Everything you need to know to get maximum workers’ comp benefits after a back injury at work
Workers in South Carolina face a myriad of risks every day. While safety measures and regulations aim to minimize these hazards, work-related injuries remain an unfortunate reality. One of the most prevalent and debilitating injuries that workers encounter is a back injury.
From lifting heavy objects to slips, trips and falls, the potential for sustaining a back injury looms large in many occupational settings, and unfortunately, getting the workers’ comp benefits you deserve isn’t always as easy as filing a claim.
The truth is that navigating the complexities of workers’ compensation after a back injury can be overwhelming, which is why it’s vital for employees to understand the process, including how to file a claim to maximize their benefits.
What are the most common work-related back injuries?
The term “back injury” encompasses various conditions and ailments that can affect the muscles, bones, joints and ligaments in the back. These injuries can range from minor sprains and strains that heal quickly with rest to more severe and chronic conditions that require extensive time off work to recover.
Below are some of the most common types of work-related back injuries:
- Sprains and strains. These are usually minor injuries where ligaments, muscles or tendons are stretched or torn, often from overexertion. They’re common in jobs requiring manual labor or repetitive movements.
- Lumbar strain. A lumbar or lower back strain occurs when the muscles or tendons in the lower back are stretched or torn, often due to lifting heavy objects or twisting suddenly.
- Herniated disc. Also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, this injury occurs when one of the disks that lies between and cushions the bones (known as vertebrae) in your spine leaks or tears. It can cause pain, numbness or weakness in an arm or leg.
- Spinal stenosis. This is a narrowing of the space surrounding your spinal cord, which can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. It’s often seen in older adults and can be the result of wear-and-tear changes.
- Sciatica. This condition is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, often from a herniated disk, resulting in pain that radiates from the lower back down one or both legs.
- Spondylolisthesis. This condition happens when one of the vertebrae (bones) in the spine slips forward out of place and rests on the vertebra underneath it, which can lead to back pain and numbness or weakness in one or both legs.
- Fractures. Spinal fractures can occur due to falls, accidents with vehicles or forklifts, or other high-impact activities. These are severe injuries that require immediate medical attention.
- Degenerative disc disease. While not an “injury” per se, this condition can be aggravated by work conditions. It involves the breakdown of spinal discs over time, which can cause chronic back pain.
- Pinched nerves. This occurs when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues (like bones or muscles), which can result from repetitive motions or holding a particular position for long periods.
What typically causes a back injury at work?
Back injuries at work can occur for various reasons, often depending on the type of job and work environment. Some of the most common causes of work-related back injuries include the following:
- Improper lifting techniques, especially when heavy materials are involved
- Repetitive movements such as bending, twisting, or reaching
- Slip-and-fall accidents
- Poor ergonomics, including using chairs without proper lumbar support or desks at incorrect heights
- Prolonged sitting or standing without a break
- Physically demanding labor that involves pushing, pulling, or carrying heavy objects
- Vehicle accidents
- Vibrating machinery like jackhammers or large vehicles
- Quick or unexpected movements, especially when lifting or carrying weight
Understanding these common causes can help both employers and employees take preventive measures to reduce the risk of back injuries in the workplace. This may include training on proper lifting techniques, ergonomic assessments and regular breaks for stretching and movement.
Which workers are most at risk of a back injury?
While almost any worker is susceptible to a back injury at work, some of the workers most at risk include:
- Construction workers. Engaged in heavy lifting, bending and carrying materials, these workers are at high risk for back injuries.
- Factory workers. Repetitive motions and standing for long periods on assembly lines can cause chronic back issues over time.
- Health care workers. Nurses, radiology technicians, aides and other health care professionals often lift and move patients, making them susceptible to back strain.
- Grocery store and retail workers. Constant standing, as well as lifting and carrying stock, can contribute to back strain in retail settings.
- Hotel workers, cleaners and janitors. The repetitive motions involved in sweeping, mopping and vacuuming can cause strain over time.
- Warehouse workers. The repetitive nature of lifting, carrying and stacking goods puts warehouse workers at risk.
- Office workers. While it might seem counterintuitive, sitting for prolonged periods can lead to back problems due to poor posture and lack of support.
- Drivers. Long hours on the road with limited movement can lead to chronic back issues for truck drivers, delivery workers and rideshare drivers. Back injuries from accidents with other vehicles are also a significant concern.
- Agriculture workers. Farming involves heavy lifting, bending and stooping, all of which can result in back injuries.
- Movers. Lifting and carrying heavy furniture and boxes make movers susceptible to back injuries.
- Mechanics. Bending over engines or lifting heavy auto parts can lead to back problems for mechanics.
- Emergency responders. Police officers, firefighters and paramedics often have to make quick, forceful movements, sometimes while carrying heavy equipment or people, putting them at risk for acute back injuries.
While it’s vital for workers and employers to take steps to minimize the risk of back injuries, these injuries aren’t always preventable. Fortunately, most South Carolina workers who suffer a job-related back injury will be eligible for compensation, regardless of their occupation or the cause.
Can you claim for a back injury at work?
Yes, with few exceptions, the vast majority of South Carolina employers with 4 or more employees are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. This is a form of “no-fault” insurance that provides benefits to employees who suffer a work-related injury, illness or disease.
Because this insurance is “no-fault,” you don’t have to prove that your employer is to blame for your injury. In fact, in most cases, you’re even eligible for benefits if the accident that caused your injury was your fault.
However, to secure these benefits, you will need to be able to prove that the back injury is a direct result of your job. This is often easier to do with an injury like a fracture that results from a one-time slip-and-fall accident than from wear and tear on your spine that occurs over time.
In these cases, it’s best to consult with an experienced work injury attorney who can help you gather the necessary evidence and refer you to medical experts who can help establish your job as the cause of your back injury.
What to do if you injure your back at work
If you injure your back at work in South Carolina, it’s crucial to take specific steps to ensure you get the workers’ compensation benefits you’re entitled to. Here are the basic guidelines for filing a workers’ comp claim:
- Seek medical attention. The first step is to get the emergency care you need for your back injury. This not only addresses your immediate medical needs but also provides crucial documentation that links your injury to your work environment. For your medical care and future treatment to be covered under workers’ comp, you will be required to see an employer-approved physician (unless it’s an emergency).
- Report the injury to your employer. Once you have received initial medical treatment, you need to report the back injury to your employer as soon as possible. South Carolina law requires that you provide a written report within 90 days of the injury event. Failing to do so could result in your claim being denied.
- Verify your employer files a claim. After notifying your employer, make sure they file a claim with their insurance company and inform the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. It’s their responsibility to initiate this process, but it’s in your best interest to follow up and ensure it’s done.
- Self-file if necessary. If your employer refuses or fails to file your claim, you have the option to file it yourself. You can do this by submitting Form 50 to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. However, this is generally a sign that your employer isn’t going to cooperate with your injury claim, so it’s best to consult an attorney before filing a claim yourself.
- Consult an attorney. If you encounter any difficulties, such as your employer failing to file a claim or your claim being denied, it’s highly recommended that you consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. They can guide you through the legal intricacies, help you gather necessary evidence, and advocate on your behalf to ensure you get the compensation you’re entitled to.
What workers’ comp benefits am I entitled to after a back injury?
If you sustain a work-related back injury and successfully file a workers’ compensation claim, you may be entitled to various types of benefits, depending on the severity of your injury and its impact on your ability to work.
Here are some common types of workers’ comp benefits you might be eligible for:
- Medical benefits. These cover the costs of medical care required for the diagnosis, treatment and ongoing management of your back injury. This can include doctor visits, surgeries, medication, physical therapy and any other medical procedures necessary for your recovery.
- Wage loss benefits. If your back injury requires you to take time off work, you may be entitled to compensation that replaces a portion of your lost wages. The exact amount will depend on your salary and the extent to which your ability to work is affected.
- Vocational rehabilitation. If your back injury prevents you from returning to your previous job, you might be eligible for vocational rehabilitation services. These services can help you train for a new role that accommodates your physical limitations, helping you re-enter the workforce.
Each state, including South Carolina, has its own specific regulations and calculations for these benefits, so it’s advisable to consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to navigate the complexities of your claim and ensure you receive all the benefits you’re entitled to.
Common excuses used by employers and their workers’ comp insurers to deny workers’ comp claims for back injuries
The unfortunate reality is that navigating a workers’ compensation claim can be a complex and sometimes contentious process.
Employers and their workers’ compensation insurers have a financial incentive to minimize the number and size of claims they approve. This often leads to various excuses for denying claims, especially those related to back injuries, which can be difficult to diagnose and quantify.
Below are some common excuses you might encounter:
- Pre-existing condition. Employers often argue that a worker’s back injury was pre-existing and not a result of an incident at the workplace. This tactic aims to absolve the company of any liability for medical expenses or compensation. In reality, a pre-existing condition doesn’t necessarily disqualify a worker from receiving benefits, as long as their job exacerbates their symptoms.
- Lack of medical evidence. Employers may claim there is insufficient medical evidence to prove that the back injury is severe enough to warrant workers’ compensation benefits or that the medical tests, like MRIs or X-rays, don’t clearly indicate an acute injury.
- Failure to report timely. Sometimes, employers will deny a claim on the basis that the employee did not report the injury in a timely manner, as stipulated by state law or company policy.
- Injury off-site or off-hours. Employers may allege that the injury occurred outside of work hours or away from the workplace, thereby attempting to invalidate the claim.
- Non-compliance with treatment. If an injured worker does not follow medical advice or treatment plans, an employer may use this as a reason to deny or terminate benefits.
- Surveillance evidence. Some employers go to great lengths and even hire investigators to obtain surveillance footage to prove that an employee’s injury is not as severe as claimed.
- Intoxication or drug use. Employers may try to deny a claim by arguing that the employee was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the injury, which can be a disqualifier.
- Misclassification of employment status. Some employers misclassify workers as independent contractors rather than employees to avoid workers’ compensation liability altogether.
- Inconsistent statements. Employers can use inconsistencies in the worker’s account of the accident or injury to cast doubt on the validity of the claim. These inconsistencies can be between the worker’s statements to medical providers, employers and the workers’ comp insurer.
If your claim is denied for any of these or other reasons, it’s essential to consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can help counter these excuses and advocate on your behalf to get the benefits you deserve.
Are you a South Carolina worker who needs help with a back injury workers’ comp claim?
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of suffering a serious work-related back injury that requires extensive medical care or time off work, don’t settle for less than you deserve.
The experienced Columbia work injury attorneys at Chappell, Chappell & Newman have been fighting for the rights of injured South Carolina workers for more than 30 years, helping countless clients get maximum compensation.
Your employer and their insurance company have attorneys working hard on their behalf, and you should too. Get started on the path toward long-term financial relief after your injury by scheduling a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys today.