If you have been injured at work, your medical treatment is handled by your employer’s workers’ compensation carrier. You may need extensive medical treatment and miss time from work. Ideally you receive all of the treatment you need and are paid for any lost time. Sounds simple, but for most people, there will be many hurdles along the way.
It’s not as easy as obtaining a referral and moving right along with your medical treatment. In New Jersey, your employer, through its workers’ compensation carrier, has the right to choose all of the doctors who will treat you for your injuries. This means the insurance carrier controls your treatment from the start.   

So, should you hire an attorney? The short answer is yes.

Here is why. You will need an advocate in the process. In most situations, your employer, the adjuster or the nurse case manager assigned to your file are not advocating for you no matter what they tell you. It is in the insurance carrier’s interest to spend as little money as possible, which conflicts directly with your need for medical treatment and out of work benefits. While it is the adjuster’s job to control costs, this means there is a person with little or no medical training attempting to make medical decisions about your case.

Additionally, if there is a Nurse Case Manager assigned to your file, all too often, the Nurse is serving the interests of the insurance carrier. While I have encountered some excellent Nurse Case Managers who advocate for my clients and make sure they receive the treatment they need, this is the exception and not the rule.  

Here is an example of a situation that comes up frequently. You go to see your doctor, he or she recommends a treatment plan consisting of an MRI and surgical consultation and takes you out of work, you leave the office with a copy of the doctor’s notes and everything seems okay. Immediately after you leave, the nurse case manager tracks down the doctor to ask if you really need the MRI study at this point, as it seems a little early, and wouldn’t it be better to try some more physical therapy. Then the adjuster calls the doctor to ask whether you could perform certain tasks even with your injury. Now, even though it seemed like you had a treatment plan and an out of work note from the authorized doctor, your treatment plan changed and you were returned to work all while you were not even in the examining room.  This doesn’t happen once in a while, it happens all too often.     

I tell my clients to advocate strongly for themselves while in the doctor’s exam room, as this is their chance to explain to explain physical complaints and problems to the doctor. Outside the doctor’s office, let us handle the rest. Hiring an attorney in a workers’ compensation claim is not simply about obtaining a settlement at the end of your case. Your lawyer should counsel and assist you at all stages of the claim whether it’s making sure you are paid while out of work, obtaining medical treatment and diagnostic testing, or dealing with issues with your employer or co-workers when you return to work. When you have a workers’ compensation claim, chances are this is your first time dealing with anything like this. I am involved in all phases of a workers’ compensation claim and see the issues my clients face on a daily basis.   

So, yes you need an attorney, but how do you choose one? At Stark & Stark, we have six attorneys in our workers’ compensation department and four of us are Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as Workers’ Compensation law attorneys. A recommendation from a friend or a colleague is always a good start, but you want to make sure you choose an attorney with the experience and knowledge base to assist you at all stages of your claim. I am Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Workers’ Compensation law attorney and have represented hundreds of clients who have been hurt on the job. I see every day how these claims impact people’s lives and in the event that you have been injured at work, I strongly recommend you consult with us.

James Creegan is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office concentrating his practice in Workers’ Compensation law. For questions, or to schedule a free consultaiton with Mr. Creegan, please contact him at: jcreegan@stark-stark.com.