Hurt at work? Avoid big mistakes and protect your rights by understanding these basic things about work injuries and Texas Workers’ Comp.
How Texas Worker’s Comp Works
Texas’ law doesn’t serve injured workers well. The system is designed to help employers (not employees). You’d think it’s practically illegal to get hurt on the job. But, you can protect yourself. Here’s what you need to know if you find yourself in a battle with your employer.
Do Texas Employers Have to Carry Workers Compensation?
No. Texas is actually the only state in the nation that doesn’t require employers of a certain size to carry workers’ comp. About ⅔ of Texas employers do have workers’ comp insurance. This means ⅓ don’t and you can include major corporations and small businesses alike in that ⅓.
How Do You Know if Your Employer Carries Workers’ Comp?
Texas law requires your employer to post a sign in either your break room or a common area that notifies you whether they have workers’ comp or not. However, many employers don’t do this. You can call the Texas Department of Workers’ Compensation at 1-800-252-7031 to check.
How Long Do You Have to Report an Injury at Work in Texas?
Report your injury immediately: Don’t delay one second, unless circumstances prevent you from doing so. You should even call your workplace from the emergency room, if you’re able (no joke). If your employer does not subscribe to Workers’ Comp, which is legal in Texas, they may have an insurance policy that requires you to report your injury within 24 hours. If your employer is a “non-subscriber,” as they’re called, and they won’t accept your report, shoot a video of yourself ASAP so you have a documented record, and fax form 41 to the Texas Department of Insurance. If you experience a minor injury that could turn into something big down the road, but you can work right now, report the work injury but don’t file a claim.
Can You Choose Your Own Doctor for Workers’ Comp in Texas?
If your employer does subscribe to Workers’ Comp, you do have the right to choose your own doctor. However, many doctors don’t take Workers’ Comp because insurance companies make it difficult to get paid. Call the doctor in advance to confirm they’ll see you if you have Workers’ Comp.
When you talk to the doctor, describe your injuries to the finest detail. Err on the side of too much rather than too little. Do so for both your past and present injuries. Once the doctor completes taking notes, ask to look at them. Why? Because doctors make mistakes and errors of omission sometimes which can lead to you losing your claim in the future (it happens). If the doctor won’t let you look, ask them to read their notes to you and make sure you make clarifications if needed.
Why Should You Collect Witness Information?
Make sure you collect witness information. Texas’ law puts the burden of proof on you, the employee. If your claim comes down to your word against your employer’s, witnesses make the difference in a won or lost claim.
Why Should You Still Work If You Can?
It really stinks, but honestly, the system is set up to keep you at work. If you just sit back, this can lead to severe financial difficulty ahead (bankruptcy, foreclosure, car repossession). Your employer may also find a way to fire you if they can prove you took time off unnecessarily. Go back to work, even at light duty, if possible. If your employer tries to make you work on duties which push you beyond set restrictions, tell your doctor. Your doctor can then increase your restrictions or request your employer keep you within your restrictions again (which increases the credibility of your case).
Can You Quit Your Job While Seeking Texas Workers’ Comp Insurance?
You can. But only if your claim is through the Texas Department of Insurance. In that case, you have a claim with your insurance carrier and not your employer. If your claim is made through your employer, you will lose your potential work injury benefits if you quit your job.
Does Texas’ Workers Comp Offer Death Benefits to Surviving Family Members?
Surviving family members may be able to recover death benefits for someone who loses their life on the job. It’s complicated and messy, but possible.
Can You Recover Compensation If You File Your Workers’ Comp Claim More than 30 Days After Your Injury?
Your chances of doing so fall to almost zero. It’s extremely important that you report your work injury as soon as possible after your accident. This includes even if you experience a minor injury you can easily work through. You don’t need to file a claim for benefits with minor injuries. But you should report the injury, just in case it turns into something worse months later. Plus, if your case goes to court, employees who promptly report their injuries look much more credible to judges and juries.
Can Your Employer Fire You if You Report Your Injury?
If your employer subscribes to Workers’ Comp, they cannot fire you for being injured on the job. However, if they can prove you engaged in misconduct unrelated to your injury, they can fire you. If your employer does not have Workers’ Comp, they have almost total control. They can literally fire you the second you report your injury, and for exactly that reason, without fear of any specific legal consequences for doing so.
If Your Employer Doesn’t Subscribe to Worker’s Comp What Can You Do?
If you run into difficulty, you can always run your claim by a personal injury lawyer because they offer free consultations and can help you understand how to protect yourself and recover fair compensation for your injuries. You can file a personal injury lawsuit against the company, or possibly against a contractor, coworker, or the business owner, to possibly recover compensation for your injuries. If you do file a lawsuit, recovering money for your injuries can still be tough. Whether your employer offers Workers’ Comp or not, it’s a wise idea to at least run your claim by a personal injury attorney. At least then you can be sure you get fair treatment.
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Shane V. Mullen is an attorney licensed by the State of Texas for the general practice of law, and the Managing Partner at Mullen & Mullen Law Firm in Dallas, TX. His firm focuses exclusively on personal injury law and has been in business for 40 years. Before becoming a lawyer, Shane worked for his father as an accident injury claims investigator.