Workers' Compensation FAQs
Here are attorney Andrew Littlejohn Johnson's answers to the most common workers' compensation questions we receive:
Is my injury covered by workers' compensation insurance? If you were injured on the job, barring some contractual agreement, your injury is likely covered by South Carolina workman's compensation laws.
I was injured at work; what are my first steps? Make sure you (1) get proper medical treatment and (2) notify your employer of the injury within 90 days of the occurrence.
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.
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.
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 South Carolina 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.
Even if all you need is a little guidance, Andrew is available to speak when you are ready. We hope you get back to 100% health soon, and we look forward to meeting you.