As a law firm, Maxwell & Webb, PLLC is committed to helping families manage the legal issues precipitated by a work-place injury. We provide personalized service to our clients with an emphasis on accurate, timely advice coupled with an understanding of your specific needs and goals.
Further, we believe in conscientious service. In other words, we do not hide behind a wall of staff. Rather, we pride ourselves on being available to our clients to answer questions and work toward securing the best possible outcomes. We know the issues that affect your family are important to you and we do not take them lightly. We feel it is our duty to serve our clients with respect and consideration, and part of such service means being available to talk to you.
As former Assistant Attorneys General (”AAGs”) of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office who represented the Department of Labor and Industries, we are well-versed in the complexities of Worker’s Compensation and most significantly, understand the Department’s motivations, strengths, and weaknesses.
Recently, our office has been fielding calls regarding the differences between “worker advocates” or “patient advocates” and attorneys who handle Workers’ Comp claims.
Patient advocates are not attorneys and they do not have the equivalent training and trial experience that attorneys have. Despite their lack of education and training, they often charge the same or similar rates as lawyers who handle L&I claims.
Patient advocates will not typically take your case to trial. Instead, once it looks like your case may be heading towards litigation, they will typically work to settle your case. However, if settlement negotiations fail, a patient advocate will likely terminate their representation of you. After settlement fails, the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals will schedule your case for trial. Having your advocate bail out at this point can be very problematic because trials are complicated and without an attorney representing you, your chances of a good outcome are greatly reduced. Worse still, many lawyers are reluctant to take cases after mediation has failed because the trial will occur relatively quickly, and as a result, there is usually not enough time to prepare the case as it ought to be prepared for trial. Finally, at such a late stage, any mistakes made by the advocate in handling the claim may no longer be correctable.
Patient advocates have less leverage to negotiate on your behalf during the mediation phase prior to trial. The parties on the other side are sophisticated and understand that the advocate will not follow through and litigate the case. As a result, there is little incentive for your employer and/or L&I to extend a meaningful settlement offer. This can make settlement more difficult, result in a lower settlement amount, or even cause the other side to ignore settlement possibilities outright. There is also the risk that because the advocate knows that he or she will not be representing you past the point of mediation, he or she may strongly encourage you to take any settlement that is offered because it is the advocate’s last opportunity to make a fee off of your case.
In summary, patient or worker advocates are not as qualified as attorneys, do not have trial experience, have fewer tools available to them in pursuing your rights, and charge rates similar to or identical to what a real lawyer charges. The only advantage to having a patient advocate is that at some firms, it is very difficult to talk to your attorney. At Maxwell & Webb however, our clients always have prompt access to their attorneys, and their attorneys are involved in all phases of the claim.
The Department of Labor and Industries was established almost 100 years ago. Over the last century, its primary purpose has been to protect workers by keeping workplaces safe, and assisting workers get back on their feet after an injury. Unfortunately, the Department sometimes fails to live up to this purpose, and Self Insured Employers are even more hesitant to do what is right.
If the Department (or Self Insured Claims Administrator handling your claim) has not acted promptly and properly on your behalf, you do have options. At Maxwell & Webb, it is our goal to ensure our clients receive all that they are entitled to under the industrial insurance system. It is sadly common to find that workers have been short-changed for two simple reasons:
Most workers are not aware of the full extent of their rights, and The Department (or Self Insureds) frequently take advantage of workers who don’t fully understand the system. If you believe the Department (or your Self Insured Claims Administrator) is not treating you fairly, you should speak with an attorney. Workers’ Compensation law is complicated and overwhelming. Worse, there are certain time limitations periods after which even obviously wrong and unfair decisions cannot be undone.
To fully protect your rights, you need someone on your side who understands the complexities of industrial insurance. We are here to assist you through the maze of rules and regulations that make up the system. Our consultations are free and without obligation. If you believe that you might not be receiving all the benefits or treatment you are entitled to, call us and schedule an appointment.
(Note: Please do not email personal details to Maxwell & Webb, PLLC. Email is not secure — it is like mailing a postcard, anyone who handles it can read it. Rather, please telephone us to schedule an appointment for an in person meeting.)
In the State of Washington, workers’ compensation claims are administered in one of two ways. An employer can either opt into the state fund system, or they can opt out. An employer who opts into the state fund system pays insurance premiums to the Department of Labor & Industries. Claims for work injuries or occupational diseases will likely impact the employer’s premiums, much like having a car accident could increase a driver’s insurance rates. However, aside from the insurance premiums paid to L&I, state fund employers are not directly responsible for the costs associated with an employee’s workplace injury or occupational disease. The vast majority of employers in the State of Washington are state fund employers.
An employer that opts out of the state fund system is referred to as a self-insured employer. Some of the largest companies will have an in-house claim administrator, but most self-insured employers hire a third party claim administrator to handle their workers’ compensation claims (some examples of third party claims administrators include Eberle Vivian, Gallager Bassett, or Sedgewick CMS). These third party claim administrators are hired by the employer to handle the day to day activity on the claim, and presumably, to keep claim costs to a minimum. The Department of Labor and Industries oversees the self-insured employers’ claim processing.
Unlike state fund employers, self-insured employers are directly responsible for all of the costs associated with a workplace injury. For example, if the injured worker needs an MRI, the self-insured employer pays for the imaging study; if the injured worker needs a low back surgery, the self-insured employer pays for the orthopedic procedure; if the injured worker needs pain medication, the self-insured employer pays the pharmacy bills; and so on. In this situation, every dollar spent on a claim comes directly from the self-insured employer. Because of this fact, self-insured employers and their claims administrators sometimes cut corners, misinform workers regarding industrial insurance law, or otherwise act to deprive workers of their rights under the system (for example, directing the worker to a particular doctor rather than letting the worker know he or she can choose a treating doctor independently of the employer’s direction).
Whether state fund or self-insured, if you think something might not be right with the way your claim is being handled, it is best to talk to an attorney.
Do not send personal information by email. Rather, simply send us your contact information and we will call you back. Do not send us email from your work or using your work provided email address. Please realize that email is not secure, private, or reliable. Worse still, if you send email from work (or even use an email address provided by your employer outside of your workplace), your employer can easily read your email. This could be highly damaging to you. This is why we ask that you telephone us instead of sending email to us. If however you insist on sending an email, you may send questions to: