Properly document and record your accident.
This can be done by completing an accident report or other written document at work immediately after your accident occurs. However, it can also be done when you receive medical treatment by completing medical intake forms which clearly state how your accident and injury occurred. It is always best to use a company-provided accident report to document your accident, but it is also possible to use other written methods which will prove your accident later.
Avoid giving a recorded statement to the company or insurance representative.
Under the law you are absolutely not required to provide a recorded statement to your company or its insurance representative. Providing a recorded statement can only hurt your case. If your company or its insurance representative tells you that you must provide a recorded statement in order to receive medical treatment, they are simply lying to you and you should immediately contact an attorney. The Jones Act and maritime law state that your company must provide you with medical treatment from a doctor who you select. You are also clearly entitled to immediate medical treatment. These rights are not dependent upon you providing a recorded statement.
Be sure to select your own treating doctor.
By law, you are allowed to select your own treating doctor after you become injured. Be sure to insist on selecting a doctor you know and trust. Your treating doctor will be very important in determining if, and when, you are able to return to work. Your treating doctor will also be the individual who recommends and performs medical testing to determine the nature and extent of your injury. Your future health may depend upon selecting the right doctor to treat you following your injury.
Do not accept medical treatment from a company-chosen doctor.
Not only should you select your own treating doctor for your injury, but you should refuse to be treated by a company-selected physician. Very often the company will insist that you see a doctor that the company chooses for you. Although the Jones Act and maritime law do allow your company to investigate your medical condition, which includes having you seen by a doctor the company selects, this law only requires that you see the company-chosen physician for one visit so that he can investigate your condition. You do not have to and should not treat with a company-chosen physician on an ongoing basis following your injury. The doctor who provides ongoing treatment for your injury will be very important in your case and you do not want a company-selected physician to provide this critically important information in your case.
Do not return to work unless you have fully recovered from your injury.
Many companies and their selected physicians will encourage injured employees to “try” to return to work as soon as possible. If you are still suffering from your injury, you absolutely should not attempt to return to work. If you return to work too soon, you may further injure yourself or you may injure other employees. If either of these situations occur, this will greatly hurt your case against your employer. Also, once you return to work, many companies will then claim that you are no longer injured and refuse to provide you with further medical treatment since you went back to work. This is a horrible tactic, but a lot of companies we see will try this tactic to avoid helping an injured employee get needed medical treatment.
Insist that you receive all possible medical testing related to your injury.
You should encourage and require your treating physician to perform any and all medical testing which may diagnose any type of medical problem or injury. It is very important that medical testing be performed to “rule out” any type of injuries as well as testing to confirm suspected injuries. You must make sure that you are fully aware of your entire medical condition before you attempt to return to work or resolve your case with your employer. We highly recommend that MRI tests be performed if you have hurt your neck, back, shoulder, knee or ankle. MRIs can easily be performed on these parts of your body and an MRI will diagnosis ligament and disk injuries. A basic x-ray does not show this type of damage.
Be aware that your company may be trying to videotape you.
Most maritime companies, and especially their insurance companies, will immediately hire private investigators to obtain video surveillance on you following your injury. Make sure you do not overexert yourself or perform activities which may worsen your injury. There is a very good chance that you are being videotaped so you should be careful of your activities.
Do not discuss settlement of your case.
In general, you should never discuss settlement of your case with your company or its insurance representative. Settlements are very complicated and before you can discuss settlement amounts, you need to know the value of your case. You simply cannot know the value of your case until you have fully recovered from your injury and you have had extensive medical testing performed to confirm that your injury has resolved. Only then can you intelligently place a value on the pain and suffering which you have experienced as well as the value of your lost time from work and your medical expenses. If your case involves a permanent injury which will cause pain and disability in the future, and you may loss future wages and fringe benefits, these damages can be estimated by a good attorney. In almost all cases, it is extremely important to speak with an attorney concerning the value of these damages. As a rule, we recommend that no one speak to their company or its insurance representative regarding settling their claim until they speak with a good maritime attorney.
Do not sign any type of release documents if you try to return to work.
We cannot count the amount of times our clients have told us that the company was insisting that they sign some type of release document for their injury in order for them to return to work following their accident. There is absolutely no law that requires you to sign a document releasing your company and its insurance company from your claim in order for you to return to work. In all cases it is a huge mistake to sign any type of release before you have actually attempted to return to work even if you feel fine and your doctor has fully released you to return to work. Most injured workers will spend weeks or even months at home recovering from their injuries. Then, when their treating doctor releases them to return to full duty work, they mistakenly sign a release only to find out after they return to work that they are still experiencing significant medical problems. If you have not performed very heavy manual labor since your accident, you simply will not know whether or not you have fully recovered until you are back at work for several weeks or even months. You should never sign any type of release document until you have this knowledge.