Perhaps the single biggest obstacle, which an injured worker encounters when filing a workers’ compensation claim, is an alleged failure to report the claim. While the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act requires an injured worker to give notice as soon as practicable after an injury, and to file a claim within 4 years of the time when one knows or should know that he or she has suffered an injury caused by employment, technical compliance with the law is not the real problem. Rarely does one wait too long to file a claim. The problem that arises is a failure to report an accident on the day it occurs. The best way to understand this problem may be by way of the following example.
It is late in the day on Friday when John feels pain in his low back when lifts a heavy box at work. Rather than tell his supervisor, he assumes the pain will go away over the weekend, and chooses not to make a big deal out of it. Saturday morning John wakes up and has such bad back pain that he needs help to get out of bed. He goes the local emergency room and is told that he should not work until he seeks a neurologist or orthopedic surgeon.
John follows this advice, and calls work on Monday to inform his supervisor that he cannot work because he hurt his back the preceding Friday at work. Before John has a chance to explain what happened, the supervisor asks him what he did over the weekend to injure himself. The insurer then adopts the supervisor’s statement, and uses it to argue that the employee injured himself at home, and not at work.
The lesson to be learned form this example is that one should report all injuries no matter how minor they appear to be. In most instances, the effects of a minor injury are gone within a few days. However, if what seems to be relatively minor takes a turn for the worst, a difficult situation can be made easier if it has been reported.
Many companies have policies for reporting on the job injuries. These should be followed. Often times the reporting requirement involves the completion of a form. Follow the company policy, and it may help you to avoid a problem down the road. Additionally, the completion of such a form most likely serves to satisfy the notice requirements under the Workers’ Compensation Act if the information requested in the company form includes the identity of person who has been injured, and gives the time, place and cause of the injury.
Failure to give notice does not prevent the successful filing of a claim. The filing of a claim with the Department of Industrial Accidents, in many instances, satisfies the statutory notice requirements if the claim is filed in a timely manner. The safest course of action in all instances, however, is to follow company policy and report all accidents. If your employer or its insurer tells you your claim is barred because you failed to provide notice, do not accept that statement as true. Seek legal advice as soon as possible.
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