Settling Your Future Benefits Today!

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pip nc jas17 Heather A. Long

By Heather A. Long, Esquire

In Delaware, an injured worker is entitled to 7 basic rights under the Workers’ Compensation laws: medical expenses, temporary total wage disability, temporary partial wage disability, permanent total wage 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 most of those sources listed above.

Most of the above rights are “pay as you go” types of benefits, where the injured worker gets paid as the benefits are earned.  I usually give the example that each of those rights acts like a credit card in an imaginary “Workers’ Comp Wallet” of benefits.  So for example, when you are paid for your mileage benefits think of yourself pulling that “mileage” credit card out of your imaginary wallet and swiping it. That swipe not only gives you 40 cents/mile, but it also puts 5 years on your Statute of Limitations timeclock from the date the benefits are paid.  Swiping your imaginary credit cards for medical benefits, wage benefits and permanent impairment benefits also adds 5 years from the date of payment to your Statute of Limitations timeclock. Therefore, as long as your case has been accepted by the workers’ compensation insurance company, and you “swipe” one of the 7 imaginary credit cards every 5 years to keep the Statute of Limitations satisfied, you can hold on to your “Workers’ Compensation Wallet” of benefits for the rest of your life.

Some clients of mine ask if they can settle their entire case now, for one lump sum, rather than using their benefits as they earn them. This is called a Commutation. Going back to our “Workers Comp Wallet” of benefits analogy, a Commutation would be the equivalent of giving back your entire Workers Comp Wallet with all 7 rights (credit cards) inside, in exchange for a lump sum of money. Neither side can force the other into a Commutation settlement, so they only happen if both the injured worker and the insurance company agree to settle the case, and also agree on an appropriate settlement amount.

Commutations can be risky, especially when they extinguish medical or wage benefits. Oftentimes, though, injured workers prefer to be paid one lump sum up front, and have control of how that money is spent and what benefits it pays for. The lump sum payments are often attractive and enticing in that they offer a larger amount of money up front, rather than fighting for the benefits over a longer period of time. The downside of the tradeoff, however, is that future treatment is usually uncertain and workers may either be more injured than they are aware, or require more treatment than is expected.

Any offer to settle all or 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 done.

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 ten years, and is currently practicing Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury Law as a partner at Kimmel, Carter, Roman, Peltz & O’Neill, 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 about 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 a former mock trial coach for Friends and Salesianum and current coach for Newark High School.

 

Heather is licensed to practice law in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

For more information, or to schedule a free consultation, please call (302) 565-6132 or email her directly at HLong@kimmelcarter.com

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