Is it OK to Move While On Worker’s Compensation?

A question that comes up more frequently than one might imagine goes something like this:  “We want to move back home to be closer to family.  Is it OK to move while I’m still on worker’s compensation?”  It’s really a great question.  The technical answer is yes – you can do anything you want – but there may be unpleasant consequences for your worker’s comp case  in some situations.

Obviously, if you are injured at work, the right to receive medical care and potentially temporary total disability (TTD) payments from the worker’s comp insurance company is important, but sometimes “real life” creates a conflict.  You may need to move back home to care for a loved one.  Your husband or wife may have gotten a new job opportunity.  You may not fit in just right in a new place.  So, what does happen if you feel like you need to move out of state?  Will they terminate TTD?  Will they require me to come back to Indiana to see their doctors?  These are complicated questions with complicated answers, and the answers depend on the status of your case.  Read on to learn more.

If Your Worker’s Comp Doctor Placed You at Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) and You Agree with The Decision

For clients whose doctors have already placed them at MMI, and the client agrees, the answer is a little easier.  It’s probably safe to move because you will not have to address the two biggest issues discussed below:  an insistence by worker’s comp that you see the same doctor, and an offer to return to work while on restrictions.  Yes, there probably won’t be any real hang-ups with moving.  In cases like these, the lingering issues can usually be addressed remotely.  Even when settlement occurs, we can take advantage of something called a “Limited Power of Attorney” to speed up the settlement process.

If Your Worker’s Comp Doctor Placed You at Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) and You Disagree with The Decision

Things can get trickier when you are unhappy with the worker’s comp doctor’s decision to place you at MMI.  You may have the right to request an Independent Medical Examination (IME), and the Indiana Worker’s Compensation Board’s first instinct will be to authorize an IME to be performed in-state.  I believe it is possible for injured workers who move out-of-state to obtain an IME from a doctor in the new state, but unless the worker’s compensation insurance company agrees, it will probably require the approval of a worker’s compensation judge.   

If You Have Not Yet Reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)

Looking to move prior to reaching MMI can be the trickiest of all scenarios.  If the worker’s comp insurance company is willing to cooperate, the transition is mostly pain free.  The company will simply find an appropriate doctor in your new state and ask him/her to take over your care.  Since every state has a worker’s compensation insurance system, there will certainly be doctors that are generally familiar with worker’s compensation systems, though certain terminology may differ from state to state.

If the worker’s comp insurance company refuses, but you simply must move, you may have no choice but to ask the worker’s compensation judge to order them to provide you with a treating doctor in your new home.  I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a situation where a worker’s comp judge forces an employee who moves a long way away to travel back to Indiana for treatment.  If you encounter such a situation, contact Hewins Law Firm for a free consultation.

Watch Out for This Trap if You’re Receiving Temporary Total Disability (TTD) and Thinking About Moving

Every injured Indiana worker must remember this about worker’s comp insurance companies:  though they must comply with Indiana Worker’s Compensation law, their first priority is to save money.  In the context of moving, imagine a scenario where your worker’s comp doctor has put you on a 20 pound lifting restriction.  Your employer is currently unable to offer work within your restrictions, so you’re asked to stay home.  The worker’s comp insurance company, as it should, starts paying you Temporary Total Disability (TTD).

But then you tell the insurance company you’re moving out-of-state in two weeks.  An unethical, yet savvy, worker’s comp insurance company may then instruct your employer to offer work within your restrictions, knowing you cannot take the offer since you’re moving!  In that case, the worker’s comp insurance company has set a “trap” for you.  They offered work they knew you would refuse, and they will use that refusal to stop paying TTD!  They will cite Indiana law which clearly says that a worker’s comp insurance company is legally authorized to terminate TTD if an employee has refused to accept suitable employment.  This can be devastating since, even though you are moving, you are still under a 20 pound lifting restriction.  It will be very difficult to find a job in a new city with a restriction like that!

Not all is lost.  Note that the employment must be “suitable.”  Also, another section of the Indiana Code states that a worker’s compensation judge may nevertheless compel a worker’s comp insurance company to pay TTD if the refusal to accept employment was justifiable. In my opinion, these two details should be able to defeat an employer’s termination of TTD if you move.

It will not be easy, however.  In most cases, the insurance company will probably terminate TTD under the facts described above, leaving it to you to prove their offer of employment was not suitable under the circumstances.  Hewins Law Firm has successfully helped injured workers deal with this specific issue before. 

If You are Managing Your Own Worker’s Compensation Case

Because things can become tricky in worker’s compensation cases beyond simply the question of moving, it’s always a good idea to consider hiring an attorney to represent you, or at the very least to consult with one.  But if you are handling your own case, here’s my advice.

First, even if you are thinking of moving, but haven’t made any final decisions, it may be wise to inform the worker’s comp company of the possibility asap.  This may help you determine if they are going to invoke the “trap” regarding TTD.

Conclusion

My initial advice to clients thinking about moving will always be to at least consider whether it is possible to wait.  However, nobody – lawyers included – can jump into your shoes and understand the unique situation you find yourself in.  A worker’s compensation attorney’s job is not to tell you what decision to make.  Rather, our job is to help you understand the law and potential outcomes if the decision is made.  The decision is never easy. 

Hopefully, the information here helps you gain a better understanding of what might happen to your worker’s comp case if you might move.  If you are thinking about making a move while on worker’s compensation, call Hewins Law Firm.  The initial consultation is always free.