30 years and counting

On August 15, 1983, I started as a young associate attorney with a Brooklyn law firm named Pasternack Popish and Burton. I had just left my first law job at a general practice firm, with the solid conviction that learning and juggling many different kinds of cases in different areas of the law wasn’t for me. Although going in I had almost no idea what practicing Workers’ Compensation or Social Security Disability law was about, specializing in just one or two areas seemed, to me, to be a better fit.

Well, I must have been right, because here I am still representing injured and disabled workers in 2013. Today marks 30 years since I started as a Workers’ Comp/SSD lawyer, and I have seen almost everything in those 30 years. One constant, however, has been my endless joy and satisfaction at what I do. I feel very blessed to have found something that has paid the bills while at the same time challenged me intellectually and allowed me to truly help those who need help. I was brought up in a home where the underdog was always exalted, and certainly in my line of work I fight for the underdog—the injured and disabled worker—every day.

Today I cross-examined a City of New York psychiatrist (read: hired gun) who examined my client exactly once and decided that although he didn’t perform any tests of any kind, he just KNOWS that my client has no psychiatric disability. This scenario could well have been in 1983 (God knows, I think this quack was doing the same thing when I started) so it just shows that although many things have changed in 30 years, many remain the same. We still in 2013 have multiple doctors who can examine the same injured worker and come to completely opposite conclusions regarding that worker’s “degree of disability”, and we still have Judges who then must decide whether that injured worker gets a lot of money, a little, or nothing at all.

It’s been a pleasure being a Workers’ Compensation and Social Security Disability lawyer for the past 30 years. I sincerely hope that I can keep fighting for the injured and disabled for many, many more.

Timeline of a New Workers’ Comp Case: The Inside View

Often, injured workers face delays in the processing of their claims. Such workers can be out of work due to an on-the-job injury and not see a check from the insurance company for weeks, or even months. This can cause untold hardships for the worker. How is the comp system supposed to work? And what actually happens?

When an employee in New York is injured at work, that employee has 30 days under state law to timely report the incident to the employer. The longer he/she waits, though, the more time it will take to receive needed medical care and comp checks. So it’s always best to report a workplace incident as soon as it happens.

But how much time does the employer have, by law, to turn around and forward this incident report from the employee to the employer’s insurance company (called the “workers’ compensation carrier”?) and to New York State? The answer: 10 days. (Do they sometimes wait longer? Yes, all the time.)

So now, it’s possible at least 10 days have gone by. Our poor injured worker has now waited 10 days for permission to see a Workers’ Comp (WC) doctor, because most such doctors won’t see a WC patient without a “carrier case number.” Do these cases get set up by the carriers in a mere 10 days?

Not from my experience. Usually, it takes longer. My past experience shows it takes at least 2-3 weeks at minimum for a Workers’ Comp carrier to set up a file. Even then, in the early stages of a WC case, there is really nothing forcing insurance companies to make fast payments to injured workers. Often, they will wait it out a while until they finally decide to start paying.

The most important thing to know is this: WC Insurance companies are under no obligation to pay injured workers AT ALL until the Workers’ Comp Board orders them to. And the Board usually takes months—-yes, months—-to hold a hearing or make a decision in any case. So if you are the insurance company, do you rush to make payments to the injured worker? Often, the answer is no.

If the employer contests the case, the injured worker must wait for a hearing at the Workers’ Comp Board (WCB.) Under the WCB’s “Rocket Docket” ( a supposedly streamlined hearing process,) the Board says the following:

The Rocket Docket sets a goal of having a pre-hearing conference within 30 days…………on average it took 75 days to address the issues in the controverted claims. Nearly 60% of controverted claims met the goal of being resolved within 90 days, while another 21%were resolved in 91-180 days.”

(WCB 2011 Annual report)

So if the employer simply says to the insurance carrier “I don’t believe the employee was injured, so contest their case”, the injured worker has to wait at least 3 months for a decision.

My experience: 3 months is the minimum; often it takes a lot longer.

So, if your question is, is Workers’ Comp going to pay me right away for my work-related injury? The answer is: Probably not.

Hiring a lawyer who can navigate through the system and help speed things along is always a good idea, though.