Colorado Workers’ Comp: Help for Employee Injury, Illness and Death

Before workers' compensation, job-related injury, disease and death often devastated individuals and families financially. Most victims in the early years of industrialization had difficulty affording attorneys and lawsuits to seek damages from their employers.

Those who were able to sue were often unable to show employer liability because of laws that blocked recovery when victims contributed to their own injuries in some way or were legally found to have assumed the risk of workplace injury by taking those jobs.

With roots in Europe, workers' compensation systems slowly spread across America in the early 20th century. Colorado's first workers' comp law was enacted in 1915 and it has been expanded and fine-tuned ever since.

What Is Workers' Comp?

Very basically, workers' compensation is a kind of no-fault law that automatically provides injured-worker benefits regardless of who caused the harm - the employer, the employee or a co-worker. It is seen as a trade-off that benefits society as a whole that workers and their families are automatically cared for outside of the welfare system: employers by not having to continually worry about being sued for workplace harm and employees by receiving benefits without having to prove their employers were at fault.

Benefit Types

Here are some of the kinds of benefits that may be available to a Colorado workers' compensation claimant, depending on the situation:

  • Replacement wages
  • Medical care plus mileage
  • Monetary benefits for permanent disability remaining after maximum medical improvement
  • Disfigurement payment
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Monetary penalties for employer or insurer law violations in workers' comp procedure
  • In a fatal case, the surviving spouse and other dependents may be entitled to weekly monetary benefits plus funeral and burial benefits

In Colorado, most employees are subject to workers' compensation laws and must either procure insurance to cover work-comp claims or arrange to be self-insured. When an employee is injured or killed at work or gets an industrial disease, the worker (or his or her family in case of death) files a claim for benefits without regard to how the harm transpired. Usually the claim must be filed within two years of the event with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment's Division of Workers' Compensation.

Appeal Rights

If the claim is approved, when the employer or insurer feels it has provided all the benefits required, it must issue a detailed "Final Admission" explaining its decision to close out the claim. Sometimes the Final Admission may spell out a plan to provide continuing medical care. The claimant can challenge the content of this admission document normally within 30 days.

If the initial claim is denied by the employer or its insurer, the claimant also has the right to contest it.

In case of a dispute, either side can request a prehearing conference or settlement conference with an administrative law judge, called an ALJ. Mediation and arbitration are other options. If the parties cannot resolve their differences and settle the issue, the claimant may request a formal administrative hearing before an ALJ with the Office of Administrative Courts, another branch of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The ALJ's hearing decision may be appealed to the Industrial Claim Appeals Panel, and the panel's decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Further review is possible by the Colorado Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court.

Don't Miss Deadlines

The law has very specific and strict notice requirements and filing deadlines at every step, so a claimant should take care to comply. There also may be negative repercussions for missing medical appointments or other required activities.

A Coloradan injured at work or who contracts an occupational disease, or the Colorado spouse or dependants of an employee killed on the job, should get the advice of an experienced workers' compensation attorney early in the process so as to understand how to preserve potential rights and benefits.