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Do Not Let a Strong “Work Ethic” Deter You from Seeking Workers’ Compensation

Many workers are injured on the job and yet fail to file a workers’ compensation claim, often because they think the injury is not that severe, they are afraid of losing their job, or they simply have a strong work ethic. Unfortunately, many employers take advantage of these honest employees by denying valid workers’ compensation claims. This leads to litigation, which often vindicates the worker, albeit after a great deal of time and expense.

Employer Ordered to Pay Benefits to “Excellent Employee” Who Worked Through Injuries

Consider a recent case from here in Tennessee. A 38-year-old man spent most of his adult life working for a large manufacturer. While operating machinery at his job in 2008, the employee “felt a ‘pop’ and ‘burning’ in both shoulders.” He reported this to his employer and saw at least two physicians. While he received ongoing treatment in the form of cortisone injections, the doctors did not restrict his ability to work and he continued to pull regular 12-hour shifts plus overtime.

About four years later, in 2012, the employee required surgery on his left shoulder. An orthopedist later reviewed the employee’s medical records and concluded the injuries that made the surgery necessary were “most likely” caused by the 2008 workplace incident. The employee eventually filed a workers’ compensation claim. A trial judge determined the employee had suffered a five percent “impairment to the body as a whole” and a 20 percent “vocational disability.”

The employer appealed the award. But in December 2015, the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel of the Tennessee Supreme Court, agreed the employee was entitled to compensation for his work-related injuries. Among other things, the Panel rejected the employer’s argument that the employee was not entitled to workers’ compensation because he “went several months without seeking treatment.” Both the trial court and the Panel credited the employee’s “work ethic and desire to work” as understandable reasons for delaying treatment. This was not a case of a bad worker trying to game the system, the Panel explained. The trial court found the employee had an exemplary work history and was “an excellent employee” by all accounts.

The Panel also rejected the employer’s claim that the 2008 accident only increased the pain in the employee’s shoulders as the result of prior injuries. Both the trial court and the Panel said the medical evidence demonstrated otherwise. At best, the accident made any pre-existing injury worse, and not just in terms of pain. At worst, this was a “new, distinct” injury on top of the existing condition.

Get Help from a Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Many workers are afraid of losing wages if they complain about an injury. But it is important for workers to assert their legal rights to compensation if and when they are injured on the job through no fault of their own. An experienced Tennessee workers’ compensation lawyer can provide you with independent advice on your case and ensure your legal interests are protected. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton if you would like to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.

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