The simple answer is yes. You may represent yourself, but you probably will need a lawyer. The Arizona Revised Statute and the Arizona Administrative Code regulate the Workers’ Compensation system and procedures. In theory, the system works very well, but collecting compensation is not always as simple as completing and filing the correct forms within the correct time limits. In reality, the employer, or insurance carrier, often dispute the claim and may look for ways to avoid paying your claim. In such cases, it may be very difficult to get the compensation you are entitled to.
The ICA is responsible for protecting the rights of all parties involved in workers’ compensation claims. According to the Industrial Commission of Arizona’s Annual Report, published in November 2016, the ICA processes up to 6 000 documents every day. Between the Ombudsman’s office and the Claims Division, the ICA answers about 150,000 inquiries per year and it received 91,810 claims in the 2014/2015 year. The Ombudsman’s Office is available to provide assistance to injured workers to understand the workers’ compensation system and the process, but it cannot provide legal advice.
In the mass of paperwork processed by the ICA on a daily basis, your case can easily become just another statistic. A lawyer dedicated to your case will ensure that your case gets the attention it needs each step of the process. In a dispute, experienced competent lawyers will represent the employer and/or the insurance carrier. The best way to protect your rights is to obtain the services of a seasoned workers’ compensation lawyer to represent your interests.
Your lawyer will be familiar with the rules and procedures. He/she will ensure that you meet all the deadlines along the way. Compliance can speed up the process and ensure that you receive benefit payments as soon as possible.
Proving that your injury was work-related can sometimes be very difficult, especially if your injury developed over a period of time; or if you have a pre-existing condition, the insurance carrier might claim that your pre-injury was the cause of your condition and not your duties at work. If your claim or the amount of your benefit is in dispute, you will need an experienced lawyer to assist you.
Your lawyer will know what evidence you need to prove your claim and address any defenses raised. They will know which methods to use to gather evidence; are any other workers in the same industry showing the same symptoms, did the law recently change to include or exclude certain conditions? Was a product previously used in your industry recalled due to specific side effects?
Not all claims are straightforward; often you will need very specific medical experts to establish that your work-related duties were the primary cause of your injury. Your lawyer will know when and how to present expert testimony and, very importantly, will know how to cross-examine any expert witnesses presented to refute your claim.
Insurance companies can sometimes put pressure on an injured worker to accept a settlement that is favorable to the insurer. Your lawyer will assist you to understand exactly what rights you are giving up and ensure that the terms of the settlement are in fact in your best interest.
Don’t forget, workers’ compensation may limit your rights to take any other action against your employer, but there are situations where your employer’s negligence cannot be ignored. Your lawyer can advise you if you can receive compensation over and above receiving workers’ compensation. You may also be able to claim additional compensation from third parties who carry some responsibility for your injury, for example:
You can represent yourself, but a workers’ compensation lawyer will be familiar with the law the rules and procedures. He/she can give you advice on how to present your case, what evidence you need, what witnesses to call and whether it is in your best interest to settle your claim. It is your lawyer’s job to protect your interests and get you the best possible results. Can you afford not to have a lawyer on your side?
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