Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

The appellate process is designed to provide efficient and meaningful review of the decisions of lower courts and administrative tribunals. Of course, even when things run smoothly, an appeal can lengthen the time that it takes to resolve a dispute.

When an appeal does not follow the usual course, however, it can take even longer for an injured person, including an employee seeking workers’ compensation benefits, to receive what he or she is owed.

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Timeliness is important in any injury case, be it a negligence action or a work injury case. In addition to the statute of limitations for filing a claim in a court of law, there may be a requirement to give formal notice in some situations.

For instance, giving notice of a work-related injury is critically important to success in a workers’ compensation case. Ideally, this notice should be in writing. As a recent case illustrates, verbal notice alone can result in numerous issues that can jeopardize a claimant’s case.

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Most workers in South Carolina are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured in an accident arising out of and in the course of their employment. These benefits include not only necessary medical treatment but also partial reimbursement for lost wages while a worker is temporarily unable to work and compensation for permanent disability or disfigurement.

Although it is generally easier for a worker to recover benefits through the current workers’ compensation system than under the negligence system that preceded it, the burden of proof is still on the employee to show that he or she was hurt on the job and is entitled to payments for a temporary or permanent disability.

If an employee is unable to show that he is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, his claim will be denied by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission.

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When an employee dies as a result of a work-related injury, his or her dependents are entitled to receive compensation in most cases. However, if an employee who is injured on the job dies from unrelated causes while his or her case is pending, the situation can be much more complex.

A South Carolina appellate court was recently asked to review the issues in such a case, the employee having died from causes unrelated to a very serious on-the-job injury he had suffered prior to his death.

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Generally speaking in South Carolina, a person who is injured on the job (or the family of a person who is killed while in the course and scope of his or her employment) is restricted to recovery of the benefits available under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation law. This is true even if it was the employer’s negligence that led to the employer’s injury or death.

This is because of the so-called “exclusivity provision” of the workers’ compensation law, which provides that relief under such law shall be the sole remedy in the event of a workplace injury or death. The good news is that workers’ compensation cases tend to be less contentious than negligence lawsuits, but the bad news is that the amount recovered in a workers’ compensation action tends to be considerably less than could potentially have been recovered in a negligence case.

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South Carolina law limits both the time that an injured worker has to give notice of a work-related injury and the time for filing a claim with the workers’ compensation commission, seeking to enforce his or her right to medical care, temporary or permanent disability benefits, and other related matters.

Pursuant to S.C. Code § 42-15-20(a), the employee is to give notice “immediately… or as soon thereafter as practicable.” S.C. Code § 42-15-20(b) goes on to state that no compensation is payable to the employee unless notice is given within 90 days, except when the employee had a reasonable excuse and the employer was not prejudiced by the delay.

Although the rules are fairly straightforward, disputes still may arise. Recently, the state’s highest court examined a case in which an employee insisted that he had given notice, but a witness for the employer claimed that the employee’s version of events did not “ring a bell.”

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Although there are limitations and certain disadvantages to a workers’ compensation case as opposed to a more traditional negligence lawsuit, there are some pluses. Among these is the opportunity to reopen one’s case if there is a change in one’s physical condition.

In other injury cases, such as those arising from motor vehicle accidents and product liability claims, this is not possible. Once a jury determines the amount of damages to which an injured person is entitled, and a judge enters judgment upon the verdict, the case is over (except, of course, in cases of an appeal, but even then a change in condition is not likely to result in any increase in the amount of damages for the plaintiff).

In workers’ compensation cases, however, increased benefits are a possibility in some situations.

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When an employee is hurt or becomes ill as a result of his or her employment, the employee may pursue workers’ compensation benefits such as medical care, temporary total disability payments, and permanent total disability benefits.

In cases in which an employee dies as a result of his or her employment, the family of the worker is usually entitled to compensation in lieu of payments to the employee. However, in some cases, an issue arises as to whether an injury was, in fact, work-related or whether it arose during the course and scope of the worker’s employment.

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Personal injury lawsuits and workers’ compensation claims must be timely filed, or else they will be dismissed unless they meet the very narrow criteria of an exception to the general rule.

The statutes of limitations that control the filing deadlines for injury and wrongful death lawsuits exist to encourage plaintiffs to pursue valid claims with reasonable diligence and to protect defendants against stale claims that might be difficult to defend due to the spoliation of evidence.

Of course, determining exactly when a claim accrued – and whether it qualifies as an exception to the general time limitations for a particular type of lawsuit – tends to be a difficult and highly contentious matter.

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Workers’ compensation laws are supposed to simplify the process by which an injured worker, or the family of an employee killed in an on-the-job accident, receives monetary compensation. Of course, the actual ease of the process depends upon several factors, and some cases can be much more complicated than it would seem on the surface.

While factors such as extent of a worker’s disability or whether he or she can return to the pre-injury job are relatively common, other issues can arise. In the recent case of Collins v. Seko Charlotte, the issue was not the amount of compensation due but the pocket from which it would come.

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