Two important and helpful changes to the law for injured workers and their family will take effect on August 31, 2019. One change could protect injured workers’ form debt collectors. The other change will make it easier for dependents of foreign workers who were killed at work.
Today I will write about the collections bill and on Monday I will post about the foreign dependents law.
The law amends Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-1,108 by prohibiting a collection agency from attempting to collect a debt if there is a case pending in the Workers’ Compensation Court and the debt is alleged to be subject to payment under a work comp injury. Nebraska has gained national infamy for aggressive debt collection practices, so this legislation provides much needed relief for injured workers.
What this means is that lawyers can assist in getting collection agencies to halt collection of medical bills that are related to the work accident and injuries. This is extra important for injured workers because often they may not be able to return to work, and if their work comp claim has been denied, it often isn’t even possible to pay the bills that the employer should have to pay in the first place.
How does the bill work? Once an injured worker is billed for treatment, he/she should contact his lawyer if that bill has not been paid. Then, the lawyer representing the injured worker must provide the collection agency with notice of the pending workers’ compensation claim. The notice must be provided, in writing, to the provider or collection agency. The initial notice must contain the provider’s name, the injured worker’s date of the injury, a description of the injury and the filing date/case number of the pending case in the Workers’ Compensation Court.
In that same notice, or within another thirty days, notice should also be given that identifies the specific debt that is related to the workers’ compensation claim. In other words, the collection agency must be able to know what bills are potentially related to the work comp claim that way they can still continue to pursue collection on any unrelated debts.
The notice must be made by personal delivery, first class mail, or by another method otherwise agreed to. What “any other method” means is that likely the parties will agree that notice via email will be enough for purposes of the statute. Once notice is received, any collection lawsuits will be stayed (halted) until the workers’ compensation claim has been finalized.
The law requires that a workers’ compensation case actually be filed in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. While an injured worker can proceed pro se or without a lawyer, the employer will likely have an attorney, so injured workers should at least consult with an attorney,
The collections bill and foreign dependents bill both passed as part of LB 418 that passed the Legislature 35-0. We were able to get these laws passed due, in part, to our firm’s close work with the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and are proud that we are able to help workers in the Legislature.
On that note, these bills will be further discussed and analyzed in a seminar that I am chairing for the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys on October 9, 2019 as part of the annual meeting of the Nebraska State Bar Association.