Construction-related activities are the most common source of workplace injuries and death, but an accident can occur at any jobsite or in any industry in South Carolina. Nationally, around 4.6 million workers seek medical attention for injuries or illnesses that occurred at the workplace.
If you suffered a work-related injury or illness, you could receive medical treatment and lost wage payments through the state’s workers’ compensation program. A workers’ compensation lawyer could help. Contact an attorney at Hughey Law Firm, LLC today for more information.
What Is Workers’ Compensation?
South Carolina’s workers’ compensation program is a no-fault insurance requirement placed on most employers in the state. It provides medical treatment and wage replacement for individuals who suffer a workplace accident or a work-related injury.
The employers who are required by law to either carry a workers’ compensation policy for their employees or prove that they have the financial means to self-insure include:
- Employers with at least four employees, including part-time employees or family members who provide work for the business.
- General contractors, even if they have less than four employees, as subcontractor employees are considered statutory employees of the general contractor.
Some exceptions apply to the workers’ compensation requirements for South Carolina employers.
These employers are not required to provide workers’ compensation:
- Employers who only have casual employees who do not work regularly scheduled hours.
- Employers who had less than $3,000 in payroll the previous year.
- Agricultural employers and those who sell agricultural products.
- Railroad and train companies.
- Brokers who employ licensed real estate agents.
- Federal workers, who are covered by a federal insurance program.
If a worker is injured on-the-job, he or she should report that injury to his or her employer as soon as possible and request that the medical expense be covered by workers’ compensation. A physician that the employer chooses must conduct the medical treatments if you want workers’ comp to cover them.
As explained by the South Carolina Bar Association, employees in the state are protected by the Workers’ Compensation Act, which provides the right to:
- Recover the cost of medical expenses related to the treatment of the injury; temporary loss of compensation; and permanent disability payments.
- The right to choose the physician to treat the disability, though this may result in a loss of medical payments as the employer is permitted to designate a physician for covered injuries.
- The right to have an attorney assist them in filing a claim and represent them through the appeals process if the claim is denied.
The wage replacement that is available through workers’ comp is generally 66 2/3 percent of what the worker’s average weekly wage was during the four quarters immediately preceding the accident. The worker must miss at least seven consecutive days at work before wage replacement begins. If you miss more than 14 days of work, you can also claim the first seven days of the injury. This wage replacement can continue until the treating physician releases the worker to return to the job without restrictions.
In many cases, the worker will initially be restricted to light duty when returning to work. During this time, if the worker is earning less than he or she earned before the injury, he or she would generally be entitled to 66 2/3 percent of the difference in earnings. Workers cannot refuse to return to light-duty work without risking a loss of benefits.
Why Would Workers Comp Deny Your Claim?
Workers’ compensation insurance companies deny claims because:
- Your employer does not believe that your injury occurred at work.
- Your employer suspects that you were not injured at all and are attempting to fraudulently receive benefits.
- Your employer believes that you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when your injury occurred.
- Your employer believes that you intentionally inflicted your own injuries.
- Missed deadlines. The state law requires that injured workers report their injury to their employer within 90 days. Some cases involve repetitive motion injuries or exposure to hazardous chemicals that take a long time to detect and it would be impossible in these cases to show exactly when the injury occurred. However, many employers misunderstand the time limits that pertain to claims and can give the employee erroneous information. If you notified your employer within 90 days and your claim was denied due to a missed deadline, an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer could help you appeal the decision.
- Your injury was the result of a third party’s actions. An example of this would be if you were injured in a transportation accident while performing your duties as a delivery driver. The accident was caused by another motorist who is not your employer and did not work for you. While workers’ compensation would deny a claim under these circumstances, your attorney could help you explore the legal option of filing a third-party lawsuit against the at-fault motorist to obtain compensation for your expenses and the impacts of your injury.
- You were misclassified as an independent contractor rather than an employee. If the following four elements are true, then you are likely an employee for the purpose of workers’ compensation benefits:
- Your employer controls your work product.
- Your employer controls when you will be paid, as well as how and whether out-of-pocket expenses incurred during work-related tasks will be reimbursed.
- Your employer provides the equipment that you use to do your work.
- Your employer has the right to fire you. Your attorney could help you determine if you were wrongly classified as an independent contractor and can help you with the process of obtaining compensation for your injuries through a civil lawsuit. Contact an attorney at Hughey Law Firm, LLC for a consultation about your specific circumstance.
Common Causes of Workplace Injuries in South Carolina
According to the National Safety Council, the most common types of work-related injuries include:
- Overexertion, including non-impact activities that result in excessive physical effort such as lifting and pushing, as well as repetitive motion injuries.
- Slips, trips, and falls including falls from an elevation as well as same-level falls.
- Contact with objects and equipment including workers being struck by moving objects, workers being compressed or squeezed between two objects, friction between the worker and the object causing injury, workers bumping into objects or equipment, and workers being injured from vibration from equipment.
- Transportation accidents.
- Violence or other injuries caused by people or animals.
- Exposure to harmful substances or dangerous environments.
- Fires or explosions.
For example, an accident at the Savannah River Site’s future Saltstone Disposal Units injured a subcontractor, leading to a 15-day work closure so that the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board could conduct a thorough investigation. The accident occurred when a worker at the site—which is about 30 minutes south of Aiken—was struck in the leg by a forklift and pinned against a piece of equipment while conducting sandblasting activities at one of the disposal units.
FAQs Regarding Workers’ Compensation in South Carolina
Do I have a choice about whether to file a workers’ comp claim or sue my employer in South Carolina?
Generally not. The state’s workers’ compensation program is required to ensure that you are compensated for workplace injuries, regardless of fault. This is the exclusive remedy for employees, which means that because this program is in place, you generally cannot hold your employer liable for your injuries. There are some exceptions, however, including circumstances in which your employer did not obtain this insurance policy as required by law. And should the workers’ comp insurance company attempt to wrongfully deny or reduce the benefits it owes you, call us—you can sue the insurance company for failure to pay the benefits you deserve.
If I have a pre-existing condition, will that affect my ability to receive workers’ compensation benefits in South Carolina?
While your employer or the insurer who provides your employer’s workers’ compensation policy might attempt to deny your claim based on pre-existing conditions, those conditions do not eliminate your right to compensation under the law. If your pre-existing condition was exaggerated by your new injury, you would still be eligible to receive benefits.
Can my employer fire me if I file a workers’ compensation claim in South Carolina?
While South Carolina law forbids an employer from firing an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim, unfortunately, many employers state other reasons for the firing. Regardless, if your employment is terminated while you are collecting workers’ compensation benefits, those benefits would continue until your doctor releases you to work without restrictions. It is very important to talk to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if you feel that you were wrongfully terminated for filing a claim.
My doctor said that I can return to work, but I do not feel ready. What should I do?
If your doctor releases you to perform light duty at work, you must return within the timeframe allotted or risk losing your benefits. Do not simply fail to show up, as this puts you in jeopardy of violating your employer’s attendance policies in addition to losing benefits. You are strongly encouraged to share with the doctor your concerns about returning and the duties that you are afraid you will be unable to perform. Your attorney could also advise you of ways to deal with this situation.
I was injured in a transportation accident while commuting to work. Am I eligible for benefits?
No, your travel to and from work is usually not compensable through the workers’ compensation program as it does not involve actual work-related tasks. However, if you are injured while running a work-related errand, you could be eligible. You could also be eligible for benefits if the accident occurred while you were on paid time or while using an employer-owned vehicle. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can discuss your eligibility for benefits after learning the specific details of your case.
My coworker caused my workplace injury. Do I have the right to sue?
An injury caused by your coworker will usually fall under the no-fault principle of workers’ compensation, meaning that you will be eligible to receive benefits. The exception is if your injury was caused by your coworker’s intentional act, such as workplace violence. In this case, the coworker may bear liability. If your employer knew the coworker had made threats, the employer could bear additional liability for negligent workplace security.
I was told I had 90 days to file a claim, but I heard that the statute of limitations is two years in South Carolina. Which is it?
You have 90 days to report your injury to your employer. You have two years to file a workers’ compensation claim. For occupational diseases, you have two years from the date on which you were definitively diagnosed.
How an Attorney Can Help You With Your Claim?
The process of obtaining workers’ compensation after a workplace injury or illness can be a complicated endeavor involving strict deadlines and the requirement to produce medical records and other documentation to support your claim. If your claim is denied, there is an appeals process that you can undergo, and hearings on appeals are often attended to by legal counsel for the workers’ compensation insurance provider.
An attorney could provide several needed services to you during this process, including:
- General guidance in filing a workers’ compensation claim, including strict adherence to all statutory deadlines involved in the process.
- Assistance if your claim is denied or your payments are delayed.
- A careful look at the facts of your case to determine if third party liability may support a personal injury lawsuit.
- Protection of your rights if your employer chooses to retaliate for you filing a claim.
- The gathering and organization of documents required to prove your claim during the review or appeals processes.
- Negotiations with the insurer in an attempt to settle any disputes over your claim.
If you have suffered a workplace injury or illness, do not leave your financial security to chance. Let the personal injury lawyers at Hughey Law Firm, LLC help you to understand your legal options. For a free case evaluation, contact us online or by calling (843) 881-8644.
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