Twenty years ago, when you were out chasing a suspect or holding a fire line walking up a steep hill and your knee gave out, the department probably took care of you. They may have sent you to the emergency room, given you some meds, time off of work, physical therapy, and maybe even paid for surgery. After your treatment, your goal was to get back to work – full duty – no exceptions. After all, you had twenty more years of service before retirement even began to look like an option, and you were “in it” for the long run.
So, during your treatment, you told the workers’ compensation doctor that you were ready to go back to work full duty, you did not need any more treatment, and that you were 100%. And then you worked on that knee for 20 more years, day-in-day-out. You pulled all-nighters, you walked up hills, you kicked down doors. Slowly, however, you began to feel that nagging pain of the old injury on occasion, but a daily dose of Motrin and a whole bunch of toughness got you through the discomfort.
Then year 20 came around, and your knee just would not work like it used to. You were a bit slowed down, a little less mobile, but you were not done working. You decided it was time to pursue some additional treatment. So, you called up your workers’ compensation administrator and reminded them about that knee injury you suffered back in ’99.
When you finally got in touch with the agent, one of two things happened: the agent found your old file, reviewed the contents, and told you that the doctor you saw 20 years ago did not think you would need lifetime care for the knee injury, so for all intents and purposes, the claim was “closed.” Sorry, you were out of luck.
Or, if you were lucky, the agent saw that the paperwork had been done right and you had lifetime care on the knee. You then were sent to another doctor of the department’s choosing, and the doctor did right by you – he saw that your initial meniscal tear had progressed into arthritis, he saw that your knee could be “cleaned up” with a relatively minor surgery which would most likely take care of the pain and mobility issues and get you back to full duty for the rest of your career.
If you were really lucky, your doctor requested the surgery and your department’s administrator approved it. You were all set to get the surgery, recover, and get back to work. But when the day of the surgery came around you decided to call up the department’s workers’ compensation agent and ask how you were going to get paid as you recovered for a few weeks after the surgery. The agent, then, explained to you that because more than five years had passed since your initial knee injury back in 1999, you would have to use your own sick and vacation time as you recovered. Your choice then became “do I get my knee fixed so I can keep working, or do I spend weeks of my own accrued time to keep my family fed while I recover from this work-related injury?”
You need to have a stipulated Award signed by a Judge, for future medical treatment after a work injury in order to obtain guaranteed lifetime future medical treatment. A letter from the adjuster acknowledging your injury is not enough.
If your knee was injured by wear and tear through the last 20 years of doing your job, you may have the right to file a new claim which potentially could afford you paid time off work while recovering from your injury, even though the initial injury happened years ago and is no longer eligible to pay you benefits while out of work.
This situation, among many others, is why it is important to discuss your legal options with a workers’ compensation attorney so that you can explore your rights under the current law. A consultation with a workers’ compensation attorney is always free. We are here to help you navigate through the legal issues surrounding your benefits including the need for medical treatment, disability payments, and if necessary, disability retirements.
Be safe out there!