Worker’s Compensation

On the job injuries can be devastating.  Fortunately, South Carolina law provides for a no-fault system of compensation for employees injured at work.  Workplace injuries commonly include falls, repetitive motion injuries, occupational illness, equipment malfunction, and automobile accidents.  Worker’s compensation benefits provide compensation for the emergency room, hospitalization, rehabilitative care, doctor’s visits, and even disability.  Workers’ compensation benefits can be a lifeline for those suffering from a workplace injury, particularly when it is impossible for workers to continue to earn a living during their recovery.  In addition, employees may have the right to recover outside of the workers’ compensation system for injuries caused by third parties.  Workers’ compensation is largely based on statutes and is a form driven practice.  It is important to retain counsel who are experienced with this system to maximize value in worker’s compensation cases. If you have been a victim of a workplace accident, contact us to discuss the legal options available to you.

Purpose of Workers’ Compensation Laws
Before modern worker’s compensation laws were developed, employers were only responsible for the injury or death of employees resulting from a negligent act by the master or employer. In other words, employees had to prove their injuries were due to the employer’s carelessness or recklessness.  This system had the potential to bar employees from recoveries when their injuries were due to their own fault (bad for the employee) and subject employers to slow and costly litigation (bad for the employer).

In the early 20th Century, the first significant workers’ compensation laws were enacted in the United States. These laws required that employers should cover the cost of workplace injuries in the form of medical expenses, lost wages, and disability without regard to fault.  In exchange, employers would be relieved of all liability from common-law suits involving negligence.

The South Carolina Industrial Commission was created in 1935 to administer and enforce early South Carolina workers’ compensation law. In 1986, the name was changed to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission, but the purpose remained the same – to oversee the statutory framework set forth in Title 42 of the South Carolina Code of Laws that governs the liability of employers and the compensation to employees for workplace injuries.

Basics of S.C. Workers’ Compensation Law
Most South Carolina employers and employees are presumed to be covered by the state’s workers’ compensation act.  However, employees of railroads, agricultural businesses, the Federal government, casual employees and employees of businesses with fewer than four employees are not covered.  Covered employers are generally required to maintain insurance sufficient for the payment of compensation.

Employees are entitled to compensation for personal injury or death by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment. Workers’ compensation pays for:

(1) necessary medical treatment,
(2) loss of wages during a period of disability, and
(3) compensation for personal disability or disfigurement.

If an employee is injured an unable to work for more than seven days, he is eligible to be compensated at a rate of 2/3 of his average weekly wage, limited to 100% of the state’s average weekly wage maximum as established each year by the South Carolina Employment Security Commission ($845.75 in 2019).  If the period of total disability exceeds fourteen days, the employee is eligible for compensation beginning with the date of the accident.

The maximum award for total disability or death is limited by law to 500 weeks of compensation.  The number of weeks of compensation that will be paid for injuries other than death is set forth in a schedule.  For example, an injury to the thumb is 65 weeks, an injury to the eye is 10 weeks and an injury to the kidney is 400 weeks.

Reporting an Injury
An employee who has been injured on the job should immediately report the accident to his employer, or he may risk losing eligibility for the payment of medical expenses, lost wages and compensation for disability.  The employee is required to report the injury to his employer within 90 days of the date of the accident and assert a claim within 2 years of the date of the accident.

The Commission
An employee may file an application for a hearing before a commissioner if the employer denies that the injury occurred by an on-the-job accident or if the employee believes that he is not receiving all benefits owed.  The hearing will usually take place in the county in which the injury occurred.  A hearing is usually held within three to five months, and at the hearing the employee presents his case.  Evidence presented includes deposition testimony and medical records.  Once a commissioner has ruled on the case, he will issue an Opinion and Award which sets forth his ruling of fact and law and what relief, if any, the employee will receive. Either party may appeal the to the full Commission and then through our courts of appeal up to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Employee’s Rights
A worker who has been injured by accident arising out of and in the course of employment is entitled to recover medical expenses, temporary total compensation for lost time, and permanent disability benefits if he/she suffered any permanent injury as a result of the work accident.

The employer has the right to select the doctor who will treat the employee. If an injured worker treats with his own doctor without permission of the employer, the employer may not be held liable for the medical expense, unless it constitutes an emergency condition. Injured employees have the right to choose a physician to evaluate them for the specific disability but the cost will not be covered by the employer.

Third Party Claims
Although the workers compensation scheme prohibits an employee who is injured on the job from filing a civil claim against the employer, there may still be additional sources of recovery.  If the worker was injured on the job due to the fault of a third party, then the employee may be able to pursue a civil claim against that third party.  Typical examples of third party claims would be an employee who is injured on the job in an automobile accident where the other driver was at fault or an employee who is injured on the job while using a third party owned or manufactured piece of equipment that had a design or manufacturing defect or insufficient warning.

Workers’ Compensation Attorney
It is important to retain counsel who are experienced in evaluating and litigating worker’s compensation cases to maximize the value of your case.  Workers compensation cases are creatures of the statutory framework and form driven, so it is important to choose your counsel wisely.  If you have been a victim of an on the job injury, contact us to discuss the legal options available to you.