When you suffer an injury or other accident on the job in Virginia, you can file a workers’ compensation claim to help you receive the medical care and treatment you need to make a full recovery.
Such a claim would cover costs such as lost wages, medical care, and other expenses related to your accident.
However, please keep in mind that workers’ compensation is a highly complex and nuanced area of law.
For this reason, you should always discuss the details of your injury (and the potential benefits you may be entitled to) with an attorney following a serious workplace accident.
Editor’s Note: As one other note, please remember that under current Virginia employment law, undocumented immigrants are generally eligible for the same forms of workers’ compensation as those who can work legally. The one exception is for temporary partial disability, as it is described below.
What is Workers’ Compensation?
While the term is thrown around a lot and used in a wide variety of ways, workers’ compensation really comes down to two key points:
- Most employers in Virginia have to purchase some form of workers’ compensation insurance in order to stay in business.
- In the event that an employee is injured while performing their job, the employee can make a claim against this insurance policy to recoup any medical expenses or other financial losses.
Or, as further defined by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission:
[Workers’ compensation is…] a mandatory insurance requirement for most employers. It provides statutory benefits to covered workers who are injured in their employment. Virginia law requires every employer who regularly employs more than two employees part-time or full-time to carry workers’ compensation coverage. If a business hires subcontractor to perform the same trade, business or occupation, or to fulfill a contract of the business, the subcontractor’s employees are included in determining the total number of employees.VWC Glossary of Terms
So, in the event that you’re injured at work, the benefits you’ll receive will likely be paid out by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance.
What is the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act (VWCA)?
The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act (VWCA) is basically the section of the Virginia Code that contains all of the Commonwealth’s laws and procedures for claims involving workers’ compensation.
While you certainly don’t have to look through it yourself (that’s your lawyer’s job after all), it’s still a good idea for you to know where most of the information pertaining to your workers’ compensation claim is coming from.
You may also want to glance through the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission (VWCC) website, which contains lots of guides and other information that can help injured workers with their claims.
For example, we highly recommend that you read the VWCC’s Virginia injured worker’s benefits guide.
How Do I Receive these Benefits?
In order to claim the benefits entitled to you by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company, you’ll have to meet a few critical deatlines:
- First, you must give your employer written notice of your injury no later than 30 days from the date the accident occurred.
- Second, you must file a claim with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission within two years of the accident.
Consulting with an attorney as soon as possible after your accident is the best way to ensure you meet these deadlines and receive the compensation you deserve.
This is especially true if your accident was severe enough to result a trip to the hospital or some other form of serious medical care.
While you can certain submit the claim form yourself, it’s much easier to receive the benefits you’re entitled to when you have an experienced attorney by your side throughout the process.
Disability Benefits in the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act
As we noted above, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act specifically outlines all of the laws and rules surrounding workers’ compensation claims in Virginia, including the types of benefits you could receive after being injured on the job.
Notably, the VWCA breaks these “types” of benefits up into four distinct categories, which correlate to (1) how long your injury will last and/or affect your life, and (2) the magnitude and severity of your injuries..
These categories of benefits are meant to replace the income that you would otherwise have if you weren’t injured at work.
For example, if you break your arm and can’t meet your hourly quota of 40 hours per week, you may qualify for disability benefits to make up for the income you lost as a result of the accident.
Temporary Total Disability (TTD)
In the event your injury leaves you completely unable to perform your job for a short period of time, you may qualify for temporary total disability benefits.
Note, however, that the amount of benefits you receive will depend on your weekly wage before the injury occurred.
Specifically, you will receive 2/3 of your pre-injury average weekly wage throughout your temporary disability period.
These benefits are not taxed. However, you are only eligible for this type of benefit for the period that you are temporarily disabled.
Once you heal and are no longer disabled the benefit payments will stop.
- Example: You break both of your legs and are immobile for a few months while they heal, but otherwise make a full recovery.
Temporary Partial Disability (TPD)
In the event your injury leaves you partially unable to perform your job (or parts of your job) for a short period of time, you may qualify for temporary partial disability benefits.
If you are earning less than your average pre-injury wages doing this kind of work (such as by having fewer hours), you may qualify for temporary partial disability benefits that can make up the difference between your current income and your pre-injury income.
The rules for these benefits are the same as for temporary full disability payments (2/3 of your income, non-taxable, etc.).
- Example: You break your arm and can only do desk work or other limited work at your job.
Permanent Total Disability (PPD)
In the event that your injury leaves you permanently injured or otherwise incapable of finding gainful employment, you may qualify for permanent total disability benefits.
As you might imagine, the benefits associated with this kind of disability can be large, life-changing amounts of money, as the point of these benefits is to make you “whole” by paying for any and all costs related to your injury, in addition to pain and suffering.
Specifically, these benefits will usually entitle you to weekly disability payments for the rest of your life.
In order to qualify for permanent total disability benefits, you must instead suffer from injuries such as lost limbs or eyes, complete or significant paralysis, or a traumatic brain injury so severe that you are incapable of gainful employment.
- Example: You are paralyzed and are thus unable to find gainful employment in your industry.
Permanent Partial Disability (PTD)
In the event that your injury leaves you permanently injured or otherwise incapable of performing certain aspects of your job (but not all), you may qualify for permanent partial disability benefits.
The rules for these benefits are largely the same as for permanent total disability benefits, but are limited to specific compensation periods based on the type of injury you sustain.
For example, if you lose a leg in a workplace accident, the Virginia Code specifically states that you will receive compensation for a period of 175 weeks.
Note, however, that Virginia does not allow for permanent partial disability benefits due to the lost of use of either your back or neck.
- Example: You lose your thumb in a workplace accident.
Medical Benefits in the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act
In the event that you’re eligible for workers’ compensation as described above, you may also be entitled to compensation for your medical expenses.
These benefits can include payments for expenses such as:
- Doctor and specialist visits;
- Costs associated with hospital treatments (in-patient and out-patient);
- Medical testing for diagnosis and treatment;
- Physical rehabilitation;
- Medication and medical needs (such as wheelchairs, back braces, etc.);
- Prosthetic devices to repair and/or replace damaged joints and limbs; and/or,
- Transportation costs relating to attending these appointments.
You should speak with an attorney if you believe that you are entitled to receive these types of medical benefits on top of your lost wages.
These benefits can vary on a case-by-case basis, and whether or not your expenses are covered will depend on your employer’s insurance as well as your injuries.
In the event that your employer’s insurance denies your claim for these expenses, you’ll want to talk to a lawyer about the different ways you can fight to receive the compensation you deserve.
Lifetime Medical Benefits
In the event that your injury leads to a permanent injury or an injury that will otherwise affect you for the rest of your life, you may also qualify for lifetime medical benefits.
This means that all of your medical treatment relating to the original injury will be covered for the rest of your life, as long as that treatment is reasonable, necessary, and causally related to your work accident.
Once your injury completely heals, you will no longer be entitled to these benefits.
Note, however, that if you injury re-emerges or causes further damage, you may be able to claim further support, provided the newly re-emerged injury is causally related to your original claim.
Miscellaneous Benefits in the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act
While lost wages and medical awards are often the largest benefits you’ll receive in your case, there are also a few other types of benefits that might apply to your specific situation.
Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA)
If you’re working on light-duty or otherwise losing wages as a result of your injury for an extended period of time, you may be eligible for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) each year.
Put simply, the purpose of this adjustment is to ensure that the value of compensation benefits paid to you do not diminish due to inflation (expect around 2.5% per year on average).
For example, if you’re paid $10,000 for lost wages per year as a result of a workers’ compensation claim, you may be able to adjust this cost based on the inflation rates of the previous years.
Over 10 years (as based on the average of the past decade), this annual payment would grow to around $12,800 with COLA factored in, a noticeable improvement over the original award of $10,000 per year.
As you might imagine, cost of living adjustments are especially useful if you’re on disability for an extended period of time, or if there is a significant amount of inflation in your area.
For this reason, it’s smart to at least discuss this topic with your attorney if you believe your injury may take years to heal, or if your injury will otherwise keep you out of the workforce for an extended period of time.
Pain and Suffering
As a notable difference from personal injury claims, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act does not provide any recovery for pain and suffering you endure as a result of your injury.
For this reason, this is an avenue you’ll have to pursue with an attorney if you believe you are entitled to an award for the pain and suffering you experienced as a direct result of your workplace accident.
Benefits Paid on Death
Finally, when a worker is killed on the job or dies because of work-related injuries, Virginia offers death benefits to his or her family members.
These benefits are intended to help compensate the family for their losses.
Losing your family member at work or because of work is unimaginable, and no amount of money can make up for their death.
However, these benefits can help you manage the expenses associated with such a devastating loss, and can help provide some much-needed stability in an uncertain time.
Death benefits available through the VWC include:
- Up to $10,000 in burial expenses;
- Up to $1,000 in transportation expenses; and
- Compensation for wages lost, paid to the surviving spouse and dependents.
The wage compensation will last for 500 weeks (9.5 years), and will compensate the decedent’s family for two-thirds of their weekly wage.
Workers’ compensation law can be complicated, and the benefits you receive can vary based on a number of factors.
For this reason, hiring a lawyer to help you navigate this process is often the best course of action due to the money and stress you’ll save in the long run.
In any event, the most important things to remember are:
- The benefits you’ll receive can vary depending on the severity and duration of the injury you sustained.
- In order to claim your benefits, you’ll have to notify your employer of the injury and then file a claim with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission.
If you have any questions about this process or if you’d generally like to talk about your case, please feel free to reach out to one of our attorneys to schedule an appointment.
- Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission Claim for Benefits Form — An example of the types of questions the commission will ask you when you file your claim.