If you have recently injured your back in a work accident, you may be wondering about your legal rights. In California, injured workers are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for injuries suffered while performing their work duties.
What is a Workers’ Compensation Claim?
A workers’ compensation claim is an administrative proceeding that was created to provide benefits and compensation for employees who have been injured on the job. Workers’ compensation claims are different from many other types of legal disputes, many of which are handled by civil lawsuits.
Under California law, employers are required to provide and maintain workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation insurance ensures that any injured employee has the ability to recover benefits and compensation for their work injury claims.
There are also some important differences between workers’ compensation claims and other types of civil lawsuits. For the most part, the workers’ compensation system is the only way that an employee can recover compensation for their work injuries. This means that an employee injured at work must pursue a workers’ compensation claim rather than filing a personal injury claim in civil court. Like many rules there are exceptions, and your workers’ compensation attorney can advise you of your legal options if an exception to this rule applies in your case.
Another difference between workers’ compensation claims and civil lawsuits is that an injured worker may recover benefits and compensation regardless of who was at fault for their injury. There are some exceptions that involve willful or serious misconduct, but in general, an injured worker can receive workers’ compensation benefits even if they caused their own injury.
How Are Workers’ Compensation Claims Calculated?
After suffering an injury at work, it may be a difficult time for you both physically and financially. It can be helpful to have an idea about what you can expect regarding benefits and compensation for your injury.
In California, injured workers are given benefits in the form of temporary disability payments while they are off work and recovering from their injuries. If you have a doctor’s note stating that you cannot work, or if your employer cannot provide you light-duty work, then you are entitled to receive temporary total disability payments, which are usually paid on a weekly basis.
The amount of temporary total disability payments you will receive is based on your average weekly wage. You will be eligible to receive two-thirds of your average weekly wage, which is calculated based on your wage rate at the time of the injury. This payment is subject to state minimum and maximum amounts. Your lawyer can explain how this will impact your payments if the state maximum or minimum rates apply in your case.
In some cases, employers are able to provide light-duty work for employees given certain work restrictions. For example, if you suffered a back injury, and your doctor decides that you are only capable of lifting up to 10 pounds, you can return to work if your employer can give you job duties that do not require you to lift more than 10 pounds.
Under California law, your employer need not pay you your normal wage rate if you are doing light-duty work. If they do not, however, you are entitled to temporary partial disability payments that make up two-thirds of the difference.
Common Back Injuries Related to Workers’ Compensation Claims
There are a few different types of back injuries that are typically related to workers’ compensation claims. Back injuries can occur to the cervical, lumbar, or thoracic areas of the spine. These injuries include:
Spine Sprains and Strains
A back strain involves an injury to either a tendon or muscle, while a back sprain occurs with the tearing or stretching of a ligament. These injuries can occur due to a single event (such as a lifting injury) or occur over time. Back sprains and strains can cause pain, stiffness, and tenderness.
Bulging or Herniated Disks
Bulging or herniated disks can also be caused by a work injury. Disks act as cushions between each vertebra in your spine. They are made of an outer layer of cartilage that surrounds the softer cartilage in the center.
These injuries are more serious than sprains and strains and can require substantial medical treatment. In some cases, surgery is needed to repair the spine.
Another type of injury that may occur at work is a spinal fracture. A fracture generally occurs due to a traumatic accident. These injuries may require a long period of medical care.
What Industries and Jobs Are at a Particular Risk for Back Injuries?
Some industries and jobs tend to have more work-related back injuries than others. The Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities (IIF) program through the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data on work injuries, illnesses, and fatalities that occur nationwide. Based on some of these findings, five high-risk industries and jobs have been identified.
These industries and jobs include:
Not surprisingly, construction workers tend to have a higher rate of back injuries in the workplace than in other industries. Construction workers are often repeatedly lifting, carrying, bending, and pulling while performing job duties. These repetitive motions can put a lot of stress on muscles and joints, which can lead to back pain and overuse injuries. Additionally, construction workers who climb or work on scaffolding may suffer falls and other traumatic injuries, which can be quite serious.
Employees who work in a warehouse often perform duties that include lifting, bending, forceful movements, carrying, and twisting. In some warehouse jobs, employees must drive trucks or operate industrial vehicles that can cause whole-body vibration, leading to back pain and soreness. It is not uncommon for warehouse workers to suffer back and neck injuries at work and experience pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling.
Nursing personnel are also some of the highest risk employees for back injuries. Nurses have the physical challenge of being on their feet most of the day and are also often required to move patients into beds, to bathrooms, and in and out of wheelchairs. These job duties can lead to traumatic or repetitive back injuries.
Landscapers, Farmers, and Gardeners
Another industry that puts employees at a higher risk of back pain than other industries includes employees who work as landscapers, farmers, and gardeners. Back pain is common in these jobs due to the daily tasks involving heavy lifting, bending, substantial amounts of walking, and repetitive motion. Constant repeated movements can lead to overuse back injuries.
Truck drivers also tend to be more likely to suffer back injuries as compared to those in other industries. Professional truck drivers are on the road anywhere from five to seven days per week and up to 10 hours per day. They also take very few breaks. Truck drivers are susceptible to back injuries due to the extended periods of sitting that are often followed by moments of strenuous activity, like bending and lifting.
The Average Workers’ Compensation Claim Amounts
While studies have been done to calculate average workers’ compensation claim amounts, it is important to keep in mind that every case is different and has a unique set of facts. Your workers’ compensation lawyer will be able to give you a better idea of what you can expect regarding compensation for your work injury since he or she will know the specific details and facts of your case.
According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, from 2017-2018, the average cost of a lower back claim was $36,882. This figure includes both payments for medical bills and temporary disability payments, along with any lump sum included as settlement or an award for the injury’s permanency. For upper back injuries, the average for this year was $33,154 for the total paid out for medical bills, benefits, and compensation.
What Are the Common Factors for Determining Settlement for a Back Injury?
Many different factors go into determining a settlement for a back injury. As benefits and compensation are based on the injured workers’ average weekly wage, this is a substantial factor.
Another major factor in determining settlement value is the nature and extent of the injury. For example, a minor back strain that resolves in a few weeks will be worth less in a settlement than a herniated disk injury that required years of therapy and surgery and resulted in permanent disability.
A third major factor in determining a back injury settlement value is the strength of the case and the likelihood of an adverse ruling at trial. Some workers’ compensation cases are accepted right away by the employer’s insurance company, meaning there really is no question that the claim involves a legitimate work-related injury.
In other cases, there may be a dispute regarding requested medical care or the injury itself. The strength of your case and the risks of taking it to trial will typically impact the value of your settlement.
Why You Should Consider Hiring Kneisler & Schondel to Represent You for Your Injury Claim
The attorney at Kneisler & Schondel has many years of experience handling back injury and other types of workers’ compensation cases. Our attorney has successfully settled and taken to trial many cases for injured workers in California. We know what it takes to fight for the compensation that injured workers in California deserve. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation to begin pursuing your workers’ compensation claim and obtain the benefits and compensation for your work injury.