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Workers compNew law protects Nebraskans from debt collectors while seeking workers’ compensation benefits

February 13, 20200
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No one wants a work injury. Generally, people want to live full and healthy lives. They don’t plan to become hurt while on the job. But sometimes accidents happen. 

No matter how careful you are, it is possible you may suffer an injury while you’re working, especially if you work in an environment that is physically demanding.  

Take this scenario for instance. Say you build beautiful homes. You’ve worked for more than 10 years. You walk on roofs. You climb up ladders, day after day. You handle heavy duty tools, like nail guns and automatic saws. You frequently walk through construction zone areas filled with nails. You have gone through safety training and take every precaution to make sure you and your colleagues are safe on the job. 

But then one day, you missed a step on a ladder. You lose your balance and fall. Tumbling three stories, you hit every limb on the way down. You are rushed to the emergency room and are quickly given x-rays. You spend hours there. You’re scared and in a lot of pain. 

What’s more, the tests and scans are quickly adding up. Before you know it, the hospital visit costs thousands upon thousands of dollars to pay for multiple broken bones and a head injury. Understandably, your family may quickly begin worrying about how expensive the medical expenses are going to be. But what you really need to be focusing on is healing so you can return to work one day and provide for your family. 

Or maybe you walk into work during the winter and slip on an icy patch outside of the front door of the office. It could leave you with a concussion, severe pain, or broken bones that immobilize you.

Many people love going to work. It gives them a sense of pride, purpose, and productivity.  The last thing they want to do is miss work to recover from illness or injury. But scenarios like this happen every day to hard workers who take all of the necessary precautions to avoid danger. A work-related injury can put you out of work for months and rattle your sense of security.  It is normal to worry that getting hurt at work would impact your finances and the stability of your family. The whole situation is frightening, and it’s changing your life in dramatic, unexpected ways. Some people who are injured at work can’t return at all because of their job-related injuries. 

Fortunately, employees have an avenue to pay for mounting medical debts that accumulate. And the good news is there is a way to pay for them that doesn’t involve dipping into your savings account.

That’s when it is important to know a thing or two about Nebraska’s workers’ compensation laws. The Omaha workers compensation lawyers at Watson & Carroll, Watson & Carroll, P.C., L.L.O, are here to help. We are a personal injury and disability law firm with offices in Nebraska and Iowa. We have years of experience in successfully handling even difficult workers’ compensation cases. We would be happy to review your situation. Contact our Nebraska workers’ comp team today to set up a free consultation. 

What is Workers’ Compensation? 

Workers’ compensation, also known as workers’ comp, is insurance paid to employees who are injured on the job or suffer a work-related illness. Nebraska, Iowa, and most states require employers to carry coverage for workers’ compensation to make sure the company is able to pay both the salaries and the expenses related to workplace injuries or illnesses for all affected employees.

Workers’ compensation is set up to cover your medical bills, doctor visits, rehabilitation and mileage to and from visits to the doctor. In addition, if you are unable to work, workers compensation covers your lost wages until you are well enough to return to your job. If your loved one is killed in a work-related incident, workers’ compensation will provide death benefits for that employee’s dependents. 

Workers’ compensation is there to cover you for the majority of work-related injuries. Here are other instances where workers’ compensation won’t be approved: 

  • injuries that are self-inflicted
  • Injuries sustained while an employee violated company policies
  • injuries that happened while an employee was not working 

Sometimes, workers’ compensation claims are complex and take a while to be granted and processed. They also can end up in Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court, a process that can drag on, while the two parties debate whether the injury qualifies for compensation. 

In our experience, employers assemble their own assessment teams of insurance representatives, doctors, nurse case managers, and attorneys to defend reduce or deny your workers’ compensation claim. After all, companies are always looking out for their own interests. 

But we will fight for workers who have legitimate injuries to make sure they get the coverage they deserve and can return to work as soon as possible.

For years, loan sharks have been able to harass people who are litigating workers’ compensation claims in court. They call relentlessly asking for payment on your medical bills that you haven’t paid. But the reason you haven’t paid them is because you’re waiting to be granted a workers’ compensation claim. The collectors don’t care if your case is pending in workers’ compensation court. The creditors have one goal — to recoup payments for their clients as soon as possible. This can put added stress on you when you already have so much to worry about. It also puts your credit score in jeopardy, which isn’t fair considering you wouldn’t have been injured if you weren’t working.

Last year, lawmakers in Lincoln decided to put a stop to this practice. With support from the legal sector, they knew it wasn’t right and wanted to protect injured workers from pestering creditors.

The Nebraska Legislature passed a law in 2019 that prevents debt collectors from trying to collect debt while a case is pending in the worker’s compensation court if the debt in question could be paid out by the worker’s compensation claim. That means payment for debt incurred against an employee or his or her spouse for treatment of a work-related injury may be delayed. The law went into effect on September 1, 2019.

It is now illegal for collection agencies to file lawsuits against you or to attempt to get you to pay the medical bills so long as you properly communicate that the unpaid medical bill is being actively pursued by you in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court.  

Nebraska Revised Statute § 48-148.02 states: “After receipt of the notices provided for in this section, no debt collection shall be undertaken by a provider of services, supplier of services, collection agency, collector, or creditor attempting to collect a debt incurred against an employee or his or her spouse for treatment of a work-related injury while the matter is pending in the compensation court until final adjudication of the case regarding such debt.”

Nebraska’s state lawmakers went a step further to discourage creditors from continuing collections. If debt collectors continue to not comply, the Attorney General may take such reasonable steps to ensure compliance with this new law. Here’s exactly what the law says about that: “If collection efforts continue after both notices are received by the entity seeking to collect, the notices may be forwarded to the Attorney General requesting his or her assistance in gaining compliance with this act.” 

The law was passed to put all collection lawsuits related to the injury on hold until the workers’ compensation lawsuit is won or denied by the judge of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court.

The Omaha workers comp lawyers at Watson & Carroll can help you through the entire process. The first step is to hire an experienced attorney to file your workers’ compensation lawsuit in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. Next, we will write and issue proper notice about your pending workers’ compensation claim to the collection agencies or medical facilities seeking money.  After the collector receives the proper notice, it should stop all proceedings until the workers’ compensation claim is finalized. If they continue to harass you after proper notice is received, we will get the Nebraska Attorney General’s office involved to stop the collection efforts.

This new law can help workers breathe a sigh of relief. The creditors will have to stop hounding you while your workers’ compensation case gets straightened out.  It should help protect your credit, too. 

This is a major win for injured workers in Nebraska, where debt collectors have been known to use aggressive collection tactics for medical bills. It signals that Nebraska lawmakers realize suing people over medical bills can have major implications on someone’s financial well-being.

An award-winning national investigative news organization shined a light on this issue last year.

In the ProPublica investigation titled “For Nebraska’s Poor, Get Sick and Get Sued”, the news organization found “debt collectors frequently sue over medical debts as small as $60 and a simple missed doctor’s bill can quickly land you in court.” The report said, “about 79,000 debt collection lawsuits were filed in Nebraska courts in 2013 alone.” The state only had 1.86 million people at that time. To compare, debt collectors in New Mexico, which has a similar population, filed about 30,000 suits. The report revealed that debt collectors are motivated by the low $45 court filing fee in Nebraska.

 

Watson and Carroll — We Are Here to Help You With Your Workers’ Comp Claim 

If you are worrying about debt related to a worker’s compensation claim, please reach out to Watson & Carroll so we can give you the best legal guidance possible. At Watson and Carroll, our workers comp attorneys take care of our clients from start to finish and beyond. 

Handling a workers’ compensation claim can feel overwhelming. There is a lot you need to know about the law. Our team can help you through this process so you don’t ever feel alone. There’s a lot to know about the laws that apply to worker’s compensation. It’s confusing and stressful. Leave the hard work to experts so you can focus on recovering and resting. 

We understand the workers’ compensation system. We will fight until we get payment for your work-related injury. Our top priority is recovering the benefits owed under the law and making sure your rights are protected against debt collectors, lenders, and other creditors. 

Sticking up for you is what we do best.

Watson & Carroll has been serving the injured and disabled since 2011. We are dedicated to providing aggressive representation to clients facing a variety of legal issues, including workers’ comp claims. We have six attorneys at our practice: John F. Carroll, Angela M. Zimmer, David M. Handley, Carol Cleaver, Laura Mommsen, and Lyndi A. Skinner

The first step is a conversation. If you are ready to schedule a free case consultation, contact us our offices in Omaha or Lincoln today. Our law firm will take cases across the entire state of Nebraska.

Read more about workers’ compensation claims.

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