How to get maximum workers’ compensation benefits if you get injured at work
In 2020, there were more than 12 million people employed in the private manufacturing sector, working in more than 350,000 factories and other facilities. Typical factory workers work in processes of mechanical, physical or chemical transformation of raw products into marketable finished products.
South Carolina factory worker injuries statistics
Today, there are 4,234 manufacturing companies in South Carolina, employing approximately 283,944 workers.
In 2021, the incident rate of nonfatal manufacturing accidents in South Carolina was 2.8 per 100 full-time workers (2.8%).
These statistics suggest that South Carolina can expect to see almost 8,000 cases of nonfatal worker injuries or illness annually in factory workplaces.
South Carolina’s workers’ compensation system
Workers’ compensation is a system of no-fault insurance that compensates eligible employees who are hurt at work. It is governed by South Carolina Code §42-1-10 et seq. South Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Commission administers the program.
Workers’ comp benefits include recovery of lost wages, payment of medical and related expenses, compensation for permanent and temporary disabilities, and death benefits.
Employers who employ 4 or more workers are required to cover their employees with workers’ comp benefits. Most employers carry insurance to cover their obligations. But some qualify to self-insure.
For an injured worker to get workers’ comp benefits, they must prove that:
- They are an eligible employee; and
- They suffered an injury or illness arising out of and in the course of their employment.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was formed in 1970. OSHA is part of the Department of Labor.
Its mission is to set and enforce safety standards for various industries. Manufacturing standards are included in the General Industry category.
Employers are subject to penalties for failure to comply with OSHA’s standards. Each incident is a separate violation. Plus, failure to correct the violation is subject to a penalty for each day of noncompliance.
For 2022, the penalties are:
- $14,502 per violation
- $14,502 for each day of failure to abate
- $145,027 for each willful or repeated violation
Common injuries and illnesses of factory workers
According to figures from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), factory injuries make up 30% of all workplace-related injuries. Common injuries to factory workers include:
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Burn injuries
- Broken bones
- Illnesses and burns due to toxic chemicals
- Spinal cord injuries
- Skin disorders
- Respiratory diseases and disorders
- Hearing loss
- Vision loss
Common causes of factory worker injuries
The following are the most common causes of factory worker injuries:
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Each year, OSHA publishes the top 10 violations of its applicable standards. For 2022, the 12th consecutive year, at the top of the list is failure to provide fall protection. The top 10 most frequently cited workplace safety standards for 2022 are:
- Fall Protection—General Requirements (5,260 violations)
- Chemical Hazard Warnings (2,424 violations)
- Respiratory Protection (2,185 violations)
- Ladders (2,143 violations)
- Scaffolding (2,058 violations)
- Lockout/Tagout (1,977 violations)
- Powered Industrial Trucks (1,749 violations)
- Fall Protection—Training Requirements (1,556 violations)
- Personal Protective and Lifesaving Equipment (1,401 violations)
- Machine Guarding (1,370 violations)
Learn the differences between a lump sum and a structured settlement payment for a South Carolina workers’ compensation benefits claim.
Overview of a real cumulative trauma case
Two of the most challenging claims for workers’ comp benefits are:
- Cumulative (repetitive) trauma injuries
- Occupational diseases
Both conditions are specifically covered by South Carolina’s workers’ compensation statute.
The BLS reports the following common types of occupational illnesses:
- Skin diseases or disorders like eczema, rash and friction blisters
- Respiratory conditions like asbestosis, mesothelioma and chronic obstructive bronchitis
- Poisoning by metals, gasses, organic solvents and other toxic substances
- Hearing loss
The challenge for any claimant is to prove that the injury was one arising out of and in the course of the claimant’s employment. Unlike most workers’ compensation cases, a cumulative trauma injury or illness is not the result of an accident or other sudden identifiable event.
Many occupational diseases are easily linked to a place of employment. Asbestosis and mesothelioma have been linked to certain industrial jobs with asbestos exposure. Black lung disease is linked to mining jobs.
However, some diseases are not invariably linked to particular occupations.
Illustrative of a claimant’s dilemma is the case of a high incidence of bladder cancer among employees of Goodyear Tire and Plant. The suspected cause is their exposure to the chemical ortho-toluidine used in Goodyear’s manufacturing process.
Government scientists have been testing Goodyear employees’ urine for more than 30 years. There must be some suspicion about a linkage. However, a puzzling aspect of the case is that the high-tested levels of ortho-toluidine are consistently below what the government deems to be safe.
The issue that is attracting attention is why OSHA has not imposed penalties against Goodyear for violations of its standards. That government posture could negatively impact those employees suffering from bladder cancer by compromising their rights to workers’ compensation benefits.
Those suffering employees have the burden to prove that their bladder cancer arose out of and in the course of claimants’ employment. OSHA thinks the ortho-toluidine levels at the Goodyear plant are safe. So, how can the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission accept that Goodyear’s employees’ bladder cancer arose out of and in the course of their employment at Goodyear?
How does the workers’ comp process work?
If you are injured at your workplace, you must comply with strict procedures for claiming workers’ compensation benefits. Here’s what you need to do:
- Seek medical help immediately in an emergency.
- Give notice of your injury or illness to your immediate supervisor.
- You have 90 days to submit your notice.
- You should consult an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer, preferably before you submit your first notice to your employer.
- Your employer, or their insurance company, will have a person assigned to review workers’ compensation claims.
- You will be required to see a physician approved by your employer. Typically, a list of approved doctors will be posted or provided to you.
- Your employer, or its insurance company, will be the first to offer you an award of benefits after a review of the extent and classification of your injury or illness.
- Your claim might be denied. You can then appeal your case to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Role of employer and insurance company
Any South Carolina employer that employs 4 or more full-time workers is required to provide workers’ compensation benefits.
Your employer will be the first to review and adjudicate your claim. Your employer and their insurance company may resist the payment of claims. Claims paid will affect the insurance company’s profits and will increase your employer’s premiums.
Hence, they will use any legitimate reason to deny your claim. You should, therefore, methodically comply with every rule and procedure required for your claim.
South Carolina workers’ comp benefits
After getting injured on the job, you will receive:
- Medical care
- Wages restoration
- Disability payments
- Death benefits
Medical benefits cover payments for physician visits, surgery, lab tests and rehab therapy. If you need medical care, you will be required to use an employer-approved doctor.
If you cannot perform your regular duties, you are entitled to a partial restoration of your lost wages. The amount of your award depends on the classification of your injury.
- Permanent total disability. If you are unable to do any work, you will receive, for no more than 500 weeks, two-thirds of your weekly wage.
- Permanent partial disability. If you have a permanent disability but you can work in an alternative job, you will be paid two-thirds of your weekly wage. However, the duration of your payments will depend on the classification of your injury.
- Temporary total disability. If you have a temporary disability for more than seven days, you will receive two-thirds of your average weekly wages for the duration of your disability.
- Temporary partial disability. If you have a temporary disability but you can perform an alternative job, you will receive two-thirds of the amount by which your old wages exceeded your new wages.
If an employee is injured at work and dies as a result of the injury within 6 years, their surviving dependents will receive:
- For 500 weeks, two-thirds of the deceased worker’s weekly wage
- $2,500 reimbursement of funeral costs
Potential workers’ comp challenges and how to overcome them
The most common employer challenge to your claim is that your injury did not arise out of and in the course of your employment. Among the employer’s other favorite allegations are the following:
- You failed to notify your employer within the required time.
- You did not file your papers on time.
- You were not treated by an approved medical provider.
- You never received medical treatment at all.
- You contributed to your injury through your misconduct.
- Your injury was a pre-existing condition.
- You were intoxicated or on drugs at the time of your injury.
Filing a workers’ comp claim is filled with pitfalls. Your employer will take advantage of any mistake or omission.
You must diligently comply with the South Carolina workers’ compensation law and the employer’s forms and procedures. You should consult an experienced workers’ comp attorney as soon as possible after your accident.
Rights of employees
If your employer or the Workers’ Compensation Commission denies your claim, you have the right to appeal. Your first recourse is to request a hearing before the Commission. At this stage, if you haven’t already, you should engage an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.
Your first hearing will be before a single commissioner. If you are still denied, your next recourse is a hearing before the full Commission. You must request a hearing within 14 days after the commissioner’s decision. The fee is $150.
You may appeal a denial by the full Commission to the South Carolina Court of Appeals. You must file your appeal within 30 days after the Commission enters its judgment.
Learn who’s eligible for workers’ comp benefits in South Carolina and which employers are required to purchase workers’ comp insurance for their employees.
Consult a South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney
South Carolina workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, so you don’t have to prove your employer was negligent or otherwise at fault. But, you must prove the other important elements of your claim.
Most notably, you must show that:
- You were a qualified employee; and
- Your injury or illness met the test of “arising out of and in the course of your employment.”
These often are difficult challenges. That’s why it’s highly recommended that you consult an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer. Given the many pitfalls at every step along the process, you should do that as soon as possible after your injury.
If you’ve been injured on the job in South Carolina, contact the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Chappell, Chappell and Newman. Our attorneys have recovered millions of dollars for injured workers across the state of South Carolina, and we’d love the opportunity to help you, too.
Contact us today for a free consultation.