Construction is big business in Philadelphia and, because of that, so is workers compensation.
The construction industry did nearly $17 billion in business in Philadelphia in 2020. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 87,660 construction workers in metropolitan Philadelphia and the average wage for them is $30.55 per hour.
While there are no comparative numbers for workers compensation, it’s fair to say that lots of building can result in lots of workers comp cases.
“Construction always has been a very large aspect to Philadelphia’s economy,” Catherine Surbeck, a workers compensation attorney for Freedman & Lorry law firm in Philadelphia, said. “The building trades create large wages and when injuries happen with large wage earners, you have large wage loss, so workers comp is really needed in our area.”
One of the major conditions that injured workers finally are coming to grips with is that filing a workers compensation claim doesn’t mean you just won the lottery. A law change in 1995 that allowed settlement for both wage loss and medical claims helped push the message that getting hurt on the job doesn’t mean you get a ticket on the lifetime gravy train.
“Workers compensation is meant to compensate workers while they recover from an accident and we hope they eventually will return to the workforce,” Surbeck said. “Before the law changed, it was common for cases to linger, sometimes for years.
“Now, we have the ability to settle cases in their entirety and I think that helps all sides. The insurer now knows what his costs are going to be and the worker can get a settlement and move on with their life.”
Reasons to Hire a Workers Comp Attorney in Philadelphia
There is one facet of Pennsylvania’s workers compensation laws that should shout to workers that they may need to consult a lawyer when they get hurt on the job: Your employer dictates the doctors you can see for the first 90 days of treatment.
To be fair, the employer must post a list of six doctors and you can choose one, but in a city the size of Philadelphia, it’s pure coincidence if one of those six is your regular doctor.
“That may not be a big deal if you’re treated for an injury and back at work in a day or two,” Surbeck said. “But what happens if you’ve got an injury that is going to take a while to heal? You want a doctor who’s on your side, someone who will listen to your complaints and work with you to make sure you receive treatment that will result in you getting better and ready to go back to work.
“Not getting the medical treatment you want is just one of the reasons you need a workers compensation lawyer.”
Some of the other signs that you may need an attorney to get all your benefits are:
- Your employer asks you not to file a claim and says that he/she will pay your medical bills.
- You start receiving unwanted bills for medical treatment.
- There are delays in receiving approval for medical treatment.
- The employer or carrier is disputing whether the accident was job related.
- You have been out of work for more than two weeks and not received any wage compensation.
- Your injury is serious enough that you may never return to work.
- Your employer retaliates against you for filing a claim.
“You may not need an attorney right away, but you do need someone monitoring your case so you have someone you can call if you feel your employer is not treating you well,” Surbeck said.
What Do Workers Comp Attorneys in Philadelphia Do?
If your work-related injury only means a few stitches to close a wound or an ice pack to relieve the pain from an injured knee, you probably don’t need a workers compensation attorney.
But what if your claim is denied? What if the doctor they’ve sent you to isn’t doing anything to relieve the aches or pains for your injured shoulder? What if the wage compensation check you receive seems a little light? Do you know all the benefits you are due and how to get them?
“We’ve had situations where a doctor says he charges $100 for treatment and the insurance carrier only paid him $50 so the injured worker owes him the other $50,” Surbeck said. “Not all workers understand that if your injury is classified as work related, you are not responsible for any of the bills.
“Looking out for how the benefits are applied is just one of the things we do for our clients.”
Some other things an attorney will do that the injured worker may not know how to do include:
- Manage the medical care.
- Help with the vocational training they should receive if they’re not able to return to their former job.
- Help if wage compensation checks are coming late, which is common.
- Run interference with the insurance company or employer. The worker doesn’t have to speak to them at all about the situation.
- File a claim and dispute, if necessary.
- Depose doctors and witnesses to present as evidence at a trial.
“If your car breaks down, don’t you call a mechanic and at least let them look at it?” Surbeck said. “We are experts in workers compensation. We know what needs to be done to be sure your claim is handled the way it should be.”
How Much Does a Workers Comp Attorney in Philadelphia Charge?
Pennsylvania workers compensation attorneys operate on a contingency fee basis controlled by statutory law which says the attorney will receive 20% of the benefits awarded to a client.
“In other words, we don’t get paid … unless you get paid,” Surbeck said.
You should know that if your case goes to either a mediator or judge – and you’re expecting a successful result – there is a lot of prep work involved. The workers comp attorney bears the cost, including research time, depositions for witnesses and doctors, travel costs, etc.
If you win the case, the insurance company will pay the costs for all that prep work. If you lose, it doesn’t cost you anything. The workers comp lawyer bears all the costs.
And judges must approve all attorney fees.
“I ask every client what their ultimate goal,” Surbeck said. “Do you want to go back to work for this employer? Are you done and ready to move on? Workers compensation is not going to be a financial home run for the rest of your life so what do you want to do next?
“Every case and situation is different, but you’re always better off with an expert in your corner so having one is worth what it costs.”
Handling a Workers Comp Case on Your Own in Philadelphia, PA
The first step in a workers comp case is to notify your employer. That will kickstart the process of filing a workers compensation claim. If your claim is denied, you have the option to appeal the decision.
Filing a Workers Comp Claim in Philadelphia
You have 120 days from the date you were injured to tell your employer. Do not wait that long.
Notify your employer of your injury as soon as possible. You can receive workers comp benefits from the date you were injured, but only if you report the incident within 21 days of its occurrence. If you wait more than three weeks to report it, you’ll receive benefits from the date you reported the injury.
Employer’s Responsibility for Filing Claim
Once you have lost a day, shift or turn of work, your employer has three days to file a First Report of Injury with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers Compensation. Your employer has to report your injury to its insurance company within 21 days of being notified of the incident.
Insurance Carrier’s Responsibility with Claims Form
If your employer’s insurance company accepts your claim, you’ll be issued a Notice of Compensation Payable and start receiving benefits. In some cases, the company will issue a Notice of Temporary Compensation Payable.
That means it hasn’t made a decision on your claim, but will pay benefits until it does. If the insurance company rules in your favor, it can still reverse its ruling within 90 days and stop paying benefits.
If your claim is denied, you’ll be issued a Notice of Workers Compensation Denial. Then you have the right to file a claim petition with the Bureau for a hearing before a workers compensation judge. You have three years to file such an appeal.
How to Appeal a Workers Compensation Claim in Philadelphia
If your benefits are denied, you have three years from the date of your injury to file a Claim Petition (LIBC-362). This is where an attorney could come in handy collecting information and presenting your case.
The case gets assigned to a workers comp judge, who will hear evidence from both sides during a hearing.
The judge will then schedule the case for mediation. During mediation, the two parties will try to negotiate a settlement.
If they aren’t able to reach an agreement, they may ask for an informal conference or settlement conference with the judge, who will issue a ruling.
Directions to the Workers Compensation Hearing Site in Philadelphia:
If the ruling goes against you and you choose to pursue your case, you can file an appeal with the Workers Compensation Appeal Board within 20 days of the judge’s decision.
Odds are the Appeal Board will not reverse the judge’s decision, since it gives judges a lot of discretion in deciding cases.
If the Appeal Board rules in favor of your employer, that decision can be appealed to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. Unlike the Appeal Board, the Commonwealth Court is not required to hear all cases. It takes cases with compelling legal issues, which amounts to about 10% of all appeals.