Self-Employed and Injured on the Job? Use Your Legal Rights to Your Advantage
5 Key questions to answer after suffering a work-related injury
While some occupations are more dangerous than others, whether you travel from jobsite to jobsite or spend eight hours a day in your home office, there is a chance you could get injured on the job. From auto accidents to tool malfunctions, from falls to repetitive stress injuries, self-employed people can suffer a seemingly endless variety of injuries and when they do, they often lack the safety net of Colorado’s workers’ compensation system.
So, if you are self-employed and have suffered a work-related injury, what options are available? How can you cover living expenses, and how can you get back to serving clients or customers? Depending on the circumstances involved in the accident and the insurance coverage available, you can pursue a few different sources of financial recovery:
5 KEY QUESTIONS TO ANSWER AFTER SUFFERING A WORK-RELATED INJURY
1. WHAT COVERAGE DO YOU HAVE?
As someone who is self-employed, ideally, you will have insurance to cover this kind of scenario. While your health insurance may cover medical expenses, it will not cover the other financial and non-financial impacts of your accident-related injury. However, you can seek compensation for your loss of income, and other losses as well, if you have either of the following types of business coverage:
- DISABILITY INSURANCE
Disability insurance policies for self-employed individuals typically provide partial income replacement during periods of injury-related disability. Between health insurance and disability insurance (if you have it), you may be able to cover the majority of the direct financial costs associated with your work-related injury.
- WORKERS COMPENSATION INSURANCE
If your business is subject to Colorado’s mandatory workers’ compensation requirement and you personally meet the requirements for eligibility, you may be able to file a claim against your company’s workers’ compensation policy. Similar to the combination of health insurance and disability insurance, workers’ compensation provides full coverage for medical expenses and partial coverage for loss of employment-based income.
Depending on your personal and financial circumstances, you may also be eligible for Medicare, Social Security Disability (SSD) or other government benefits. As someone who is self-employed, you should be paying into these systems on a regular basis. If you were injured in an auto accident and you elected to pay for personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, you may be entitled to no-fault medical and income benefits under your auto insurance policy as well.
2. HOW EXTENSIVE ARE YOUR LOSSES?
The extent of your losses will help determine how far you should go to pursue a financial recovery. Will you be unable to run your business for a week? A month? For the rest of your life? Are you likely to experience chronic pain or a permanent disability that will impact other aspects of your life as well? Have you suffered emotional trauma that will require treatment? Are you unable to enjoy spending time with your spouse, children or friends due to your injury?
If your losses are relatively minor, as a practical matter, it may not be worthwhile to pursue compensation beyond your available insurance coverage. However, many individuals’ accident-related losses are far greater than they realize, and you should not decide to forego any potential sources of recovery until you have a clear picture of the full amount you are entitled to.
3. WHO WAS AT FAULT?
Assuming your losses are significant (whatever that may mean to you), your next step is to determine who was at fault in the accident. Under Colorado law, negligent drivers, property owners and various others can be held fully liable for accident victims’ injury-related losses. Self-employed entrepreneurs and business owners injured in work-related accidents will often have claims for full compensation (including loss of income, pain and suffering and other financial and non-financial losses) against:
- Distracted, drunk, fatigued and reckless drivers who cause auto accidents
- Property owners who fail to adequately maintain their premises or fix potential hazards
- Contractors and subcontractors whose employees cause accidents
- Manufacturers and sellers of dangerous and defective products
When evaluating your options, it is important to assess whether you may have played a role in the accident as well. With regard to personal injury liability, Colorado follows a rule known as “modified comparative fault.” This means that your financial recovery can be reduced in proportion to your percentage of fault in the accident; and, if you were 50 percent or more at fault, you may be barred from pursuing a fault-based claim entirely.
4. WHAT ARE YOU PREPARED TO DO?
While most insurance claims (both fault-based and non-fault-based) result in insurance settlements, the outcome of any particular case can never be guaranteed. If the insurance companies refuse to settle, will you be willing to take your case to trial? While your attorney can (and should) handle most of the process, you will still need to stay involved, and it may take longer than you would like to recover the compensation you deserve.
On the other hand, if you have suffered an injury that prevents you from running your business, you may have little choice but to see your case through. Once again, this is a factor that requires careful consideration, and you should make all decisions with your long-term best interests in mind.
5. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO SECURE MAXIMUM COMPENSATION IN THE SHORTEST AMOUNT OF TIME?
If you are like most business owners, your priority is to get back to business. While this is absolutely a noble and worthy consideration, we would again caution against prioritizing short-term desires over long-term needs. Is there someone you can trust to keep your business running while you recover? Can you explain your situation to your clients or customers? Can you play a limited role in the business (without jeopardizing your legal rights) while relying on your partners or employees? Here too, you may have a variety of options available, and you should not rush back to work at the expense of your health and financial recovery.