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  • Writer's pictureBrian Keit

How to Hack your Work Comp Case to get Rich in Three Easy Steps

Your life has been turned upside down after a work injury. Instead of enjoying your career and spending your free time doing what you love, you have been spending your days going to countless medical appointments and cooped up at home with a bottle of Tylenol. Your workers' comp indemnity checks during your healing period are less than your normal pay checks and the insurance company seems to send them sporadically foisting additional financial stress on an already difficult and unforeseen past few months. You are worried that your employer is going to terminate you and you have already seen signs that they treat you differently. Will you be able to find a new job or is your disability going to imperil and obstruct your ability to earn a living you are accustomed to?


[An important disclaimer is inserted here to advise the reader that this is an informational website blog only that is not intended to substitute official representation with an attorney. The opinions expressed herein are generalizations and it is imperative to hire an attorney who can appreciate all of the nuances and unique details or your particular case and act accordingly to give you legal advice specific for your circumstances. Furthermore, I am not a vocational rehabilitation expert or financial expert and you should seek guidance from these experts before making any important or consequential decisions.]


The first step to hack your work comp case and get rich is to hire an attorney, preferably one who focuses his or her practice to workers' compensation exclusively. An attorney with too much diverse practice areas could be a jack of all trades but master of none. Workers' comp law is pretty dense and a creature that is prone to change dramatically and constantly over time.


Now that you have an attorney, listen to the expert! (See previous Blog Newport Wedge.) We do not pressure clients to settle or not settle, but our job is to help you understand the benefits and hazards of not settling. It is no accident that the overwhelming majority of cases settle. Trials are risky, come with a price tag, and with a back-logged court docket and multiple appeals available to either side it can be years before a case reaches a resolution in the court system. The good news is that all of these risks are applicable to the insurance companies as well.


The second step is to settle your case, if possible. There are some cases that should not settle, but those are somewhat rare. In a negotiation there is usually a compromise where each party is going to make concessions. In other words, their best day in court is usually better than the deal made in settlement negotiations. It is a familiar saying that the sign of a good negotiation is that both sides are unhappy. The primary benefit to settlement is risk avoidance. Getting a bad decision from a judge that you were not expecting. Your attorney should be aggressive and should prepare the case from day one to be as strong as possible and fully ready to go to trial, but at the same time seek out an amicable resolution when possible. In addition to the risk avoidance and the possible long timeline of litigation through trial and appeals there is a further practical benefit derived from settlement. Studies have shown that in some cases where a person settles their injury case they immediately start to feel better physically as well as emotionally. [Citation needed] This is a peculiar phenomenon since nothing has changed patho-physiologically, but it makes sense. During the course of the lawsuit, the injured Claimant must take on a role of the victim. The plot line is that he has been harmed and deserves justice. His mind is occupied with anticipation of trial, getting prepared to testify in front of the judge and the lawyers, and convincing everyone that he has suffered, is suffering and will continue to suffer great harm from his injury. Sometimes the instant that his case is settled, that burden is lifted of the Claimant's shoulders, and he feels better since that narrative is over.


The third step to hack your workers' comp case and get rich is to invest in yourself. The purpose of workers' compensation "permanency indemnity" is to compensate an injured worker for harm to his earning power. This can be done explicitly through "industrial disability" benefits, or indirectly through functional impairment ratings. Although functional impairment ratings compensate an injured worker for loss of use of a specific body part irrespective of all other factors relevant to loss of earning power, the genesis of the method is rooted in a desire to streamline workers comp cases which at their heart and essence are balancing or compensating a loss of earning power. The lens that our lawmakers view workers' comp through is that the injured worker is now, because of his disability, in a worse place financially than before the injury, and the law should allow him to at least partially make up for that disparity by entitlements to money from his employer. My point, as ironic as it may be, is that an injured worker can turn this misfortune in fortune.


Nobody ever got rich off workers' comp in the sense that workers' comp settlements or court awards are not designed to fully "make you whole." When you hear about million dollar court cases you are almost certainly hearing about personal injury (negligence, tort) cases, where the types of damages are much more full and liberal and a jury can weigh the harm done to you and discern an amount of money appropriate to make you whole. Although the jury in a personal injury case cannot heal a broken body, or take away pain and suffering, their job is to use the commodity of cash to balance out the harm. Workers' compensation is an entirely different animal, where there is no right to a jury, and the categories of damages are heavily restricted with further restrictions imposed by your weekly benefits rate and the caps on quantity of weeks available for different body parts set out in the "schedule of members" [See Iowa Code Ch. 85.34]


Here is the hack. If you are able to reach a settlement for any significant sum of money, use that money to invest in yourself. You may be able to live off of the proceeds of your settlement for a while without working. During that time, enroll in a program at a community college or trade school. FAFSA loans are available to most. Pick a smart course of study that will equip you make more money. Read every book you can find about your new career path. Meet with vocational rehabilitation experts or college counselors available for free to get more information. Think about becoming an entrepreneur, starting your own business. Use your workers' comp settlement to invest in yourself. This is empowerment. See the irony that the legislature passed workers comp laws only as a fairly week consolation prize to help the poor victim of a work injury sustain himself, but you used the system to invest in yourself and reach a new level of earning power that you never had envisioned prior to your work injury. Good luck!


Brian Keit

5-22-24


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