Work Comp Litigation: Prevention and Preparation in Your Workplace

May 1, 2024 • Missouri Employers Mutual

Work-related injuries present a substantial hurdle to companies across all industries. Not only do they sap time, productivity, and financial resources, but they also damage employee morale. These issues are intensified when injured workers choose to pursue additional legal action.

On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we sit down with Laura Sides Cooper, Managing Attorney at MEM. Sides Cooper is a part of the CompLegal team, which handles only work comp-related litigation and guides MEM’s policyholders before and during the experience.

Note: This content does not constitute legal advice. When it comes to specific situations involving your business, always consult your own legal representative before making legal decisions.

First, we’ll share three work comp-related legal areas employers should consider. Then, we’ll discuss ways employers can reduce the chance of litigation after a claim. Finally, we’ll talk about essential tips for employers experiencing litigation.

Listen to this episode on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.

Litigation: 3 work comp-related legal areas to consider

“A work comp injury can be a disruption to a business in many ways, so our ultimate goal is always prevention,” Sides Cooper began. “That being said, obviously incidents do happen and the consequences of those can be very impactful.” In the legal realm, an injury can include:

  1. Litigation. Legal action around an injury can lengthen a claim and make it more difficult to resolve.
  2. Employment restrictions. It’s more difficult to terminate or discipline employees in the event of a work comp injury.
  3. Loss of an employee. An injured worker may not be able to return for an extended period of time. It can be challenging to replace and train a new employee to replace them.

Prevention is the best first step

While businesses hope to go injury-free, the reality is that incidents do happen. The key to protection is being prepared,” she continued. Employees should be well-trained on company procedures. This includes how to report a near miss or injury. Managers and supervisors should be properly trained on how to handle an injury report and seek out the right care for the injured worker. 

Employers have a responsibility to maintain up-to-date policies. For example, a drug and alcohol policy and standard safety policies. Adding a return to work program is also an added benefit. It outlines how an injured worker gets back to work as soon as possible. If they can return to work sooner, even in a limited capacity, outcomes tend to be better for both the worker and employer.

Reducing litigation: The importance of documentation and communication

If an incident does occur, then there are important measures an employer. First, investigating any and all incidents within 24 hours is essential; memories and evidence are still fresh during this window. Obtain all facts and details from the incident, talk to any potential witnesses, and document everything. The more time that passes, the more difficult it is to backtrack and collect information that’s required.

“Sometimes a case can turn on one very specific fact or detail, and sometimes it’s hard to have the foresight on what that detail might be,” Sides Cooper shared. “Bu when you have the information collected from the beginning of the claim, it’s much easier in the future, when the case is litigated, to look at those details more succinctly and to have the information that you need to accurately defend the claim.”

Communication is key

Making sure an employee is supported and informed throughout a claim can also ensure better outcomes and avoid litigation. “Communication is key in a workers compensation claim,” Sides Cooper added. “Employees are much less likely to seek out the services of an attorney and pursue litigation if they feel as though their needs are being fairly met.” This means acknowledging their injury, the treatment process, and the stress that they are likely under.

Ensuring employees are up to date and on track with treatment can make a big difference in their emotional state. “Sometimes you don’t think about the importance of returning a phone call promptly or being able to text an injured worker while they’re at home,” she explained. “But those are some things that are key to making sure that you stay in communication and the injured worker feels that they’re they’re being supported.” Some carriers utilize Nurse Case Managers, who serve as a liaison between medical staff and injured workers.

Litigation: In for the long haul

The reality of work comp litigation is that it can take time to resolve; weeks, months, or even years, in difficult cases. For Sides Cooper, it’s key that employers bring any concerns or new information without delay to their carrier.

If issues come up around corrective action or termination during a claim, then employers should always contact their attorney. Certain statutes limit what action they can take during legal processes. This is even more important if there are accusations of retaliation or discrimination. Sides Cooper reinforces that employers should:

  1. Be prepared. Even if you think an injury could never happen in your workplace, it’s critical to be prepared for one, and not be caught off guard.
  2. Communicate. This includes sharing information with your work comp carrier, talking to your attorney before making any decisions involving a claim, and keeping the injured worker informed.

Injured workers are much less likely to pursue litigation if they feel as though their needs are being met and they’re being treated fairly,” she finished. “Communicating regularly with an injured employee and making sure that their needs are being addressed is critical to avoiding lengthy and disruptive litigation.”

May 1, 2024
Missouri Employers Mutual
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