injury keeps you out of work for more than seven days, the employer must report it to Michigan’s Workers Disability Compensation Agency (WDCA).
Michigan laws say that the injured worker must see and be treated as needed by the employer’s designated physician or medical facility for the first 28 days following an accident. Beyond that, injured employees can choose their own doctor, but only after notifying the employer and insurance carrier.
If possible, the employee should take note of the time, location and cause of the accident, as well as the names of employees who witnessed it. If you have a smartphone available, it is extremely helpful to take pictures that help document the situation.
The more complete your documentation of the incident is, the easier the claims process will be.
Employer’s Responsibility for Filing Claim
It is the employer’s responsibility to notify their insurance carrier when an employee is injured on the job site. If the recovery period for the injury is going to last more than seven days, the employer also must file Form WC-100 with the state’s Workers’ Disability Compensation Agency.
Form WC-100 asks for basic information (employee’s name, address, social security number, etc.) as well as the employer’s general business information. The form asks questions about where and how the accident occurred and descriptions of the injury, so it is best to have conducted at least a cursory investigation of the incident before filling out the form.
If, for any reason, your employer chooses not to file a workers compensation claim form, you may do so yourself. Form WC-117 is available on the state website, along with other forms pertinent to your claim.
Insurance Carrier’s Responsibility for Claims
If an employer is covered by workers compensation insurance, the carrier claims adjusters will take over the investigation. The insurance carrier’s adjuster will determine what benefits the employee qualifies for and notify both the employee and employer.
If the employer is self-insured, the case typically will go through a workers compensation department within the company or be sent to an outside agency that handles workers compensation claims.
What Happens If a Workers Comp Claim Is Disputed?
If an injured worker or the insurance carrier disputes the claim, it goes to the Workers Disability Compensation Agency for resolution.
If the worker does not have a lawyer, there is a facilitation process. The WDCA tries to help the two parties reach a resolution and Nolish says that happens most of the time.
However, if the facilitation process does not resolve the matter, or the worker has a lawyer, the case is referred to a magistrate, who serves as the judge. Workers compensation cases in Michigan are bench trials. There is no jury.
Michigan is a wage-loss compensation case state. Not only do you have to prove that the injury arose out of and was in the course of employment, but as a result of that injury, you are losing wages.
The magistrate makes the final decision on the matter. There is no jury in a workers compensation case.
The trial includes documents, witnesses and medical testimony. The magistrate has 42 days to reach a verdict and write a detailed opinion on what they found.
The vast majority of reported work-related injuries are compensated in these cases. However, Alpert says that is not always the case with significant work-related injuries.
“The laws need to be rebalanced to be more equitable to injured workers,” Alpert said. “Workers gave up the right to sue for pain, suffering and employer’s negligence. In return, they are supposed to be guaranteed benefits and it’s supposed to be simple to get them, but there has been a complete reversal of that. It’s not simple anymore.”
How to Appeal a Workers Comp Claim in Muskegon
Either party in a workers compensation case can dispute the magistrate’s decision but be prepared for a long process that may take up to a year to reach a final decision.
The first step in the process is to file an administrative appeal with the Workers’ Disability Compensation Appeals Commission. The group is made up of three commissioners appointed by the governor.
The WDCA appeals commission will look at record as a whole to see if the decision was based on competent material and substantial evidence. The appeals commission could affirm the original verdict; it could ask for additional testimony and fact finding or it could reverse it.
If two of the three commissioners agree on an outcome, that is the outcome. The reversal rate is not very high.
If either side wants to appeal beyond that, it must ask the Michigan Court of Appeals to review it. The Court of Appeals can choose to review the case or deny the application. Very few cases get that far. The Court of Appeals addresses errors in law that may have been made by the magistrate or appeals commission.
The last stop in the appeal’s process is at the Michigan Supreme Court, which also is by application for leave to appeal, but it is rare for a case to reach that level.
- N.A. (ND) Michigan Workers’ Disability Compensation Agency Annual Report. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/documents/leo/wdca_2019_Annual_Report_685356_7.pdf
- N.A. (ND) Michigan Workers’ Disability Compensation Rights & Responsibilities. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/documents/wca/wca_WC-PUB-006_338137_7.pdf
- N.A. (ND) Labor and Economic Opportunity Workers FAQs. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/leo/0,5863,7-336-94422_95508_79556_79557—,00.html
- N.A. (ND) Right and Responsibilities under Michigan Workers’ Compensation. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/documents/wca/wca_WC-PUB-001_306927_7.pdf
- N.A. (ND) Workers’ Disability Compensation Agency Publications. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/leo/0,5863,7-336-94422_95508_26918—,00.html
- N.A. (ND) Workers Disability Compensation Appeals Commission. Retrieved from N.A. (2000, November) An Overview of Workers’ Compensation in Michigan. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/leo/0,5863,7-336-94421_17495—,00.html