Can You Fire Your Workers' Compensation Attorney? My Story of How and Why I Did
My Workers' Compensation Lessons, in a Nutshell:
Read on below to hear in detail about my workers' compensation case and how it all panned out. However, here are the main nuggets that you should be picking up from my story if you're involved in your own workers' compensation dispute:
- Settling a workers' compensation case without an attorney is possible, make sure you do the proper research early on.
- Ask the right questions! Know about apportionment and getting lump sum payments based off a financial hardship.
- If you decide to hire an attorney, make sure that you shop around carefully for one.
Want to know my story? Read on.
My Workers' Compensation Story
It’s been nearly a year since the resolution of my workers’ compensation case, and I’m sad to say, I still don’t feel like I have closure. I realized early in life the therapeutic value of journaling and since I can't afford therapy, this is my way of attempting to process the events that transpired in my life. I came up with the idea to write this article last year, and made a post just to test the waters. Unfortunately, even though I’m a former journalism major, and have written on a business level, I’ve never been one for discipline.
Since then, I've quickly come to the conclusion that if I don’t commit to blogging, I’m going to need to be committed! So rather than go out and stalk, hunt, and literally take out of commission the people who my displeasure is targeted at, I’m here spilling my guts instead.
Here's what happened . . .
I was previously engaged in a long, drawn out worker’s compensation claim that I’d been fighting ever since July 2003. Although the primary part of my case settled fairly early on (with a less than happy outcome), the other issues that remained kept me engrossed in litigation until December 2007! In addition to that, at one point, it became necessary to fire my attorney and represent myself during the proceedings.
Oddly enough, when I began representing myself I won as many battles as I had lost. I wish I had done the leg work that I ultimately ended up doing myself earlier on in my case. If I had known half the information I eventually learned, I would have never hired a lawyer in the first place! In fact, as far as my particular case went, having an attorney is what first got me screwed!
I’ll start at the beginning, but I promise to make it short and sweet.
How I sustained my workers' comp injury:
I worked for the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services. Having been a product of the foster care system as a child myself, I knew firsthand what the consequences of doing your job poorly could mean to a child’s life. A simple piece of misfiled paperwork could actually mean the difference in a child receiving foster care placement. It might represent a voucher for school clothing, or a crucial court date, or a number of other equally important things. That is why I always performed my work with efficiently and with pride.
For some time, I worked alone in a large room full of case files. My job required me to receive, update, and maintain boxes and boxes of files on a daily basis. Many county employees viewed the job as grunt work, and my supervisor had been having a lot of trouble keeping someone in the position before I came. Although it was a laborious job, and I could have later transferred to something less physical, I stayed and did the job that no one else wanted to do. Hardly a day went by that someone didn’t commend me for the new appearance of the file room, thanks to me (no more unsightly boxes all over the floors and tables.) I made things run much more smoothly for myself and my coworkers. I personally created an organized system of storing the files that required temporary housing, and my former department uses that system to this day.
I shared the above paragraph with you only to show that my diligence and dedication to my job was something that I put a high value on. My only crime was approaching my job with more energy and enthusiasm than the former employees but unfortunately, that is what led directly to my work related injuries. The daily packing up and breaking down of boxes, coupled with the bundling, taping, lifting, and carrying of cases eventually took a toll on me physically. I also did data entry, so that meant even more repetitious work, which didn't help my condition any. At age 45, I ended up with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome of the right wrist and Median Epicondylitis of the right elbow.
How my claim process went:
In the beginning, I didn’t have a clue on what to expect from the claim process. I hired an attorney and filed a worker’s compensation claim after a physician diagnosed my symptoms. The doctor took me off work and my employer honored my claim with no dispute. Even though my attorney had a tendency to evade answering some of my direct questions, either verbally or written, I thought the case was progressing okay and there would be a decent financial outcome.
While portions of the worker’s compensation case did go relatively smoothly, there were some snags along the way. The doctors concurred on the type of surgery that I needed, but did not agree on the medical rating, with reference to the percentage of disability. Both the attorneys negotiated and came to a compromise. The only problem was that by the time that the primary part of the case had actually settled (September 2004), there was nothing left of the funds that my attorney had negotiated for me. It had been eaten up when I was paid small monthly checks by the insurance company over the course of time. These meager payments had been sucked up as my living expenses while the case was pending! Imagine my disappointment to find that there would be no lump sum payment, even though the case had settled.
To make matters worse, two new areas of dispute arose. 1. The issue of vocational rehabilitation, as well as the matter of an 2. Available modified or alternative job position.
How my attorney screwed me over:
Keep in mind that I am stating very simply the events that occurred, as I now understand them. However, at the time I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Why? Because I was kept in the dark. My attorney told me only what he wanted me to know, while withholding vital information that I should have been privy to. For example:
- Apportionment. A primary issue regarding the medical rating had to do with apportionment, or how much of my condition was attributed to the job. Both doctors agreed that the condition was solely job-related. If my attorney had not continually rejected my choice to have a hearing on the matter, I believe I would have received a higher rating. Instead he shrugged me off, and managed to manipulate paperwork and get around my decision not to settle.
- Lump sum available. While he was representing me, there came a point when I was so financially strapped that I was in danger of having my car repossessed. My doctor had already determined my condition to be at a Permanent and Stationary stage (which meant no future change in my condition was expected, so a rating could be determined). This would mean a transition in the type of benefits to be paid. I started receiving small permanent disability payments. However, they weren’t enough to save my car from being repossessed. If my attorney had informed me that I could have requested a lump sum of my permanent disability, based on my financial hardship, instead of small monthly stipends, I wouldn’t have lost my car!
That situation, as well as others, began to make my blood boil. You would think that at the top of the list of my grievances would be the ruthless insurance company. Actually, not so. Given the nature of insurance companies, plus the fact that they’re representing the opposing party, it’s almost understandable that they would behave in the way that they do. What’s not understandable, and makes me sick to my stomach is the fact that I got screwed not just by someone that I trusted, but by someone I actually paid to help me.
In the end:
I know now that I should have followed my instincts about my attorney and dropped him sooner. I fault myself for that. I’ll never forgive myself for being so blind and totally relying on someone else to look out for my best interest. Represented or not, it pays to know as much about a situation as you possibly can. At the very least, learning the right questions to ask can mean a world of difference!