Workers' Compensation in Missouri: When Should You Call an Attorney?
Ever-changing workers’ comp laws make it hard for employees to go it aloneBy Trevor Kupfer | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on October 12, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorneys R. Scott Pecher and Nancy R. Mogab
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- What Does The Change in Missouri Workers’ Compensation Law Mean?
- Who Can You Turn To For Legal Advice?
- Can I Afford to Get a Lawyer?
- What Should I Do if I’ve Been Injured on the Job?
- What Happens at the Initial Consultation with an Attorney?
- What Can I Get Through a Workers’ Comp Case?
- Find an Experienced Attorney to Navigate the Workers’ Compensation Process
In the early days of Missouri’s workers’ compensation laws, employers were tasked with furnishing compensation, irrespective of negligence, for the injury of an employee in an “accident arising out of or in the scope of his employment.”
Nowadays, the statute reads: “An injury by accident is compensable only if the accident was the prevailing factor in causing both the resulting medical condition and disability.”
What Does The Change in Missouri Workers’ Compensation Law Mean?
Explains Nancy R. Mogab, a workers’ compensation lawyer at Curtis, Heinz, Garrett & O’Keefe in St. Louis: “Let’s say you’re walking, you fall, and they ask, ‘What happened?’ If you say, ‘I don’t know, I just fell,’ that may not be compensable by the courts at this point—unless you said, ‘It was these boots I have to wear and the grease that’s on the floor that caused me to fall.’”
Worse, Mogab says, is that the statute is complicated, constantly changed, and its current incarnation is largely against employees. “There are even some insurance companies that don’t want to come to Missouri because the statute changes so often there’s no predictability,” she says.
Who Can You Turn To For Legal Advice?
In the early days, when a worker needed advice about a workplace injury, they could turn to an adviser at the Department of Labor or an administrative law judge. Now, judges are barred from doing so, and those advisers are gone.
An attorney is your only option.
Can I Afford to Get a Lawyer?
The good news is that workers’ comp lawyers commonly give free advice, and, if you hire one, take a maximum of 25 percent of your settlement—after you’ve received all medical benefits—at the conclusion of your case.
“People think they want to save money, but in the long run, they don’t know what they’re missing when they don’t call a lawyer,” Mogab says. “The initial interview is free for most workers’ comp attorneys, and it’s worth taking the time to call because it can get very complicated—way more than it should be, really.”
Companies with more than five employees are required by Missouri law to carry workers’ comp insurance, meaning the employer insures for protection and provides limited workers’ compensation benefits for work-related injuries. “In exchange, the employee gives up their right to sue for negligent acts that may have caused that injury,” Mogab says.
What Should I Do if I’ve Been Injured on the Job?
If you’re injured, you should report it to your employer as soon as possible, and they, in turn, should advise you to seek medical care.
“The employer gets to choose [where you go], which is really the insurance company directing you to a specific doctor,” says R. Scott Pecher, a workers’ compensation attorney at Miller Stilwell in Eureka. “Most ordinary cases are getting sent to doctors who do lots of work for these folks, so they’re pretty conservative.”
If you believe your employer, their workers’ compensation insurance, or the chosen doctor isn’t doing what’s in your best interest, Pecher suggests reaching out to a lawyer. This is especially true if a claim or payment is delayed or denied. “Or, if you get sent to a doctor, and they release you from treatment when you’re not feeling 100 percent … call someone,” he says.
What Happens at the Initial Consultation with an Attorney?
During that first call or meeting, an attorney commonly asks about the circumstances surrounding your injury, what has been communicated, and the steps that have been taken by the employer, insurance company, and doctor. They will then address what you can expect moving forward.
“Whether you want to retain a lawyer or not, at least you know what your protections are, what your rights are, and what your employer is supposed to do,” says Pecher.
The attorney’s job is to make sure you get the medical attention you need, the temporary and permanent benefits you’re entitled to and, ultimately, “the fair value for your injury and how it’s going to affect you down the road,” he adds.
What Can I Get Through a Workers’ Comp Case?
At the end of your workers’ compensation case, you may get a disability settlement or award. This is typically when the lawyer, if you chose to hire one, would get paid. If you’re not happy with the work the lawyer has done, says Mogab, and feel you should get the full amount, you can challenge it in front of a judge.
“There’s a lot to think about, and on top of it all is the fact that people are really not feeling too well,” she adds. “When you have an injury, dealing with all this is new, and you’re at risk.”
“If an insurance company and the employer are treating the injured worker in the way you’d expect to be treated, most people aren’t going to go to a lawyer,” adds Pecher. “It’s when they start making decisions not in the best interest of the injured employee—quite frankly, that’s when people start calling lawyers.”
Find an Experienced Attorney to Navigate the Workers’ Compensation Process
If you’ve experienced a work-related injury and are trying to get the workers’ comp benefits you’re entitled to, use the Super Lawyers directory to find a local work comp lawyer. You can learn more about their legal practice to be informed in your choice of a lawyer. Many attorneys free initial consultations to discuss your claim and the attorney-client relationship.
For more general information, see our overview of workers’ compensation and related content.
Find top lawyers with confidence
The Super Lawyers patented selection process is peer influenced and research driven, selecting the top 5% of attorneys to the Super Lawyers lists each year. We know lawyers and make it easy to connect with them.Find a lawyer near you