In most workers’ compensation claims, a worker is injured on the job, reports the injury to a supervisor, and, if he requires medical attention and time off work, files a claim for workers’ comp to cover the cost of treatment and any lost wages. With a minor injury, the claim is usually approved quickly and the worker is compensated for his losses.
In the case of a serious and costly injury, the employer or his workers’ comp insurance provider may fight back against the claim. When this happens, it's important that the worker retain a workers’ compensation attorney. It may be difficult to take on the employer, its lawyers, and the insurance company, but a seriously-injured worker will be in even greater need of a quick and fair settlement.
He shouldn't attempt this alone. One difficulty he could face is evidence from a vocational expert working for the employer.
The Role of a Vocational Expert in Workers’ Comp Claims
A vocational expert is a professional with a special degree of knowledge about the abilities of people with different disabilities, the tasks required by a variety of jobs, and what kinds of accommodations can be made to help a disabled individual complete certain work-related tasks.
This specialist often has training as a rehabilitation counselor or life care planner for people with disabilities. He or she may also have additional training in evaluating earning capacity and workplace assessments. Because the Social Security Administration uses vocational experts in determining eligibility for disability benefits, many vocational experts have worked for the SSA and have evaluated hundreds of workers and workplaces.
Whether the expert is hired by the employer or by the injured employee, his role is pretty much the same—to offer his expert opinion on the employee’s readiness to return to work and his ability to perform the tasks required of him given the injuries he suffered in the workplace accident.
An expert hired by the employer will produce evidence that the injured person is capable of working; while the expert for the employee will try to prove that he or she isn't capable of returning to work and is therefore entitled to workers’ comp benefits.
Types of Evidence That May Be Presented by a Vocational Expert
While a vocational expert’s evidence consists primarily of his professional opinion, a reliable expert examines the following in order to formulate his conclusions:
- Medical records. While it's not the job of a vocational expert to show whether or not the worker is actually injured, he should examine medical records to evaluate the type and extent of injuries in order to determine the worker’s fitness for the job. Vocational experts aren't doctors, but they should use x-rays and other scans, lab tests, and doctors’ notes to make an informed assessment of the worker’s physical abilities.
- Job assessment. The expert should also do a thorough assessment of the workplace and the specific job the worker is expected to return to in order to determine his ability to do the work required of him. The expert may also explain what kinds of accommodations the worker may need in order to do the job.
- Vocational assessment. A vocational expert looks at the injured worker’s job history and education or professional training in order to offer an opinion about the worker’s ability to perform other duties if returning to his original job is not possible.
When a vocational expert testifies on behalf of the employer, it will be up to the attorney for the injured worker to question his statements and counter his evidence with stronger evidence of his own. A workers’ comp claim can become a battle of the vocational experts, and you want to make sure your attorney has the stronger specialist.
Obtaining Workers' Compensation Benefits Can Be a Complicated Process
When the stakes are high—as they often are when catastrophic injuries are concerned—you need an advocate working for you who understands the process and will fight fire with fire. If you've been injured on the job you need to speak with an experienced workers' compensation attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call us directly at 888.348.2616 to schedule your free consultation.