School Workers’ Comp Case Can Drag On For Many Years
Sandy Wilburn’s back pain will not go away. It has been nearly 16 years since the injury and she is still battling the school district where she sustained the injury while on the job.
A student from DeKalb County’s Stephenson Middle School pushed her down the bleachers while they were attending a school assembly.
Her doctors embedded a spinal cord stimulator implant, and that is the only way she is able to use her left leg.
Her continuing medical care is unpaid. Wilburn has pushed for years to get the school district to settle her case to help pay for medical costs and lost wages.
If an established trust was arranged to cover her medical costs, she could go back to work without the worry of how to pay for the next medical procedure.
Many Workers’ Comp Cases Are Never Settled
The Atlanta Metro school districts are accountable for over 2,500 active workers compensation claims. Some go as far back as 1977. The cases could range from paid medical treatment to an injury that happened while at work, or a case like Wilburn’s where she needs ongoing medical treatment and her ability to work is continually affected.
Wilburn, age 50, stated that she did not want to spend her next 15 years of life this way, and said that she wanted her life back. A solution is necessary so she can move on with her life.
Wilburn has been offered jobs inside the school district but is afraid to accept them. If her workers’ compensation status changed, she could lose $400 a week. Her workers’ compensation case is still open and other possible employers see her as a liability.
In Dekalb County alone there are around 500 active workers’ compensation claims. Approximately 90 of them are five years or older. Some of the cases go all the way back to 1984. The district director of risk management said a claim is opened when an employee notifies the district that they need to seek medical treatment for an on-the-job- injury. The claim will close when the employee recovers or no longer needs medical treatment and goes back to work. The medical benefits are usually paid up to 400 weeks. Employees with injuries like Wilburn will receive benefits for a much longer time.
When a person begins receiving medical treatment from workers’ compensation and reaches a standard of health, they are taken off workers’ compensation.
Many times, workers’ compensation cases remain open for extended periods of time because some employers are self-insured, like DeKalb County School District. The school district might believe that keeping a case open and paying checks weekly instead of offering lump sum settlements will save them money in the long run. Reforms limiting payouts could be making self-insuring the better option for some school districts. In these instances, self-insured school districts pay out for catastrophic cases for life. But these income and medical benefit payments are only made when a person is no longer able to work or if they suffered debilitating injuries that will be a life-long burden.
Worker’s Compensation Attorney in Georgia
Approximately 140,000 workers’ compensation cases were filed in 2014, in accordance with the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation. During that year almost $1.3 billion was paid on workers’ compensation cases.
Indemnity claims, when an employee becomes ill or is injured on the job and the employer compensates for the lost wages, comprises a majority of the payout, about $1.05 billion. This information is reported to the state from insurers, group funds, and self-insurers.
Workers’ Compensation Settlements
Tracee Benzo is an Atlanta workers’ compensation attorney and has been working Wilburn’s worker’s compensation case. Benzo said several of her clients have workers’ compensation cases open. “Cases don’t get better with time,” Benzo said. “They’re not like fine wine.”
The longer amount of time the case remains open, the possibility for a settlement for the employee decreases. In many instances, such as in Wilburn’s case, the employer is reluctant to settle. Often, an employer will choose to keep the case open and slowly pay out lower benefits over a long period of time.
If you find yourself in a similar situation as Wilburn, you need a workers’ compensation attorney on your side to help you navigate the tumultuous waters of working with a case against a previous employer. An experienced workers’ comp attorney can help you secure the maximum benefit to help you pay for your injury and compensate for lost wages while you try and get on with your life.