South Carolina Workers' Compensation Attorney
In South Carolina, we have a set of rules that permit an employee to recover benefits if injured on the job. These are workers' compensation (or workmen's comp) laws. A workers' comp claim is the exclusive route to recovery against an employer if you were injured at work.
However, there are many moving parts to a workers' compensation claim. Failing to file the proper form, failing to get prompt medical treatment, and other pitfalls may result in a reduced recovery or no recover at all. Additionally, there may be other paths to recovery from third parties. Learn more below about how to handle your workers' compensation claim.
Can I Recover for my Job Injury
Our state's laws say that you have suffered a compensable injury if you were injured in the course and scope of employment. This last phrase just means you must have been doing an act in furtherance of your employer's business. Some examples may include:
getting into a wreck on I-26 in Columbia while delivering coffee to your boss at his/her direction
being hurt by a piece of machinery in an Orangeburg factory
developing spinal nerve damage after years of work at a Greenville plant
In some situations, we must make a thorough legal analysis of your actions to determine if your actions were "in the course and scope" of employment. Many times, this becomes a question of control: were you an employee or independent contractor. Our attorney Andrew Littlejohn Johnson has experience performing these analyses.
What to After an Injury While Working
As Andrew tells any potential client, your health should be your foremost concern. Therefore, your first step should be to obtain the proper medical treatment. The other major initial step is to ensure you report your injury to your employer. In South Carolina, your injury must be reported within 90 days of it occurring. If this 90-day mark is missed, there is a chance you are prohibited from recovering benefits.
Types of Workman's Compensation Injuries
Most on-the-job injuries constitute workers' comp injuries. These categories of injuries are listed below, and the most common injuries we see are brain injuries, slips and falls, burn injuries, amputation, fractures, and broken bones.
Physical injuries (e.g., broken bones, loss of limbs, etc.)
RSI or repetitive stress injuries (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome)
Occupational diseases (e.g., cancer from exposure to chemicals)
Mental health injuries
Compensation and Benefits for Your Injuries
There are four main types of compensation you may receive for your workers' comp injury. Depending on the case, you may not recover all of these benefits.
Medical Expenses. Your employer's insurance carrier should pay for any necessary medical treatment related to your work injury, including prescription medication. Sometimes, this includes future medical expenses. Additionally, you may be reimbursed for your trips to medical appointments in certain situations.
Temporary Total Disability. If the injured worker is medically unable to return to work, he/she is awarded temporary total disability (TTD). This is calculated at 2/3 of the employee's weekly wage.
Temporary Partial Disability. Similar to TTD, temporary partial disability (TPD) is when an injured employee can work but medically cannot fulfill his/her prior job duties. Therefore, the employee is considered partially disabled. The employee is entitled to payment of 2/3 of the difference between his/her former job and his/her post-injury job.
Permanent Injury Award. Once you have reached what doctors call "maximum medical improvement," you and the employer's insurance carrier may then begin discussing the value of your permanent impairment (if any exists). This generally results in a lump sum paid to the claimant for his/her injuries.
Other Important Points
Below are answers to the most commonly asked questions Attorney Andrew Littlejohn Johnson receives from potential workers' compensation clients:
Do I have to go back to work after my injury? If the treating physician has cleared you for work, you are expected to do so. While at work, be the model employee. Do not create a reason for your employer to fire you.
What is "light duty"? If you have been injured at work and a doctor puts you on "light duty," that medical professional is saying that yes, you can work, however, you cannot do the full job. In this instance, the employer may either (a) provide you with the prescribed light-duty work or (b) allow you to stay out of work.
Do I get to choose my doctor? Your employer's worker's compensation insurance carrier determines which initial physician you treat with. If that doctor recommends a referral to another doctor (e.g., an orthopedist or neurologist), the insurance carrier approves or denies the referral. However, if you or your attorney disagree with the carrier's determination, you may be able to see a doctor of your choosing.
What is an "independent medical evaluation" (IME)? In the situation listed in number 3 above, an IME is an evaluation by a physician you choose. Normally, this occurs because the treating physician either (a) prematurely determines you are fully healed, (b) refuses to provide treatment that may be necessary for your health, or (c) undervalues your improvement.
What is "maximum medical improvement" (MMI)? Once a doctor declares that treatment is complete, he or she will determine your level of improvement. If you have received 95% healing back to your leg after a spinal injury, the physician may say you are at MMI with a 5% impairment rating.
I'm finished treating and have reached MMI; now what? Normally, this is the point in the process where you begin negotiating the final recovery amount for your impairment. The amount of recovery depends on a multitude of factors, including your age, education level, work history, skills, and other factors, including your disability rating.
What is a "disability rating"? This is a calculation using your impairment rating and the points listed in number 6 above. An experienced attorney can normally improve this rating based upon his or her evaluation and prior experiences.
What is a "clincher" agreement? Once you have agreed to settle on your disability and claim, your employer may want to "clinch" the agreement (normally for an extra sum of money). To "clincher," typically means that once the settlement payment is made, the employer will cease to pay for medical expenses related to your injuries. In some cases, clinchers make sense; in others, it would be detrimental to the client.
So my only route to recovery is through my employer's workers' comp insurance? Not necessarily. In a car wreck claim, you may have a claim against an at-fault driver. This gives you a workers' compensation claim and a car accident claim. Additionally, there are situations where a machine breaks and injures an employee. This may create a products liability cause of action (as well as a worker's compensation case), which is important, because then you may recover non-economic and punitive damages. In these third-party cases, the workers' comp insurance carrier is normally entitled to repayment from your third-party recovery. Andrew has experience negotiating these workers' comp liens down.
What forms do I file? This depends on the status of your case. All forms may be found here.
If you were injured on the job in South Carolina and want to speak with an experienced worker's compensation attorney, give us a call today at our Columbia office. Workers' compensation cases can be frustrating. We understand you depend on your paycheck and that if it were up to you, you would still be working full-time. We are here to assist you getting full recovery and getting back to making money at your job. We look forward to helping make that happen.