Indiana enacted its first Worker’s Compensation Act in 1915 in response to a growing number of workers injured on the job who had no guaranteed means of receiving medical treatment for injuries or wage replacement income during their physical recovery. Prior to enacting its first Worker’s Compensation Act, when an Indiana worker was injured, the worker was permitted to sue their employer in court in an effort to get compensation. However, lawsuits were time consuming, expensive, and frequently left the injured worker in a position where they were unable to obtain medical attention while their lawsuit was working its way through court because time was lost to address arguments from employers that the worker caused the accident or assumed the risk of the accident. The Workers Compensation Act struck a compromise between the competing interests of the worker and the employer and moved to a no-fault based system. In short, and in general, employers were stripped of the ability to claim the worker caused the accident. In exchange for this concession, injured workers were deprived from collecting pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life damages.
In today’s Indiana Worker’s Compensation system, this means when a worker is injured “on the clock” when they slip and fall, or are injured in a car accident, or are injured in a construction accident, the worker’s employer is not permitted to claim the worker should have paid more attention to what they were doing when the event occurred. However, some important employer-based fault arguments are still available to employers. For example, pursuant to I.C. 22-3-2-8, employers may raise affirmative defenses that no money is owed because the injury was 1) due to the employee’s knowingly self-inflicted injury, 2) due to intoxication, 3) due to the commission of an offense (not including traffic violations), 4) due to a knowing failure to use a safety appliance, 5) due to a knowing failure to obey a reasonable written or printed safety rule which has been posted in a conspicuous position in the place of work, or 6) due to a knowing failure to perform any statutory duty.
Disagreements often occur when an employer raises one of these defenses, and if left unresolved, a judge is asked to determine whether the employer’s defense is valid at a hearing. Like many areas in law, an exploration into the facts of an individual matter is usually necessary to assess the validity of these types of defenses. For example, just because a worker is intoxicated or impaired at the moment the worker is injured, it does not necessarily mean the employer does not owe compensation. Indeed, there is a difference between a drunk worker being injured when the worker drives a delivery truck off the road compared to a drunk worker performing his work satisfactorily when a co-worker accidentally drops an item from above that strikes and injures the worker.
Similarly, not every failure to use a safety appliance or knowing failure to obey a posted and written safety rule bars a recovery. When an employer allows the alleged prohibited conduct to occur or also engages in the prohibited conduct, the employer will not be able to shield itself from responsibility. As an illustration in an industrial or machine setting, if an employer posts an open and obvious sign that machinery must be shut down before it is cleaned, but observes employees cleaning the machine while it is not shut down, the employer will not be allowed to rely on a fault-type defense.
An injured worker potentially has two legal claims to recover damages. First, they have an Indiana Worker’s Compensation claim against their employer. Second, they may be able to collect from a responsible third-party.
Each state has its own work injury laws. Indiana’s system starts with making a claim through a government agency – the Worker’s Compensation Board. This agency operates very similar to a court. Papers are filed, attorneys are used and hearing members make decisions like judges. This link takes you to the main page for the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Board website. https://www.in.gov/wcb/ Go to the bottom of the page and look for a translation button. You can change it from English to Spanish, if necessary.
Another easy way to learn about Indiana’s worker’s compensation laws is to watch my YouTube videos. Search for Legalmente Hablando Indy or Goodin Abernathy LLP on the YouTube website. Here is an introduction video Jim Browne recorded that covers worker’s compensation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHV1TB21TZ4 You will learn that work injury claims allow employees to claim these benefits: medical costs, lost wages and a permanent partial impairment rating. The medical costs include charges for an ambulance, hospital, doctors, nurses, physical therapy, medicine, x-rays or MRI’s.
If a treating doctor orders an employee not to work for medical reasons related to the injury, the employer must pay for lost wages or salary. This is called Total Temporary Disability (“TTD”). The worker is paid 66.66% of her regular pay. But tax is not applied to the money. So if the worker usually earns $100.00 per week, then the employer owes $66.66 for each week the employee is unable to work.
Finally, if the injury is serious, the worker may claim a Permanent Partial Impairment. This idea is to compensate workers for physical and work problems they will suffer in the future. The State of Indiana created a list of dollar values for these injuries that limit a worker’s recovery. I can usually help improve the financial recovery for my clients.
Indiana requires employers to carry worker’s compensation insurance. If a worker is injured on the job, the employer’s insurance will cover these costs. If the employer does not have insurance, the law allows the injured worker to make claims against the contractor who hired the employer for the job. Frequently I help clients step up the ladder and find insurance to collect from.
If a person or company, other than the employer or a co-worker, causes a worker injury, then we can make a “third-party” claim for negligence. Negligence law is different from the worker’s compensation claim. Those cases are opened in a typical court with judges. A big difference between the two cases involves damages for pain and suffering. An injured worker can claim damage for pain and suffering in a negligence claim – but not in an Indiana Worker’s Compensation claim.
We are experienced handling various types of third-party negligence claims. Sometimes they are against construction companies where the general contractor has a legal, contractual duty to provide safety for workers on the job. We have handled claims where workers for other companies cause an accident. For instance, an electrician was on a scissor lift. A plumber drove a fork lift over the lift’s electric cord, pulled the it over and caused our client to fall 20 feet. Or, we have clients who were driving a vehicle for their job when another car caused them a wreck.
Remember, insurance companies are in business to make money- not pay it out. They are professional and know the law. That is why you should call me for legal advice. I give free consultations to review these cases with clients. I explain the law for your specific evidence and describe how I charge for my service. You will meet with me in person, speak Spanish and review the case. My staff speaks Spanish and knows about these cases Don’t wait – contact us now!
This video of a man, who seemingly fakes a fall and injury, is making the internet rounds.
The video shows a man create his own water hazard and intentionally fall in it. When it comes to liability, Indiana’s worker’s compensation law favors workers – but this claim would probably “fall flat” in court.
So let’s look at two main points raised by the video:
1) How is liability handled in an Indiana Worker’s Compensation (“work comp”) claim?
2) Can the employer use video evidence?
A good part about Indiana’s work comp law is that an employer must accept a claim for accident and injury if an employee is hurt on the job. The employer cannot avoid responsibility and argue the employee is at fault for doing something wrong to cause the accident. This is a big difference from Indiana’s negligence law, where private individuals or businesses are suing each other. In a negligence case, a defendant can argue the plaintiff was more liable or “at fault” for causing the accident. If they prove it, the plaintiff can lose their whole case.
But not in an Indiana Worker’s Compensation case. As long as the accident occurred at work or in the scope of the employment, the employer must cover the claim.
There are a few exceptions. If the worker: intentionally caused the injury (watch that video again); was injured doing something criminal; or was under the influence of alcohol, drugs or intoxicants – then an employer can try to deny the claim.
On numerous occasions, we have represented injured clients against their employer’s intoxication defense. Usually these situations involve chemical test results showing traces of medicine, drugs or alcohol in the employee’s system. The employer must show, at the time of the accident, the intoxicants impaired the worker’s physical and mental abilities. That’s when you turn to the actual levels of intoxicants in the blood stream.
What if the worker consumed the substance days before the incident. While we do not condone it, what if the worker smoked marijuana the weekend before their accident? Calculations can be made to determine whether the substance actually affected the employee when the accident occurred. In some very serious injuries, that we won, we’ve proven our clients were not under the influence of drugs – even though traces showed up in their system.
Finally, YES, videos can be used in court. One reason could be for liability issues like the video that started this blog. Another reason could be to question our client’s credibility in a case where they claim permanent physical disability prevents them from working. An employer or its insurance company may have surveillance done, where a private investigator secretly follows the worker around, taking video of regular activities like driving, carrying groceries, fishing or cutting their lawn.
The Goodin Abernathy attorneys are very familiar with handling this evidence and give clients advice on how to conduct themselves, what to watch for and how to counter punch the private investigator’s assertions.
Indiana’s work comp law is well intentioned. It is designed with the thought an injured worker can represent herself in court without an attorney. But remember this: employers use sophisticated, trained insurance companies to defend the claims. Those insurance companies make money collecting premiums – not paying money towards injury claims. That’s why you should contact Goodin Abernathy LLP for advice on how to handle your Indiana Worker’s Compensation claim.