Updated November 30, 2018
The workers' compensation system in Alaska is a no-fault system that compensates injured workers for medical bills, lost wages, and permanent impairments resulting from their injuries. To take advantage of these benefits, injured workers must follow certain procedures required by Alaska law.
In Alaska, all employers must carry workers' compensation insurance, so most employees are covered by workers' comp. However, there are a few exceptions for employees engaged in certain types of work. For example, workers' comp does not cover part-time babysitters, temporary workers hired to help with harvest, and commercial fishers.
Workers' compensation covers all injuries or illnesses that happen in the course and scope of employment, including traumatic injuries and occupational illnesses. Traumatic injuries are those that result from a one-time accident at work, such as a broken bone from a slip and fall. Occupational diseases are injuries or illnesses that occur over a period of time, including injuries caused by repetitive movements at work (such as carpal tunnel syndrome) and illnesses developed from exposure to toxic substances at the workplace (such as cancer from exposure to asbestos).
To receive workers' comp benefits, you should report your injury to your employer as soon as possible. You must submit an injury report (Form 07-6100) to your employer within 30 days of your injury. If you fail to do so, your claim for benefits may be denied. Once your employer receives the report, it should notify its insurance company and the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board (AWCB).
If you need emergency medical treatment, you can go to the nearest hospital or urgent care center. For non-emergency care, you can select any doctor who is willing to treat workers' comp injuries. If you're not happy with your treatment, you can change doctors once by notifying the insurance company. If you want to change a second time, the change must be approved by the insurance company in writing.
In Alaska, insurance companies must pay for all reasonable and necessary medical treatment related to your injury, for at least two years. This includes the cost of doctors' visits, hospital bills, prescriptions, and prosthetic devices. You can also receive reimbursement for mileage and other transportation expenses incurred in traveling to and from medical appointments. In addition to medical benefits, you will also be eligible to receive disability benefits.
If you need time off from work while you are recovering from your injuries, you can receive temporary total disability benefits. These benefits are 80% of your weekly wages, subject to a maximum set by state law each year. For 2018, the weekly maximum is $1,211. You will receive these benefits until you are able to return to work or until you reach medical stability, meaning that your condition is not expected to improve any further.
If you are able to work while recovering from your injury, but you are earning less than you used to, you can receive temporary partial disability benefits. These benefits are 80% of the difference between your weekly wages before and after your injury, subject to the same maximum described above. These benefits will continue until you reach medical stability or until five years have passed, whichever happens first.
Once you reach medical stability, your doctor will evaluate you to determine whether you have a permanent disability. If your injury has left you permanently and totally disabled, you can receive permanent total disability benefits. These benefits are available only for the most serious injuries, such as the loss of both hands, feet, arms, legs, eyes, or a combination of two of these body parts. Permanent total disability benefits are often paid at the same rate as temporary total disability benefits for the rest of the worker's life.
If you have a permanent injury, but you're not totally disabled, you can receive permanent partial impairment (PPI) benefits. The amount of your award depends on the impairment rating assigned by your doctor, which is stated as a percent of the whole person. The impairment rating is then multiplied by $177,000 in order to calculate your award. For example, if you receive a 10% impairment rating, you would receive a lump sum award of $17,700.
If your workers' comp claim has been denied, or you disagree with the amount of your benefits, you can dispute the decision with the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board (AWCB). The appeals process is outlined below.
The Alaska Workers' Compensation Board (AWCB) resolves workers' compensation disputes. If the insurance company has denied your benefits and you want to appeal, you must file a written claim with the AWCB within two years of your injury or the date you received the last voluntary benefits payment by the insurance company. You can file a claim with the AWCB using Form 07-6106.
Once you file your claim, the insurance company must respond in about 20 days. After that, you and the insurance company will have an opportunity to gather evidence in a process called "discovery." The insurance company might ask you to answer written questions, sit for a deposition, or submit to a medical examination by a doctor of its choosing. Once the discovery process is complete, you will need to request a hearing.
Before going to a hearing, you and the insurance company will have an opportunity to engage in settlement negotiations. Either party can initiate this process by requesting a mediation. A mediation is an informal conference, where a neutral third party from the AWCB will try to help you and the insurance company reach an agreement. Unlike a judge, the mediator will not make a decision in your case. If you're unable to agree on a settlement, you will continue on to a hearing.
A prehearing conference will be automatically scheduled if you are not represented by a lawyer. At the conference, a workers' compensation judge will ask questions, identify the issues in dispute, and go over what evidence will be presented at the hearing. If you are represented by a lawyer, your lawyer may request a prehearing conference.
When the discovery process is finished, you can then request a hearing before a workers' compensation judge. Either party may submit an Affidavit of Readiness for Hearing (Form 6107). The AWCB will then notify the parties of the date and time of the hearing.
A workers' compensation hearing is a formal proceeding that requires detailed knowledge of substantive and procedural workers' comp rules. Because of this, most workers will need to hire an experienced workers' comp attorney in order to obtain a favorable judgment.
At the hearing, the judge will hear from both sides, review evidence and testimony presented by the parties, and make a decision. The decision is usually mailed within 30 days of the hearing. If you disagree with the judge's decision, you will have an opportunity to appeal the decision.
If you aren't satisfied with the judge's decision after the hearing, you can appeal to the Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission, within 30 days. This is a second level of administrative review by a panel of three commissioners. The panel will not hold another hearing, but it will receive written briefs from both parties. Either party may also request to make oral arguments in person. The panel will also review the transcript of the hearing and the evidence submitted to the workers' comp judge. You should receive a decision within 90 days.
If the Appeals Commission does not rule in your favor, you may appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. The order from the Appeals Commission will tell you when and how to file your appeal. Complicated procedural rules apply to any case brought in civil court, including appeals of workers' compensation denials. If you haven't already, you should consult with a workers' comp attorney before filing an appeal in court.