Workers compensation law differs from state to state. In Rhode Island, the Department of Labor and Training’s Division of Workers Compensation oversees the workers’ compensation system.
Workers compensation is a type of insurance for employers that the state mandates for all non-exempted businesses employing one or more people. It is intended to cover medical costs and lost wages for employees injured on the job. It also covers those who suffer from a work-related illness or condition.
Workers compensation insurance is not just a benefit for employees. It is beneficial for employers as well. Acceptance of workers compensation benefits precludes an employee from suing their employer over the work-related injury or illness.
Responsibilities Regarding Workers Compensation
It is the employer’s responsibility to obtain workers compensation insurance in compliance with state law. If the business is unable to obtain workers’ compensation insurance, the state provides for an insurance carrier of last resort.
Employers must inform new hires whether they are a covered by workers compensation. Employees are responsible for timely notification to their employer of any work-related injury or illness.
When an employee reports an injury, it is the employer’s responsibility to file a claim with their insurance company. The insurance company, in turn, must report the occupational injury or illness to the state’s Division of Workers Compensation (DWC).
Once a claim for benefits is approved, the DWC is responsible for ensuring that the system correctly pays the injured employee.
The Division is also responsible for compiling statistical data on work-related injuries and their costs. Also, educating employers and workers about compensation law and regulations, and investigating workers compensation fraud.
Rhode Island Workers Compensation Law Disputes
Insurance for on-the-job injuries sounds like it should be simple and straightforward.
In fact, workers compensation law is a complex combination of statutes passed by the legislature, regulations crafted by the Department of Labor and Training, and case law made up of previous administrative decisions applying the rules and regulations to individual cases.
The nature of on-the-job injuries often gives rise to factual disputes concerning the precise causes and responsibility for the injury or illness. Furthermore, disagreements can and do arise over the interpretation of workers compensation laws and regulations.
If the parties cannot resolve disputes through informal methods, they can appeal their claims to the state court system.
The Rhode Island Workers Compensation Court
In 1991, as part of a complete overhaul of the Workers Compensation system, the Rhode Island General Assembly created the Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Court.
The Court adjudicates disputes between employers and employees regarding claims for workers compensation benefits. The legislature created a “fair and efficient” system for both parties to ensure prompt payment of benefits to injured workers, and to further provide for timely discontinuation of compensation once the employee can resume work.
Timeliness is a key consideration. The court must hold a “pretrial conference” within 21 days of the filing of a petition. The pre-trial meeting is for the purpose of finding common ground between the parties in an attempt to settle the dispute.
Absent an agreement, an administrative law judge will order temporary relief to one or the other party, and this temporary order is binding. Either party may appeal the decision to trial. However, the pretrial order remains in effect until final resolution of the case.
If either party petitions for a trial, the court will hold a full hearing of the evidence and issue a decision responsive to the relief sought in the petitioner’s filing. Also, the Court has an appellate division of its own to hear appeals from the trial court.
The Rhode Island Workers Compensation Court is one of several specialized courts that the state maintains to avoid overburdening the judicial system. However, it is a regular state court and follows all of the state rules and procedures.
The court does not require but does recommend legal representation for all petitioners.
Over 8,000 individuals or businesses petition the Rhode Island Workers Compensation Court each year. Remarkably, the Court resolves more than 70% of the disputes appealed to it within one month of the filing date.
Further Resources: Workers Compensation Attorney
Further Reading: Dept. of Labor and Training – Injured Worker Information