I was Injured at Work – Do I need a Lawyer?

In an ideal world, once you have suffered a personal injury at work the only thing you should need to do is report it to your employer and the WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board), go through the medical examinations, and receive compensation until you are able to work again.  Unfortunately, the reality is far more complicated, and even if you don’t immediately require a lawyer, you may want one on hand regardless.

Matters are even more complicated where your injury involves the use of a motor vehicle in the course of your employment.  In these circumstances, you may have the right to “elect” between receiving WSIB compensation or proceeding with a traditional claim for accident benefits from your own insurance company and pursuing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver(s).  These are tricky issues to resolve without professional advice from an experience lawyer.

In theory, the process of filing a claim after an injury is supposed to be worker-friendly.  You are expected to:

1. Report your injury to your supervisor and seek immediate first aid.  If a condition develops after your injury, this also needs to be reported.

2. File a claim with the WSIB as soon as possible.  If time or wages are also going to be lost, your employer will be required to file a claim of their own.  A delay in reporting the injury and filing the claim can be justification for the claim being rejected.

3. Get a medical assessment from your doctor, who will report it to the WSIB as part of the process of filing your claim.

If your claim is rejected, there is an appeal process in place.  The first step is to appeal directly to the WSIB, and ask them to reconsider your claim.  If this fails, you can then apply to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal, and have your case heard.

Unfortunately, in practice a WSIB claim is not necessarily going to be this simple or worker-friendly.  One of the problems is that the WSIB in Ontario has been underfunded by billions of dollars since 2007.  In the 1990s funding to support the WSIB  was cut by the Progressive Conservative government under Premier Mike Harris, but a solid investment portfolio allowed the WSIB to avoid a shortfall.  All of this collapsed along with the stock market in 2007, leaving them paying out far more than they received, and pushing them to find ways to cut back on spending.

This manifests itself in a number of ways.  WSIB health care costs have been cut by $77 million since 2009, often resulting in workers being sent back to work before they are ready, regardless of what their doctor might report.  Benefit payouts have likewise been cut by $631 million since 2009 – one of the results of this has been a 50% increase in the number of claims that have been denied.  And, with 20% of the WSIB’s budget being allocated to assessment centres, where case workers work with WSIB recipients, injured workers have found their benefits cut off after being deemed “uncooperative,” often in regards to resisting pressure to return to work while still suffering from injuries.

Even the appeals process can become a quagmire, with workers trying to navigate an overloaded system.  The Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal reported on March 30, 2015, that where it had the capacity to deal with 4,000 appeals per year, it was now facing over 9,000.  This creates numerous delays in any appeal, all while the injured worker is left without the compensation they require to recover from their injury.

In a system such as this, a lawyer can be an invaluable safety net.  An experienced personal injury lawyer can assist you throughout every part of the process.  After the initial injury, a lawyer can ensure that all of the forms for your WSIB claim are filled out properly and filed in time, minimizing the possibility of your claim being rejected.  A lawyer can also guide you through the appeals process, serving as your advocate if you need to go to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal or beyond.

Likewise, if you are mistreated at an assessment centre, finding yourself under unnecessary surveillance by the WSIB, or being pressured to return to work despite your injury or condition not having healed, a lawyer can serve as your advocate, protecting your interests and preventing your compensation from being cut off.  Much of this is because the WSIB is not necessarily on your side, but any lawyer you hire who is worth your time always will be.

In the end, the best time to call a lawyer after suffering a personal injury at work is as soon as possible.  From the beginning of your WSIB claim to your return to work, a good personal injury lawyer can facilitate your claim, advocate for you if it is rejected, and protect your interests.

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