Despite the title, I obviously do not recommend anyone with a serious on-the-job injury to try and “learn as you go." Instead, the purpose of this information is to provide you with a basic overview of workers’ compensation laws in South Carolina and North Carolina. My hope is you will realize the need to hire an experienced attorney to protect you and your family.
Will I Lose My Job if I Hire an Attorney?
These are very difficult economic times. If you do get hurt at work, you’re probably very reluctant to hire a lawyer or even pursue a claim. No one wants to risk a job, especially these days. Unfortunately, you’re in a real trap. If you don’t report an accident and later learn you have a serious injury, you may not be able to pursue a claim later. Here’s the reality. If your employer is the type that fires people when they get hurt, it is even more important that you consult an attorney as soon as possible. We can help you, but you have to get us involved early.
If Compensable, Here’s What You Get
Medical Treatment – paid in full, no co-pays, no deductibles, BUT the employer/carrier gets to choose where you go. You may have to fight if you want a specialist or referral to a different physician. What if I don’t like their doctor…can I get a second opinion? In SC, you can seek a “second opinion" for treatment options after the original physician releases you. In NC, you are only entitled to a “second opinion" for impairment rating at the end of care. (I do not recommend “second opinions" in NC cases as it limits settlement negotiations)
Weekly Benefits – each week, after a brief delay, you will receive your “compensation rate" which is two-thirds (2/3) of your “average weekly wage." Your “average weekly wage" is what you actually earned during the previous 52 weeks prior to the date you were injured. Benefits are tax-free, but most people still get less. And, for high wage earners, there is a “statutory maximum."
Permanent Disability – when you reach “maximum medical improvement" (MMI), the doctor will release you from care and assign an “impairment rating" to the injured body part. For example, the back is worth 300 weeks. A ten percent (10%) impairment rating equates to thirty (30) weeks of compensation (300 weeks x 10% = 30 weeks) In more serious cases, a Functional Capacities Evaluation (FCE) is used to determine permanent work restrictions and limitations.
What You Can’t Get
In both SC and NC, you cannot recover anything for “pain and suffering." Nothing. No matter how seriously injured or even if your loved one dies from a work-related injury. This may not seem fair or just. It isn’t. The law, as written, cannot make you whole or replace all you have lost. However, an experienced attorney can help make up the difference and get your life back on track. Without a lawyer, you could be victimized twice.
“Impairment" (from the MD) vs. “Disability" (from the Commission)
In SC, the “impairment" rating is but one factor used in determining “disability." Other factors considered by the Commission include age, education, work history, permanent restrictions, and future medical care. There is a 500 week limitation of benefits, including weekly checks, unless you are crippled (paraplegic / quadriplegic) or blinded). In NC, the impairment rating by the treating physician is given more weight, no matter how low. You entitled to a “second opinion" for another rating, but that rating will only be “averaged" with the first. Other factors become relevant only if the employer cannot return the injured worker to their job. If no job is available, weekly benefits will continue until vocational rehabilitation is completed. However, any refusal to cooperate or participate can cause your checks to stop. An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can guide you though the complicated settlement process and maximize your recovery.
Maybe I Do Need to Speak With a Lawyer?
Hopefully, the outline above has demonstrated why you absolutely need a skilled and experienced workers compensation attorney to thoroughly prepare your case and negotiate the best outcome possible. This information is very basic. The actual laws are much more complex and confusing. Don’t make the mistake of calling us after it is too late. We get involved in our client’s cases as soon as possible to guide treatment and anticipate problems. We can’t make a difference until we get started.
What Is This Going to Cost?
The consultation is free. We review your particular case and give you options. The ultimate decision is always yours. SC attorney fees one-third (1/3). In certain cases, we charge a lower amount. In NC, fees are twenty-five percent (25%). In addition, there are costs, such as medical records charges, which are separate from fees. In all cases, fees and costs are approved by the Commission.