All work comes with its own unique set of risks and challenges, whether those are mental, physical, emotional, or some combination of all three. But nowhere are the risks and challenges more clear than in the healthcare field, where nurses and medical assistants often work 12 hour shifts that are both physically grueling and emotionally exhausting.
In fact, a 2016 study found that 5 percent of occupational injuries to RNs resulted in sprains, strains, or tears, and that these injuries occurred at a rate of 53.1 cases per 10,000 full-time workers. This rate is noticeably greater than the rate for all occupations as a whole (32.6 cases per 10,000 workers). Because people who work in nursing and medical assistance are at such a substantial risk of injury, it’s crucial that those in this industry are aware of their legal rights to workers compensation.
If you or a loved one has experienced an occupational injury or disease while working as a nurse or medical assistance, first of all, we are so sorry for your pain and struggle. But please know that you do not have to navigate this process alone. The nursing and medical assistants workers’ compensation lawyers at Munley Law are dedicated, experienced, and ready to fight for you and your rights. Let us do the legal heavy lifting so that you can focus on your recovery. Do not hesitate to contact a workers’ compensation lawyer at Munley Law today for a free initial consultation.
Understanding Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation, often referred to as “workers’ comp”, is a federal program that is run through the U.S. Department labor. It is a state-mandated insurance program that offers payment to those who have been hurt or experienced an occupational disease while at work. It’s an extremely common way for workers who have been injured on the job to cover medical expenses and make up for lost wages. Workers’ compensation can be paid out by private insurance companies, the State workers’ Insurance Fund, or self-insured employers, and most Pennsylvania workers’ (with some exceptions) are guaranteed coverage by the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.
Risks and Injuries to Nurses and Medical Assistants
Nurses and medical assistants are both absolutely crucial aspects of the American healthcare system. As of May 2020, the US Department of Labor reports that there are nearly 3 million Americans working as registered nurses around the country, as well as 710,000 people working as medical assistants. The two roles are somewhat different: medical assistants manage both patient care and administrative duties, while nurses primarily focus on patient care. Additionally, medical assistants are instructed to perform patient care in the exact means as assigned by the physician, whereas nurses are also trained to write their own patient care plans. Both are hugely important and come with a unique set of challenges and risks for injury. According to the CDC, some of the most prevalent hazards healthcare workers face on the job include:
● Sharps injuries — Nurses and medical assistants, by necessity, deal with plenty of sharp objects every day. This of course can lead to injury. In fact, one study showed that out of all healthcare workers, nurses were the most likely to experience sharps injuries.
● Chemical and drug exposure — Recent findings have shown that nurses and medical assistants who are exposed to chemicals on a regular basis (in the scope of this study, that means at least once a week for at least 9 months) are far more likely to have a biological child with cancer or a congenital defect. Nurses who experienced “high exposure” (here meaning at least once a week for ten years) to drugs of any kind were more likely to develop cancer themselves.
● Back injuries — One of the most prevalent physical concerns for healthcare workers is musculoskeletal disorders, which impact the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and/or other connective tissues. This is often caused and exacerbated by the consistent lifting and repositions of heavy objects, including patients themselves. This can cause extreme and lasting damage to the back.
● Violence — In some cases, the patients themselves are the greatest threat to a nurse or medical assistant’s health and safety. There are countless stories of nurses being attacked and injured by patients, often when the patient is mentally compromised as a result of a mental condition like dementia, or from the use of sedatives and medication. It’s also not uncommon for a patient’s loved ones or family members to be the cause of violence, whether they’re disputing a bill, angry about an outcome, or anything in between.
● Stress — People may not realize that extreme stress in the workplace can cause real physical harm, and of course, stress levels are inherently high when dealing with a person’s health and life. In fact, nurses are at a particularly high risk for suicide.
Determining Eligibility for Workers’ Comp
There are a few steps involved in ensuring that you are eligible to receive workers’ compensation in the state of Pennsylvania. The first, and in many ways the most important, is to prove that your injury or illness is work-related. There are cases in which this can be complicated: for instance, if you are working remotely, it can be more difficult to prove that you were working at the exact moment of the accident or injury.
For a nurse or medical assistant, the complexity may arise when the injury is not the result of a singular accident, but of something that has occurred over a long period of time (as in a back injury that occurs as a result of lifting patients for years). It’s possible your employer or their insurance carrier may try to argue that your injury happened elsewhere, or that you cannot prove it’s connection to your workplace. This is where it’s crucial to work with an experienced lawyer. Your Munley Law workers’ compensation attorney will fight to ensure your eligibility, even if met with resistance from your employer.
Beyond establishing that the injury happened at work or as a result of work, you also must prove that you are an employee (as opposed to an independent contractor) of this employer. For most nurses and medical assistants, this should not be an issue.
Lastly, in order to be eligible for workers comp, you must be sure that you file in time. If you alert your employer within 21 days of the injury, you are eligible to receive workers’ comp benefits from the date of the injury. However, it’s best not to wait even that long, as waiting even a week or two to tell your employer about your injury could later be used against you by your employer’s insurance carrier. There are other repercussions for waiting as well: if you wait more than 21 days to tell your employer, your benefits will start from the date of your claim. If you wait longer than 120 days, you may lose your right to seek any benefits at all. Additionally, in the state of Pennsylvania, you have three years from the date of the injury to file a Claim Petition if your initial claim is denied.
Filing for Workers’ Compensation
If you are a nurse or medical assistant and sustained an injury or occupational illness while at work, or while performing a work-related task, you are most likely eligible for workers’ compensation. Of course, after an injury, your first priority should be to seek medical care and ensure you are safe and stable. But it’s also extremely important to alert your employer about the incident as soon as possible. Remember, there are consequences for waiting more than 21 days.
Once you’ve alerted your employer, it is their obligation to file a First Report of Injury with the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. They will then notify their insurer or insurance company, and it’s then up to the insurance company to examine the accident and injury and determine whether the claim is valid. If the insurance company accepts your claim, you will receive a Notice of Compensation Payable, and will begin to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
In some cases, you will be issued a Notice of Temporary Compensation Payable, which means the insurance company has not yet reached a decision about your claim, but is willing to offer you some benefits in the meantime. Remember that It’s in your best interest to hire an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer such as the Hazelton workers’ compensation attorneys at Munley Law as soon as possible after your injury.
What Happens If a Claim is Denied
If your claim is denied, there’s no need to panic. There are many reasons for a claim to be denied, and in almost all cases, this decision can be petitioned and appealed. Doing so can be a somewhat arduous process, so it’s best to approach it with the assistance of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.
Your claim may be denied because your employer claims there is insufficient evidence to prove that the accident and injury were work related. Perhaps the injury was not reported in time, or the claim was filed late. In any case, you may appeal. In fact, many insurance providers rely upon the notion that most people won’t want to take the time or effort required to appeal a decision. Under Pennsylvania law, you and your lawyer have three years from the date of the injury to file a Claim Petition if your claim is denied. This petition is then assigned to a judge, and a hearing is scheduled. Ultimately, the judge will circulate a decision, and if you and your attorney would like to appeal this decision as well, you have 20 days from the time of the judge’s decision to do so. In this case, you would then file an appeal with the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board.
All of this can sound overwhelming, but it’s extremely possible with the aid of a Hazelton workers’ compensation lawyer. We are experts in workers’ comp litigation and are prepared to navigate this entire process with you.
How Much Workers’ Compensation Will I get for My Lost Wages?
Part of the role of workers’ compensation is to make up for the injured party’s lost wages, though there is a limit to how much each person can receive. Generally (though there are exceptions), most people will receive about ⅔ of their pre-injury salary each week. Under Pennsylvania law, as of the calendar year 2022, this amount is capped at $1,205 weekly, though this amount changes each year. Additionally, how long you can receive these benefits depends on the specifics and severity of your injury or illness.
Remember that if you have any issue receiving your benefits in a timely fashion, or if you are unsure whether you are receiving full benefits, you can contact a workers’ compensation lawyer at any time.
What Munley Law Can Do For You
The workers’ comp system is a complicated one, and navigating it without an attorney can feel scary and confusing. This is all the more true if your employer or their insurance company is resisting your claims, or trying to shortchange you on benefits. That’s where your Munley Law workers’ compensation lawyer steps in.
The lawyers here at Munley Law are experts in all things workers’ comp and personal injury. Our team consists of ten excellent, highly experienced lawyers and dozens of excellent legal support staff, whose singular goal is to fight for your right to justice and compensation.
At Munley Law, each of our lawyers has over a decade of experience, as well as hands-on trial and courtroom experience. We do not get paid unless we win your case, and we will be by your side as you fight to make things right. If you are in the process of seeking workers’ compensation, or if you have questions about your rights to these benefits, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Munley Law. Contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation and learn how we can help protect your interests.