Answering All Your Personal Injury and Social Security Disability
When a catastrophic event puts your future at risk, anxiety and uncertainty will cause you to have a million questions. What can you do? How can you provide for your family? Will you recover?
Allow the extensive experience and knowledge of the Packard Law Firm put your worries to rest. Come learn the answers to your questions and see how we can help pull you out of the depths of uncertainty.
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How can I determine whether my employer has "authorized" workers' comp or is a "non-subscriber?"
As explained on this website, if you are injured at work, it makes a big difference whether your employer has authorized workers' comp or some cheap benefits plan that they administer themselves. If they have authorized workers' comp insurance, then you get your compensation through the workers. comp system. If they do not, then you can recover the full amount of your damages through the court system as long as you can prove that the employer is at least 1% at fault in causing your accident. So how do you know whether your employer's benefit plan is "legitimate" workers' comp from an approved provider?
The employer is required by law to tell you if they are a non-subscriber, but sometimes that information is buried in the the paperwork. Thus, if you are unsure, you can call the Texas Department of Insurance at 1-800-252-7031. Give them the name of your employer and the date of your injury, and they will tell you whether or not your employer was an official workers’ comp subscriber at the time you were injured. You can also check on the TDI’s website at www.tdi.texas.gov, which also has a list of employers that subscribe to official workers’ comp. If your employer is not on the list, you may have a legitimate non-subscriber case, and you should contact us to see if you can recover for all your losses and injuries.
Can my employer retaliate against me for filing a workers’ comp claim?
Generally speaking, Texas is a “right-to-work” state – meaning that your employer can fire you for almost any reason. However, if management discourages you from filing a workers’ comp claim, or if they make negative comments about the fact that you already filed a claim, and then they fire you (or take other adverse employment actions) you may have a wrongful termination case.
This usually happens because of the tremendous pressure placed on supervisors and foreman to keep lost time injuries to a minimum. Unfortunately, some managers will not report injuries to improve the company’s “lost time injuries” statistics. For example, some managers might put an injured employee in a tent or shed and call it “light duty” and will then feel justified not reporting the incident as a “lost time injury”!
The problem with this approach, of course, is that the employee is not getting the appropriate medical care. When the employee finally feels that enough is enough, they file a workers’ compensation claim and get fired! This kind of activity is illegal in Texas and there are steps you can take to protect your rights. If you feel you have been treated unfairly at the worksite because you filed a workers’ compensation claim and have questions, feel free to give us a call.
Can the family sue the employer when the company causes the death of an employee?
Sadly, some work-related accidents are lethal. Workers' comp has a modest death benefit for the family, but is there anything else that the family can do when the employer is responsible for the death? Normally, an employer who carries official workers' comp insurance is completely immune from suit when they injure their own employees. However, when the accident results in death, there is a tiny crack in the employer’s armor. The family of the deceased can sue the employer even if the employer has official workers’ comp if they can show that the employer’s gross negligence caused the death. To prove gross negligence, the family must show that the company knew that its actions created an extreme risk of harm, but nevertheless proceeded with conscious indifference to the rights, safety and welfare of others. In essence, it is the "I don’t give a darn" standard. In other words, if the employer knows that its actions are very dangerous but proceeds anyway, it is grossly negligent. If you think your loved one’s death was caused by gross negligence, give us a call, and we may have a chance to pierce the immunity created by workers’ comp and seek full recovery for all your losses.
Did someone who was not working for my employer (a 3rd party) help cause my accident or injury?
In Texas, employers who purchase approved workers’ compensation insurance have almost complete immunity from lawsuits when they injure their own employees. This means that the injured workers have to be compensated through the workers' comp system, which is usually a raw deal for the employee. In fact, the injured workers are frequently grossly undercompensated in the workers' comp system. Thus, a good lawyer will look for ways to add to or supplement the compensation paid through the workers’ comp system. One way to do this is to look for a third party that may have contributed to the accident.
There are many situations when someone other than the employer is to blame for the accident. For example, suppose you are driving on a work-related errand, and another car crashes into you, the at-fault driver was not working for your employer, and is therefore considered to be a 3rd party. In this situation, you can receive your normal workers’ comp benefits from your employer’s insurance carrier, but you can also seek compensation from the at-fault driver. This is known as a 3rd party case. (The injured worker is considered to be the 1st party, the employer/co-workers are considered to be the 2nd party, and the party that actually caused the injury is considered to be the 3rd party.) Thus, even when the employer can’t be sued because it bought official workers’ comp insurance, the 3rd party is not immune and can be sued even when you are also receiving workers’ comp benefits. There are many types of 3rd party cases. You have a 3rd party case when there are multiple contractors on a job and one contractor hurts an employee of another contractor. Faulty construction equipment, negligent architects, and negligent property owners all can create opportunities for a 3rd party case. If you do have a legitimate case against a 3rd party, you will be able to recover all the damages that you could not recover in the workers’ comp system – such as your remaining past and future lost wages, pain and suffering, and lost capacity.
What are my rights when my employer did not carry ‘official’ workers’ comp insurance?
Normally, employers can effectively immunize themselves when they injure their own workers simply by carrying “official” workers’ comp. Thus, one might think that every sensible employer would make sure they have this coverage. But many Texas employers do not do the sensible thing. Remarkably, 1/3 of all Texas employers do not carry official workers’ comp. These employers are called “non-subscribers.” Why do so many employers non-subscribe? Because official workers’ comp is more expensive than cut-rate plans, and 1/3 of the Texas employers have decided to take the gamble and either go without any insurance or buy a cheaper plan. These plans provide fewer benefits and give less protection to the injured workers. It is a classic “profits over people” business decision. These employers provide a cut-rate “benefit” plan that has even fewer benefits than the official workers’ comp plans with no administrative protections. The employers then try to persuade the injured workers to take what little benefits the plan offers without asking questions or causing “problems” for the employer. Unfortunately, many injured workers think that they are getting workers’ comp when, in fact, they are getting a watered-down version that is administered by the company – not by the Texas workers’ comp system. This is deceptive and unfair.
Fortunately, if the injured workers are informed about the non-subscriber law, they can do something to protect themselves. They can file a lawsuit in state court and obtain full and complete compensation as long as they can prove that their employer (including a co-worker) was at least 1% responsible for their injuries. Many times, this 1% responsibility can be proven by showing that the employer had inadequate safety training and/or insufficient staff to do the work safely. You may also be able to show that your employer provided inadequate warnings and/or failed to provide proper equipment. All these things relate to the employer’s general duty to provide a safe working environment.
What happens if the other person does not have enough insurance to cover all my medical bills and damages?
If you do have car insurance, then you will want to check to see if you have certain coverages such as auto collision, personal injury protection, uninsured/underinsured protection and/or medical payments protection. Depending on the circumstances, these coverages may be very helpful to you.
What happens if I am an undocumented immigrant and am hit by another driver? Can I still file a claim?
If injured in an accident, an undocumented immigrant has legal rights. A person’s residency status does not prevent that person from filing a claim against an insurance company after an accident has occurred.
Undocumented Immigrants Can File Car Accident Claims
If an undocumented immigrant has been involved in a wreck that was caused by another careless driver, then that driver, along with that driver’s insurance company, is responsible to pay for any damages caused by the accident - regardless of status. This includes payment for medical treatment, property damage to the car, and pain and suffering. However, it should be noted that, from a practical standpoint, an undocumented immigrant might have difficulty proving lost wages because they do not have a legally documented work status.
Regardless of Residency Status, Don't Be Afraid To File A Car Accident Claim
Many insurance companies use fear tactics. They know that many undocumented immigrants are afraid that legal actions might affect their status in the country. They know that they can get away with treating the claim unfairly and so they do. Another dirty trick used by some insurance companies is that they say that they cannot provide compensation because the undocumented immigrants do not have a social security number. This is simply not true.
The truth is, insurance companies and attorneys do not use an injury claim to threaten an immigrant’s residency status because it is considered unethical. Also, the law recognizes that everyone has the right to obtain medical treatment and the doctors and hospitals have the right to be paid.
Injured Undocumented Immigrants Should Consult A Lawyer
If any of these tactics are used, it should not be tolerated. Claims involving undocumented immigrants are often complex and it may be a good idea to get an attorney so that your claim can be treated with the type of respect that the immigrant deserves.
Will My Car Insurance Rates Increase If My Insurance Company Pays to Repair My Car, Even When I Wasn't at Fault in the Accident?
Insurance companies can raise rates for almost any reason. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should not file a claim after a traffic accident.
Do Insurance Companies Have Free Rein When It Comes to the Rates They Charge?
In Texas, car insurance companies can increase rates pretty much anytime they want to. In fact, it is legal for car insurance companies to raise rates just for asking about a claim—even if you never file one. There are actual reports of car owners who have had their rates increased even when they never filed a claim of any kind—all they did was call and discuss the situation with their insurance company. In 2013, the Texas legislature passed a bill that prevented an insurance company from increasing rates against homeowners just for calling about a potential claim. The bill originally had similar protections for car owners, but under intense pressure from the insurance lobby, this language was taken out.
Other times, the insurance company will place some of the blame on you even when the police determined that the other guy was at fault. This is another reason they increase rates.
So If They Are Going to Raise My Rates, Why Would I Ever Have My Own Insurance Company Pay for Anything?
First of all, insurance companies have a way of finding out that there was an accident even if you do not file a claim, and they may increase your rates no matter what you do. In these cases, you might as well file a claim and get your money.
Moreover, the numbers usually work in your favor. For example, say that your rates increase from $600 per year to $725 per year because of an accident that was not your fault. That would be $625 over the next 5 years. (Rates usually go back down after 3-5 years.) If your claim is worth $2,500, it is a no-brainer to take the money and pay the increased premium.
Finally, you are allowed to change insurance companies any time you want. If the accident is not your fault, you should not have a difficult time getting a fair quote from another insurance company. Just because your insurance company increases your rates does not mean that all insurance companies will do the same. So if your company increases your rates, just shop around and get a better rate with someone else.
I have heard some clients say that they do not want their insurance involved no matter what. Sometimes, that works out OK, but many times, it costs them thousands of dollars.
Of course, if you have questions and want to talk through the issues, you are welcome to call me.
What Should I Tell My Insurance Adjuster After An Accident?
The short answer is, yes.
Most insurance policies have a provision requiring prompt notice of an accident. Additionally, your policy may provide coverage for repairs to your vehicle, or it may even cover a rental car while yours gets repaired. Many times your own insurance company acts more quickly than the other driver’s insurance company. So, you need to call and set up a claim with your own insurance company to get the process going.But there are also a few landmines that you want to avoid. First, don’t go into detail about your physical injuries, especially if you talk to the adjuster soon after the accident. Since he or she will be the one who negotiates the settlement, many times an adjuster will hope to pin down your specific injuries early on when you don’t even know how badly you were hurt. A good approach to take when the adjuster asks about injuries is to say that you don’t know the extent of your injuries, but you want to get checked out by a medical provider. Many car wreck injuries aren’t apparent the first few days after an accident, so keep that in mind when you make your initial call to your adjuster.
It is legal for the other side to take pictures and videos of me without my consent?
Yes, and it happens more often than you might think. Aggressive insurance companies and defense lawyers often hire private investigators to watch an injured person from a distance and take photos or video to make it appear that they are not injured. If you are injured, you should assume that this could potentially happen to you.