Few regions of the United States have experienced more economic reinvention than Northeastern Pennsylvania, with Scranton at its heart. But from 19th century coal miners and iron smelters to 21st century warehouse workers and truckers, one thing remains the same: Employees get hurt, or sickened, on the job.
When that happens, and workers compensation becomes a part of their lives, the good folks of the Lackawanna River Valley need to resist their instincts developed over generations.
“People in Lackawanna County are too trusting,” says attorney Todd O’Malley of Scranton-based O’Malley & Langan, founded in 1990. “They want to believe their employer has their best interests at heart. They give their best years to their companies; they want to believe the feeling is reciprocal.”
In fact, employers’ best interests involve protecting their bottom lines, which means — among other things — keeping their workers compensation insurance premiums as low as possible.
The region may have emerged from its sooty Industrial Revolution past, where laborers risked life, limb, and lungs in coal mines, iron smelters, and busy rail yards, but lots of work still involves repetitive lifting, shoving, and pulling — activities that strain joints and backs.
“We’re huge for serious back injuries,” O’Malley said.
No small number of the back problems are the result of workers who don’t mention that first, or second, or third tweak to their supervisors (or note it in a personal journal), and employers who don’t ask. That causes all sorts of problems when they get around to asking for workers compensation benefits.
“It’s frustrating for me,” O’Malley complains. “People come to us after 10 to 15 years with a worn-out back. And instead of catching it early, accommodating a strain, we’ve got a herniated disc.
“I blame the adjuster who didn’t give the worker the benefit of the doubt,” he says. “But it’s like they used to say in the commercial: ‘You can pay me now … or you can pay me later.’ ”
Signs You May Need a Workers Comp Attorney in Scranton
Just as real estate agents say it’s always time to have one of them on your side, car dealerships are always ready to put you in a new ride, and an accountant will tell you the time to prepare for an IRS audit is before you file your taxes, workers compensation lawyers recommend having legal counsel at the first sign of job-related pain — and maybe even before.
This last advice may be only slightly exaggerated. Ignoring an injury, however minor, connected to your employment is a good way — when things go south later on — of forgetting exactly when you first noticed the twinge, what you were doing, how you were doing it, and who was working with you.
O’Malley recommends writing things down. Detailed notes in the moment help keep your memory fresh and are a sign of conscientiousness in a legal setting. His firm shares a card with a list of job-related injury prompts on one side for employees to keep on hand.
“Take notes,” O’Malley says. “And tell somebody. If you’re still hurting three weeks later, you may get the wrong date or wrong time.”
Time that elapses between when you notice the beginning of a workplace injury and when you report it introduces an element of uncertainty that can work against you. Maybe you played in a recreational softball league tournament or wrenched something playing golf. Maybe you slipped while hiking or strained that muscle building a deck.
These are the sorts of questions your employer’s insurance carrier will ask. If you haven’t lined up an attorney, you may not know these are questions you don’t have to answer.
Other signs you need a lawyer:
- Your employer or your employer’s insurance carrier claims you weren’t injured (or sickened) at work.
- The insurance carrier denies your claim, for whatever reason.
- You’re not happy with the diagnosis or prognosis provided by the physician recommended by the insurance carrier.
- Your employer threatens, or even hints, you’ll be fired or demoted or otherwise poorly treated if you report your injury.
- You have been sidelined for more than two weeks because of the injury/illness, but you have received no wage compensation.
- The carrier pushes for a quick settlement — that’s a real red flag, O’Malley says. “The correct answer is, ‘Not now.’ ”
What Does a Workers Comp Attorney in Scranton Do?
With 50 years in the business, O’Malley knows his territory. From Scranton to Pittston and from Hazleton to Towanda, workers want to do the right thing, get healthy if they can, and get back to work as soon as possible. He also knows it’s rarely as simple as that.
A good workers compensation lawyer will come to know all the details of your case. The lawyer will already know the applicable law, the nuances of injury cases in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and who the players are.
Once the attorney is retained, (s)he will:
- Take depositions.
- Collect doctor’s notes.
- Cross-examine expert witnesses.
- Negotiate proper settlement terms.
- Apply case law precedents.
- Make certain all the bureaucratic work involving the clerk of court is managed.
The attorney also makes certain that everything happens in a timely fashion, well within the statute of limitations, while standing between the employee and his/her employer, the insurance carrier, and the other side’s legal representatives.
Is it worth it? Yes — if you have the right legal counsel.
Ask the Scranton K-9 police officer who suffered an on-the-job heart attack but was twice rebuffed by the system before coming to O’Malley, who readily recognized gaps in the case.
O’Malley filed to have the case reopened, presented a case without holes in it … and got the officer a $100,000 award.
How Much Does a Scranton Workers Comp Lawyer Charge?
The vast majority of workers compensation cases proceed on a contingency basis. That is, once retained, the attorney fronts all the costs and is paid no fee. Only when the injured worker wins a workers comp settlement is the attorney able to recover his/her expenses and collect a fee. What the lawyer is paid is contingent, or depends, on what the injured worker is awarded.
“A contingency fee is the key to the courthouse,” O’Malley says. “We understand you can’t afford $250 to $500 for the filing fees. And that’s just to get started.”
Other costs — depositions, witness interviews, copies of documents, doctor’s reports — are also part of the fees attorneys pay to build your case.
And if your case is unsuccessful?
“We eat those costs,” O’Malley says. “We take all the risk.”
If you win, the standard contingency rate for workers comp attorneys in Pennsylvania is a flat 20%.
Wait. There’s more.
Every workers compensation case is, potentially, a third-party case as well. It’s true that workers compensation law prevents suing your employer in civil court. However, if a worker’s injury, or workplace illness, is attributable to defective machinery or another company in partnership with your employer, or some outside agent, they may be financially liable.
“In Pennsylvania,” O’Malley notes, “the third party award may be larger — much larger — than the workers compensation claim.” In such situations, O’Malley says, it’s not unusual for the employer to take the side of the worker attempting to make a recovery.
These are not things an injured worker is likely to ferret out on his/her own — and it’s another reason not to go solo when filing a workers compensation claim.
Handling a Workers Comp Case on Your Own in Scranton, 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 Scranton
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 Scranton
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.Email: WCOAResourceCenter@pa.gov
Phone: (570) 963-4580
321 Spruce Street, Suite 310 Scranton, PA 18503-1814
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.
About The Author
Tom Jackson won dozens of national awards as a columnist for newspapers in Washington, D.C., Sacramento and Tampa. His writing has spread from business to politics to sports with an emphasis on community issues. Tom splits his time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C. with his wife of 40 years, a college-age son and a yappy Shetland sheepdog named Spencer. Tom can be reached at email@example.com.
- N.A. (ND) 2019 ANNUAL REPORT Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Safety. Retrieved from https://www.dli.pa.gov/Individuals/Workers-Compensation/publications/Documents/2019%20WC%20Annual%20Report.pdf
- N.A. (ND) The Flow of a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Claim Retrieved from https://www.dli.pa.gov/Businesses/Compensation/Documents/flow-of-wc-claim.pdf
- N.A. (ND) Calculating 21-Day Compliance. Retrieved from https://www.dli.pa.gov/Businesses/Compensation/WC/claims/Pages/Calculating-21-Day-Compliance.aspx
- N.A. (ND) Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.dli.pa.gov/Businesses/Compensation/appeals/Pages/FAQs.aspx
- N.A. (ND) 2021 Statewide Average Weekly Wage Announced. Retrieved from https://www.dli.pa.gov/Businesses/Compensation/WC/claims/Pages/Statewide-Average-Weekly-Wage-(SAWW).aspx
- N.A. (ND). Workers’ Compensation Coverage and Benefits. Retrieved from https://www.dli.pa.gov/Businesses/swif/claims/Pages/Coverage-and-Benefits.aspx