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A Cure Worse Than the Disease? A Look at Medical Malpractice in the Context of a Workers' Compensation Claim

By: Attorney Kendall W. Medway

Assume that you've suffered an injury at work. This can be a tremendously unsettling experience for many reasons but, disturbingly, one of the most common complaints that I hear from my workers’ compensation clients concerns the quality of the medical care that they receive.

In the normal course of events, if somebody gets hurt they generally just go and get medical attention, usually from their family doctor. Often, people see the same doctor for many years, and a certain level of trust builds up over time between the doctor and his/her patient.

However, when you are hurt at work in New Jersey, the course of events is much different. Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, the insurance carrier has the right to not only choose the doctor whom you see, but also to direct the treatment. So, having been injured on the job, you now find yourself thrust into a disconcerting scenario: you are entitled to medical treatment for your injuries, which will be paid for by the insurance carrier, but you have almost no choice when it comes to the doctor who will oversee your care.

Unfortunately, most doctors used by the insurance carriers give their Workers’ Compensation patients short shrift when it comes to their time and attention. They are under a great deal of pressure from the workers’ compensation insurance carriers to get the injured workers back to work quickly. Additionally, many of these doctors are required to agree to accept reduced rates of payment from the carriers in order to be placed on the carriers' list of “approved” providers. As a result, these providers are constrained to spend as little time as possible with each individual patient, and try to see as many patients as possible in rapid succession, in order to increase the profitability of each office visit.

Needless to say, the pressure exerted by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier can have a less than beneficial effect on the doctors' ability to practice medicine at the appropriate caliber. The doctors are forced to strike a delicate balance between the needs of their practices and the needs of their patients. Mistakes can occur, sometimes to the great detriment of the patient. The legal term for this is “medical malpractice.” In a nutshell, medical malpractice occurs when a medical provider either does something that he/she should not do, or fails to do something that he/she should, and causes injury to the patient.

It is a sad thing to say, but the number of calls that I have received from my workers’ compensation clients with questions about potential injury that they feel they have suffered at the hands of their workers’ compensation doctors has increased over the past few years.

Although I cannot explain why this would be, my impression is that many people receiving treatment through the Workers' Compensation system lose sight of the fact that they are still patients and are therefore still entitled to the same quality of care that they would receive from their own doctors. Perhaps it is due to the fact that Workers' Compensation recipients are not required to pay anything towards their medical treatment. Perhaps it is because the Workers' Compensation system is so unnerving and unfamiliar to so many workers. However, it is vital that you remember your rights as a patient and, if necessary, act as your own advocate.

If you remember nothing else discussed in this article, remember this: if you suspect that you have been the victim of medical malpractice, even if somebody else is paying for your treatment, be certain to first talk to a doctor and then consider consulting a medical malpractice lawyer, such as Andy Rockman and Robert Adinolfi who are here at Pellettieri Rabstein & Altman. Also, be sure to inform your Workers' Compensation lawyer of any such developments as well. He or she may be able to convince the insurance carrier to either change your provider or authorize you to see your own doctor for your injuries.

In closing, be sure that you choose skilled medical malpractice attorneys to represent you who possess a multi-disciplinary approach to legal practice, such as those at Pellettieri, Rabstein & Altman. In this fashion, you may be sure that your attorneys will communicate with each other and that you will receive the best possible legal representation. Having multiple claims arise out of the same injury can create substantial procedural complications unless your attorneys are experienced with such issues, know what to expect and know how to best protect your interests.

Should you have any questions after reading this article, please feel free to contact the author, workers’ compensation attorney Kendall Medway, at (1800 432 LAWS). 

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