Delaware Workers’ Compensation Benefits – Show me the money!

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heather_long_sq_as11By: Heather A. Long, Esq.

In Delaware, an injured worker is entitled to 7 basic benefits under Workers’ Compensation laws: medical expenses, disability payments for lost wages in the form of temporary total, temporary partial or permanent total disability, mileage reimbursement, scarring and disfigurement benefits, and permanent impairment benefits.

Often, when an injured worker makes a claim for Workers’ Compensation benefits, they will be receiving funds from several of those sources listed above.

Most of the above sources are “pay as you go” types of benefits, where the injured worker gets paid as the benefits are earned.  Mileage reimbursement is a great example of this.  For this benefit, the injured worker gets paid 40 cents for every mile traveled to and from their doctor appointments. Typically, the worker keeps a log of their mileage and then submits that to be paid every month or so.  This way, they get paid for the mileage as the benefits are accrued.

Other “pay as you go” benefits are medical expenses and the temporary disability payments for lost wages.  Other benefits, such as the scarring and disfigurement and permanent impairment benefits are paid out in a one time lump sum.  Those benefits don’t become earned until some significant time has passed after the injury, and the injured worker has reached “maximum medical improvement.”  In other words, the injury is as good as it is going to get.

There may come a time during the course of the work injury claim that either the injured worker or the employer wants to settle either all or part of a claim now, instead of when the benefits become due.  This is called a Commutation of Benefits.  A commutation of all of an injured worker’s benefits is likewise called a “Full Commutation,” while a commutation of less than all of the benefits is called a “Partial Commutation.”

Commutations can be risky, especially when they are meant to settle either the medical expense benefits or the disability benefits for lost wages because the injured worker is essentially giving up their right to future payments of medical bills and wages for a lump sum amount.  The lump sums are often attractive and enticing in that they offer a larger amount of money up front, rather than collecting the funds at a set rate every two weeks over a longer period of time.

Any offer to commute the medical expense or disability/ wage part of an injured worker’s claim should be thoroughly reviewed so that the risk to the injured worker is minimized.  At the very least, a consultation with a lawyer that specializes in Workers’ Compensation law should take place so that a proper risk analysis can be made.  As a general rule, however, I never recommend commutation of medical expenses to anyone who does not have steady and reliable health insurance.  This way, if any unforeseen conditions related to the work injury develop later on down the road, there is not as much fear that the injured worker will be unable to receive the medical treatment that they need.  Likewise, I never recommend commutation of disability or wage benefits unless my client and I have a good idea of how long their injury is expected to keep them out of work, and whether or not they have a job to which they can return.

Once a decision has been made to commute either the medical expenses or the disability/wage benefits, combining that with a commutation for the scarring and disfigurement or the permanent impairment benefits can increase the injured worker’s lump sum payments, without increasing the risk to the injured worker by very much.  That is because the scarring and disfigurement and the permanent impairment benefits are almost always lump sum payments anyway, so the values of these claims usually remains at a set amount.  The one thing that has to be done prior to commuting the permanent impairment benefits, however, is the injured worker has a proper evaluation done by their doctor, and the doctor must tell them what their percentage of impairment is to the injured part of their body.  Then, that percentage can be plugged into a calculation and a good estimate can be made of the settlement value for this lump sum benefit payment.  Injured workers should never settle their permanent impairment without this evaluation by their own doctor- not their employer’s doctor.

Commutations of Workers’ Compensation benefits can be tricky to settle, and a consultation with a lawyer who specializes in this area will go a long way in helping you figure out whether your risk of settling your claim now is worth the reward of the lump sum payment.  All of the lawyers in my firm, including myself, offer free consultations for work injuries.  If you are presented with an offer to commute or settle any part of your work injury claim, the best thing you can do is have the offer evaluated by an attorney who fights for the rights of injured workers.  The consultations are free, and the insight into your claim could be invaluable to your future health and benefits.

Heather has been an attorney for over five years, and is currently practicing workers’ compensation and personal injury law at Kimmel, Carter, Roman & Peltz, P.A. with offices in Newark and Wilmington.  Heather worked her way through law school as a paralegal in a personal injury firm.  After passing the bar exam, she spent several years working as a defense attorney, representing local, regional and national companies.  With the knowledge gained of the inner-workings of these companies, she now represents injured workers and personal injury plaintiffs.

Heather is a graduate of Widener University School of Law, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Prior to attending law school, she was licensed as a paramedic and spent time volunteering for her local ambulance corps.  She is also active as a coach and judge for the Delaware High School Mock Trial Competition.

Heather is licensed to practice law in: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For more information, or to schedule a free consultation, please call
(302) 565-6100 or e-mail her directly at HLong@kcrlaw.com.

Testimonials:

“I really appreciate all the time and effort you spent on my case.  I will refer all my friends and family to you.” ~ D.M.

“You got my case settled at the perfect time!.” ~ G.M.

Heather Long_Pg_58_ad_Generic_CMYK_KCRP_3-2011-HR edited

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