Attorney Matt Lager Guest Lectures at Penn State Law

Attorney Matt Lager Guest Lectures at Penn State Law

Attorney Matt LagerWe at Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager are proud to announce that, last week, our own Attorney (and Penn State Alumni) Matthew Lager guest lectured at Penn State Law for 2L and 3L law students who were taking Professor Erickson’s Workers’ Compensation course. As a former student of Professor Erickson’s Workers’ Compensation class (who previously held the distinction of achieving the highest grade in this course among his peers when he was a student), Attorney Lager was delighted to head back to State College and share his practice experience representing injured workers in Pennsylvania.

Because the course focuses on an overview of workers’ compensation law nationally, Attorney Lager spoke about Pennsylvania-specific legal issues from the perspective of an injured worker, sharing practice tips for helping to fight insurance companies. Attorney Lager also spoke to students about how the workers’ compensation litigation process affects injured workers and their families.

Are you an injured worker looking for legal help?

If you have been injured at work and are looking for an attorney to help you in your workers’ compensation claim, call 814-452-6232 to book a free consultation with Attorney Matt Lager. He’s happy to help and doesn’t charge any fee without a recovery.

Should I Settle my Workers’ Compensation Case?

Thinking about Settling Workers' Compensation CaseShould I Settle my Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Case?

In Pennsylvania, workers’ compensation settlements are entirely voluntary.  Workers’ compensation settlements require an injured worker and their employer and/or their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier to agree on the terms and conditions of the settlement.  Workers’ compensation settlement negotiations focus heavily on two components:

  1. The amount of a lump sum payment; and
  2. How long the employer/insurance carrier will continue to pay for an injured worker’s work related medical expenses.

An injured worker should not complete their assessment as to whether or not to settle their workers’ compensation case based only on these two components.

An injured worker must take many factors into consideration before determining whether settlement of their workers’ compensation may be in their best interest.  The terms of a workers’ comp settlement are reduced to writing in a document known as a Compromise and Release Agreement.  An injured worker wishing to settle their work comp claim will be required to testify in front of a workers’ compensation judge.  The workers’ compensation judge will then make a determination as to whether or not the injured worker understands the rights they are giving up in exchange for the settlement.

Once a workers’ compensation settlement has been approved by a workers’ compensation judge the terms of the settlement are final.  An injured worker should never settle their workers’ compensation case before first consulting with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.  Settlement of a workers’ compensation requires much more consideration than just a dollar figure.  An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will guarantee that all factors have been given proper consideration prior to the workers’ compensation settlement being finalized.

More importantly an experienced workers’ compensation attorney will be able to explain to an injured worker how settlement of their workers’ compensation will affect other benefits (i.e. Social Security Disability, Pension, Social Security Retirement, Medicare, Medicaid) or claims (i.e. Third Party – Personal Injury, Social Security Disability, Social Security Retirement, Unemployment Compensation, Wage and Hour, Discrimination, ADA) the injured worker may currently have or will seek in the future.

Contact one of our experienced workers’ compensation attorney’s for a free, no obligation, meeting to discuss whether and under what terms settlement of your workers’ compensation claim is the right decision for your and your family’s future. 

What happens to my Workers’ Compensation benefits if I die?

What happens to your Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation benefits if you die?

Husband and wife workers' compensationIn a typical case where a worker is receiving workers’ compensation wage-loss benefits for a work injury, all benefits stop upon that worker’s death. This is not to be confused with the case where an employee is killed at work. When an injured worker dies as a result of his work injury, there may be benefits available to any dependents and a lawyer should be involved immediately. But that is the subject for another post. If a loved one was killed at work, please call our office right away to schedule a free consultation.

The important point is that there is no general right for the surviving spouse or children to continue receiving workers’ compensation wage-loss benefits after the death of the injured worker, provided the injured worker’s death wasn’t work-related. This can have a devastating economic impact on the surviving spouse, who is already grief-stricken and then saddled with economic hardship from the spouse’s work injury.

I remember vividly the sad case of a young man that I represented many years ago. We negotiated a settlement for him, but he decided not to settle. A few months he came back and had changed his mind, and we were able to reopen negotiations. Sadly, within a few months of the settlement, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Fortunately, however, since his case was settled, his widow at least had some funds in the bank as a result of the previous settlement. Had he not settled, she would have received nothing after his unexpected passing.

There are many factors to consider in deciding whether or not to settle your workers’ compensation case. At Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager, we offer a free consultation to discuss your injury claim. There are many reasons why a settlement of a compensation claim may or may not be advisable. Providing some peace of mind to your spouse may be a factor that you had not previously considered. If you wish to speak with one of our Erie lawyers. call us at 814-452-6232.

Volunteer Firefighters are entitled to Workers’ Compensation in Pennsylvania

Can volunteer firefighters get workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania?

When volunteer firefighters are injured in the line of duty in Pennsylvania, they are potentially entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under Section 601 (a)(1) of the Workers’ Compensation Act, 77 P.S. § 1031 (a)(1), even though they are volunteering without pay:

(a) In addition to those persons included within the definition of the word “employe” as defined in section 104,1 “employe” shall also include…(1) members of volunteer fire departments or volunteer fire companies…

How much workers’ compensation is a volunteer firefighter paid?

Workers' Compensation for FirefightersOrdinarily, when receiving workers’ compensation benefits, an injured worker is entitled to a portion of his or her average weekly wage (averaging wages from all of his or her concurrent jobs combined). Interestingly, when a volunteer firefighter is receiving workers’ compensation and is unable to work, he or she is presumed to be earning wages equal to at least the “state-wide average weekly wage” for the purposed of calculating the amount of his or her wage-loss benefits.

This means that, whether or not a volunteer firefighter’s actual wages are equal to the state-wide average weekly wage, his or her wage-loss benefits will be paid as if he or she were earning at least the state-wide average weekly wage. As such, a volunteer firefighter will receive wage-loss benefits even if he or she is otherwise unemployed or even retired.

Should an injured volunteer firefighter hire an attorney?

If you or a loved one is a volunteer firefighter who was injured in the line of duty, you should hire a skilled Erie workers’ compensation lawyer to protect your rights. Insurance companies, unfortunately, rarely do the right thing. Our law firm offers free consultations to injured firefighters and does not charge a fee unless we obtain a recovery. With offices in both Erie and Smethport, our lawyers represent first-responders throughout Northwestern Pennsylvania. Call today to set up an in-person meeting with one of our Erie Lawyers at 814-452-6232.

No Recovery, No Fee Lawyers in Erie, PA: What does “Contingent Fee” Mean?

No Recovery No Fee Lawyer in Erie PAHow do I find a lawyer in Erie that charges no fee unless they settle my case?

When watching TV, you’ll see that many lawyers advertise No recovery, No Fee payment structures, wherein the lawyer won’t charge a fee for your personal injury case unless he or she gets you money by way of a lump-sum settlement or a verdict. During our free consultations, this is often the first question we get when meeting with a new client. Like all personal injury law firms in Erie, PA, we do not charge a fee unless we obtain a recovery for our client.

What is a contingent fee?

This sort of “no recovery no fee” arrangement is referred to as a “contingent fee,” and it is the standard practice for nearly all attorneys in Erie, PA that handle car accidents and other personal injury claims. When you see some of the heavy-advertisers focus on this structure in their commercials, don’t be fooled into thinking they’re the only ones that don’t charge hourly fees and don’t charge big retainers; they’re simply the only ones that shout about it on television. Knowing that this is standard practice for nearly all lawyers, you’re free to do your research and pick the best attorney for you without having to worry about draining your savings account.

Are contingent fees fair? Should I pay hourly instead?

Contingent no-recovery-no-fee arrangements give great power to personal injury victims who are looking for a lawyer: instead of being stuck with the cheapest option out there and operating on a shoestring budget, he or she can hire the best attorney in Erie to fight the insurance company on his or her behalf. Insurance companies hate paying out a fair value for claims and hire good lawyers to help minimize their exposure: our contingent-fee arrangements allow you to even the playing field and fight for fair compensation.

Who pays for the expenses in a lawsuit?

In addition to charging no fee unless we obtain a recovery, our firm also fronts all litigation expenses: what this means is that you don’t have to worry about coming up with thousands of dollars for expert reports, medical depositions, records, expert witnesses, et cetera. Because insurance companies spare no expense when it comes to building their case, we front the money for whatever it takes to prove the significance and extent of your injuries. Our firm doesn’t let insurance companies win by simply outspending us. We ensure things are fair.

What should I do?

If you have been injured in a car accident or have a workers’ compensation claim, don’t think that you can’t afford a good lawyer. Give our Erie, PA Lawyers a call and we’ll arrange a free consultation. If, after meeting us, you want to move forward—feel safe knowing that we don’t charge a fee unless there’s a recovery.

Can I be fired for making a workers’ compensation claim?

Fired for a workers' compensation claimMany injured workers in Pennsylvania are worried that their boss will either fire them or retaliate against them for filing a workers’ compensation claim after a work injury. Although not unheard of, such an event is illegal and should not dissuade you from filing a workers’ compensation claim after getting hurt at work.

It is illegal for an employer to fire you for filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Employers propagate this notion that injured workers should “tough it out” after an injury and “keep quiet” in order to keep their insurance premiums down. This is why many workplaces have environments where employees appear to look down on their injured coworkers. This sort of environment is inappropriate and is designed to take advantage of you.

Unfortunately for injured workers, failing to report injuries or failing to make workers’ compensation claims can potentially prevent them from being compensated for their missed work or having their medical bills paid. If you fail to take appropriate steps after an injury, you could find yourself without a job, without health insurance, and with a disabling injury that prevents you from returning to work. Although it might seem frightening, you cannot let that happen. Fortunately, you don’t have to be alone in this fight. With our low percentage-based fees, anybody can afford to have a lawyer on their side.

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, after an injured worker hires a workers’ compensation lawyer, employers are typically on their best behavior. And if they aren’t, you at least have a lawyer on your side to help protect your rights.

What are your rights under Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law?

After getting hurt at work in Pennsylvania, you’re entitled to have your injury-related medical bills paid and you’re entitled to be compensated while you’re unable to work because of your injury. While it seems simple, it often isn’t. Don’t let your boss or the insurance company tell you that you aren’t entitled to workers’ compensation or pressure you into not filing. If your injury ends up more serious than you expect sometime down the road, and now you’re missing work and need a surgery you can’t afford, you very well could find yourself out of luck with nobody to help.

I want to know more.

If you have questions about the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation system or your case, please do not hesitate to give me a call. I don’t charge for consultations and, if you need to hire me, we only work on a contingent, recovery-based fee. Anybody can afford our law firm.

How do I file a Workers’ Compensation Claim in Pennsylvania?

How do I file a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Claim?

As workers’ compensation lawyers, injured workers frequently ask us “how do I file a workers’ compensation claim?” Normally, the reason they’re asking is because either their employer failed to report the injury to their insurance company or because the insurance company denied their claim, asserting that the injury wasn’t “work related.” If this happened to you, you need a lawyer.

You need a lawyer to help file your workers’ compensation  cFiling a Workers' Compensation Claimlaim.

It’s important to realize that “making a workers’ compensation claim” isn’t as simple as, for example, reporting a fallen branch on your roof to your homeowner’s insurance carrier. Making a workers’ compensation claim is more similar to litigating a personal injury claim in real court, as it involves multiple hearings, cross-examination of witnesses, and medical depositions. This is neither cheap nor simple and it is not something you should try to do without an experienced lawyer.

When I get involved in a situation where a claim needs to be filed, I file what’s called a “Claim Petition” with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. This is just the beginning of the process. Soon thereafter, I am required to pay for and submit expert narrative reports, medical records, and conduct depositions of the treating doctors. This is both time consuming and expensive. It is not unusual to spend $4,000.00 litigating a workers’ compensation claim petition from start to finish.

We can help file your workers’ compensation claim.

When our office represents an injured worker, we work on a contingent basis and we pay all litigation expenses. We know that, when you’re out of work, you can’t afford to pay a lawyer’s retainer or be expected to spend $3,000.00 on a medical deposition. Importantly, in workers’ compensation claims, we never charge these expenses to our clients—we either get paid back by the employer or we don’t get paid back at all. We take the risk so you don’t have to.

If you’re wondering how to file a workers’ compensation claim in Erie, PA, Bradford, Smethport, or in Northwestern Pennsylvania, we encourage you to contact our office for a free consultation. If we can’t help you, we can at least point you in the right direction.

Can I file a Workers’ Compensation Claim in Pennsylvania if I was hurt in another state?

If I live in Pennsylvania, but I was hurt in another state, can I still file a workers’ compensation claim in Pennsylvania?

out of state workers' compensation claimWe often get asked by Pennsylvania residents—hurt in other states—if they can file their workers’ compensation claim in Pennsylvania. The answer to this question is “maybe.” Pennsylvania (and most states) provide that you may file a claim if you were hurt while working here or if you were hired here. So, for example, if you live in Pennsylvania, but were hired by a factory in Ohio and commute there every day, the answer is that your claim must be filed in Ohio.

However, if you were hired by a construction company and are injured while working on a project in New York, you can (and probably should) file your claim in Pennsylvania. Generally speaking, Pennsylvania benefits are better than both those of Ohio and New York. Of course, individual circumstances may vary.

Thus, the general rule is that if you were hired in Pennsylvania, and were injured in another state, it is necessary to examine the benefits in that state to determine if you should file in Pennsylvania or where the injury occurred. Please note also that some employers, notably trucking companies, often have employees sign agreements to file compensation claims in a certain state, often Indiana, which has laws that are very unfavorable to injured workers.

While these agreements are generally valid, we are happy to review your case to determine if there is some reason that it may not be enforceable. Any time there is a difference between the state of hire and the state where the injury occurred, it makes sense to seek legal advice to determine how best to proceed. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett, we are happy to review your injury claim with no cost or obligation. Give one of our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys a call at 814-452-6232 for a free sit-down consultation!

Why can’t I sue my employer if I was hurt at work?

Can I sue my employer if I was hurt at work?

LawsuitIf you have been injured at work in Pennsylvania, you are normally unable to bring a personal injury lawsuit against your employer—even in cases where the employer was negligent and caused you to suffer an injury. Instead, the only possible recovery for a work injury is through the workers’ compensation system. Why is this case? To understand why, it is best to understand the history of worker’s compensation and how the system was created.

A brief history of Workers’ Compensation

Prior to the introduction of workers’ compensation statutes, any worker who was injured on the job had to prove in court that the employer’s negligence was responsible for the injury in order to receive compensation. This was often a long and costly process for any worker to undergo. And, there were many defenses that employers could use to avoid liability for injuries including contributory negligence which prevented recovery if the employee was even slightly at fault for the accident, the fellow-servant doctrine which could allow employers to avoid liability if another employee was the cause of the injury, and the assumption of the risk doctrine which prevented recovery if the employee was aware of and assumed the risks and dangers of the workplace. Due in large part to these defenses, many injured workers recovered no compensation in the event that they were hurt while at work.

But, despite the low odds of recovery, employers also faced their own risks. The system of proving employer negligence often led to court costs and judgments that employers could not predict and they faced rising workplace liability insurance premiums.  Thus, the system provided significant incentives for reform from the perspective of both the worker and the employer. These reforms began first in Europe, starting in Germany in 1884. These workers’ compensation laws soon spread quickly to the United States, with Wisconsin passing the first law in 1911. Soon, the other states began to follow and each began to pass their own individual workers’ compensation laws. Pennsylvania passed its first Workers Compensation Act in 1915. By 1921, all but six states had replaced the old system of requiring a worker to sue to recover for an injury with a modern workers’ compensation system.

Workers’ compensation is often described as a “grand bargain” between workers and the employer. Under workers’ compensation, workers have relinquished the right to sue employers for any injuries that may be suffered in exchange for no-fault occupational injury insurance from the employer. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation is a complex and difficult system to navigate; if you have been injured, it is best to contact an attorney who understands workers’ compensation in order to ensure that you are properly compensated for your injury and that your rights are protected.

My Insurance Claim was Denied for a Pre-Existing Condition

You are entitled to compensation for aggravations to your pre-existing conditions

Pre-existing conditions are the most common excuses given for insurance claim denials. Whenever you make a claim for injuries after an auto accident, a slip-and-fall, or a workers’ compensation injury, the first thing an adjuster will do is request an authorization to get your medical records. What the adjuster doesn’t tell you is that he or she will use this authorization to obtain years of family doctor records to go on a “fishing expedition” for pre-existing conditions. This is just one reason that you should never sign anything without talking to a lawyer first—the insurance company isn’t entitled to all of your records! Even though the new injury made your pre-existing condition worse, the insurance company will then deny your claim as pre-existing.

Pre-Existing Conditions are Not a Valid Reason to Deny Your Insurance Claim

In Pennsylvania, in both personal injury cases and workers’ compensation cases, the insurance company is liable for aggravations to your pre-existing conditions! Don’t let them tell you otherwise. Regardless of any old injuries, if your injury was made worse—you’re entitled to compensation for the worsening.

Can I win my case if I have a pre-existing bad back?

Pre-existing back painDon’t be fooled: most people injured in car accidents or hurt at work have pre-existing conditions. The fact of the matter is that some people are more susceptible to certain types of injuries—particularly back injuries. It might be because of genetics or it might be because you work a heavy duty job that takes a toll on your back. Fortunately, Pennsylvania Courts have long recognized the “eggshell skull” doctrine, which allows compensation for injuries regardless of how predisposed a person might have been. After all, if not for this injury, your problem wouldn’t be so bad or wouldn’t have occurred at all.

What should I do if I have a pre-existing condition and was hurt in an accident?

Although Pennsylvania law allows compensation for aggravations of pre-existing conditions, the insurance company will still use it as a defense. That’s why it’s so important to hire a lawyer as early as possible—before the insurance company gets all the ammunition they need to defend against your case. Our firm has successfully represented a number of individuals whose claims were denied because of their pre-existing conditions. Call our Erie, PA lawyers today for a free consultation and case review and we’ll let you know if we can help.