Employment & Job Injury
About Alabama's Worker's Compensation Act
No Fault Compensation and Benefits
Alabama's Worker's Compensation Act provides injured workers certain limited compensation and medical benefits without the injured worker having to show that the employer was at fault in causing the worker's injuries. However, not all employees are subject to the Worker's Compensation Act. There are certain exemptions, including domestic servants, farm laborers, casual employees, and employers who regularly employ less than five employees.
Injury or Death Liability
An employer is liable under the Alabama Worker's Compensation Code for benefits where there is an injury or death of an employee caused by an accident arising out of and in the course of employment. Cumulative trauma and continuous exposure can also be a compensible accident under the Worker's Compensation Act.
5 Days to Report Injuries
Generally, notice must be given to an employer within five days and the notice should be in writing. A savings clause indicates that notice can be provided up to 90 days from the accident, but an employee may forfeit benefits up to the time of notification if the employer is not notified within five days.
Statute of Limitations—2 years from Date of Injury
The Alabama Worker's Compensation Code also provides for civil non-jury trials of all worker's compensation actions. Those civil actions are declared to be preferred actions to be tried as expeditiously as possible. The Statute of Limitations for such action is two years from the date of the accident, or two years from the date that the employee was last paid compensation, whichever is later.
Calculation of Compensation—Scheduled and Unscheduled Injuries
During the period of time that an employee is totally unable to work, the employee is entitled to two-thirds of his/her average weekly wages based on an average of wages for the 52 weeks before the accident. Fringe benefits are to be part of that calculation as well. Following an accident, if an employee is permanently partially disabled, then compensation pay may be made in one of two ways. If only certain parts of the body are affected by the accident, then the injury can be treated as a "scheduled injuries" in which the Worker's Compensation Code sets a payment rate for particular portions of the anatomy that are injured.
The second method is compensation for "unscheduled injuries" where the physical injury extends to other parts of the body and interferes with their efficiency, thus ultimately affecting the injured employee's ability to earn wages.
This calculation is further complicated by the fact that if an injured employee returns to work at the same wage rate before the injury, then the employee is only entitled to be compensated for their percentage of physical impairment. If the employee returns to lower wages, then the employee is entitled to offer evidence of a vocational loss which takes into account the employee's education, training, skills, and work history. If an injured worker who returns to work at the same pay rate loses the job for any reason within 300 weeks, then the employee may petition the Court for reconsideration of a vocational loss as compared to being compensated for a physical loss.
Coverage of Cost for Medical Expenses and Care
An employer is further obligated to pay the actual cost of reasonably necessary medical and surgical treatment, physical rehabilitation, medicine, medical and surgical supplies, crutches, artificial members, and other apparatus as may be needed by an injured employee. The employer chooses the treating physician and if the employee becomes dissatisfied with this physician, the employee is entitled to select a second physician from a panel or list of four physicians selected by the employer. If a treating physician believes that an injured worker cannot return to his or her former job, and the worker requests vocational rehabilitation, then upon written confirmation by a vocational rehabilitation specialist and the treating physician, the employer shall bear the cost of rehabilitation.
If an employee is injured to the extent where he or she is unable to perform his/her regular occupation or is unable to obtain reasonably gainful employment, then that employee is considered to be permanently and totally disabled. In that case, the employee is entitled to receive two-thirds of his or her average weekly earnings for the entire duration of the permanent total disability, which could be for the life of the employee.
There is an entirely different method for compensating dependents if an on-the-job injury causes death of the employee. Compensation for death is set at 50% of average weekly wages if there is one dependent and 66 2/3% of average weekly wages if there are two or more dependents. If a worker dies without dependents, then $7500.00 is to be paid to the employee's estate. Payments are made for 500 weeks maximum, or the ending of the dependency of the dependents, whichever comes first.
A Sample Case
Crowley v. The Heil Corp.
A DeKalb County jury found that The Heil Corporation, the manufacturer of garbage truck bodies, had mistreated one of its workers after an on-the-job injury.
Before suffering a back injury, our client had won accolades from his employer because of the quality work he was doing. After a back injury, he was forced to sit isolated in a room where he was told to answer a telephone that never rang. This was Heil's version of "light duty." However, he refused to quit and when he went back into the plant, his supervisor was told to watch and write him up for any minor infraction. Soon thereafter, he was terminated.
The jury found that The Heil Company had terminated our client solely for filing a worker's compensation claim, awarding him for lost wages and emotional distress. Heil was also punished for its wrongful conduct.
The jury's verdict was affirmed on appeal by the Alabama Supreme Court.