If you suffer from a workplace injury or an occupational disease, you may be eligible for Alabama workers’ compensation benefits. Depending on the severity of your condition, your benefits may include medical treatment, compensation for wage loss, and other financial assistance. To collect these benefits, you must follow the correct claim procedure; otherwise, you may lose your right to workers’ compensation.
In Alabama, most employers must have workers’ compensation coverage. Employers either purchase a workers’ comp policy from a private insurance company or receive certification from the state to self-insure. (Because a self-insured employer pays worker's comp benefits directly to its employees, only larger and financially stable employers will qualify.) The Alabama Workers’ Compensation Division oversees all workers’ comp claims in the state.
Unlike personal injury lawsuits, workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. You do not need to show that your employer acted carelessly in order to receive benefits. And, you may still be eligible for workers’ compensation even if your actions caused the injury. As long as your injury was caused by your work activities, you will typically be eligible for benefits.
However, in exchange for this no-fault system, workers are only entitled to specific benefits. You cannot receive compensation for your pain and suffering in a workers’ compensation claim, for example. However, eligible workers may receive:
Every workers’ compensation claim is different. The amount of your benefits will depend on the facts of your claim and the severity of your injuries. If you need help calculating your benefits, contact a workers’ comp lawyer.
You cannot receive workers’ comp benefits until you notify your employer. In Alabama, you should notify your employer of a work-related injury within five days. However, if you do not notify your employer of the injury within 90 days, you may lose some or all of your benefits. Your notice must be in writing and include the following information:
You must also sign the written notice. If you are unable to sign it yourself (due to your injuries or other circumstances), an authorized representative may sign on your behalf.
It is important to give notice and request medical treatment as quickly as possible. Prompt medical treatment may lead to a faster and fuller recovery. Additionally, employers and insurance companies are skeptical of delayed claims and tend to deny them. Giving notice and getting treatment early on will reduce the likelihood of a claim denial.
Once you report your injury, your employer should send you to an occupational doctor. Typically, your employer has the right to select your treating doctor. At your doctor’s appointments, you should always provide accurate information about how you hurt yourself and the severity of your symptoms. Insurance companies rely heavily on initial medical records when they evaluate claims. Either downplaying or exaggerating your symptoms may result in a denial of benefits.
In Alabama, your written notice to your employer officially begins your workers' comp claim. Once your employer is on notice, it must file your claim with its insurance company. You do not need to file any additional paperwork with the Workers’ Compensation Division or your employer.
The insurance company will investigate your claim and determine your eligibility for benefits. This may involve:
Under Alabama law, the insurance company typically must approve or deny your workers’ compensation benefits within 30 days of receiving your claim. If your claim is approved, you will start receiving disability payments and other benefits. Unfortunately, insurance companies deny many workers’ compensation claims. (For common grounds for a denial, see Denied Workers’ Compensation Claims.)
If your claim is denied, you have the right to appeal. However, unlike most states, Alabama does not have an administrative workers’ compensation court. Instead, most workers must file a civil lawsuit with the district court. Typically, you have two years from either the date of your accident or your last benefit payment to file this appeal.
Unless your claim is very simple, you should consider hiring a workers’ compensation lawyer. In a civil lawsuit, you must follow the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure and Evidence. These rules can be difficult to understand and follow. A lawyer can ensure that your case is properly developed and presented to the court. To learn more, see Should I Hire a Workers' Comp Attorney or Can I Handle My Own Case?.