Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

According to the Humane Society of the United States, pet ownership in the United
States has more than tripled since the 1970’s with about 62% of American households said to have at least one pet in 2012 and 47% of households owning at least one dog. Many of us experience first- hand the joys and benefits of pet ownership. But for those suffering from a mental or physical illness, animals and pets can provide much needed healing and therapeutic benefits.

There are two basic categories of animals that assist the disabled – service animals and therapy animals.

The American Disability Act provides a very specific definition of a “service animal” and as of March 15, 2011 only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA and are defined by the Act as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Service animals are not considered pets and are specifically trained to assist a disabled individual with things such as pushing a wheelchair, alerting one to the sounds of smoke alarms, timers, and telephones; or picking up and carrying
items for an individual. While many therapy animals are specifically trained to provide therapeutic benefits to the disabled, they are not service animals and do not have the same rights to public buildings as service animals. They do, however, provide many healing benefits to the disabled and their families and have been found to significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue for people suffering from mental and physical disabilities. Continue Reading

A benefit provided by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation system is out of work pay when an individual is unable to work due to their work injury. This benefit is known as Temporary Total Disability benefits or TTD. You become entitled to this benefit while treating for your work injury when your doctor either writes you out of work completely or more commonly, places restrictions on you that your employer cannot accommodate.  Many times an injured worker needs to consider hiring an experienced workers compensation attorney because because the insurance company has not started their checks, is threatening to cut off their checks, or has cut off their checks. This creates a tremendous burden on the worker because, even though the checks have stopped, the bills have not.  Sometimes, an insurance company will use other tactics to try and limit your benefits, by paying you less each week than the law says you are entitled. So what are you entitled to receive each week?

How is The Pay Owed Calculated?

Generally, an injured worker is entitled to 2/3 of their Average Weekly wage from the year prior to the accident. For example, let’s say you were injured on July 1, 2014. The insurance company is required to submit what is known as a South Carolina Form 20 to the Workers Compensation Commission that documents your wages before taxes from July 31, 2013 to July 31, 2014. These gross wages are divided by 52 weeks, and your Average Weekly Wage is determined. Your Compensation Rate is the amount you should receive each week from the insurance company and is 2/3 of your Average Weekly Wage.

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The South Carolina Workers Compensation lawyers at Grimes Teich Anderson  often get questions from people regarding work restrictions they may have as a result of their work related injury.

A typical scenario involves a worker that was put on light duty by their doctor and their employer cannot provide work for them within their restrictions. Often times they are unable to work and the employer’s insurance company will not provide them out of work benefits. This can be a tremendous burden on the worker and their family. So what are your rights?

Generally, if you are unable to work temporarily as a result of your work injury you are entitled to two-thirds of your Average Gross Weekly Wage each week until you return to work or your claim is resolved. Often a doctor will feel that you can perform some type of work but limit your duties given your injury. This can be referred to as “light duty,” “modified work,” or “restrictions.” If your employer cannot provide you work under these restrictions, you are likely entitled to begin receiving weekly benefits after you have been out of work for seven days.

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Increasingly and disturbingly, employers are attempting to claim an employee is an independent contractor. Though there are many benefits to employers in using independent contractors, many times an employer is attempting to improperly categorize an injured worker as an independent contractor in order to avoid liability for work-related accidents.

Under South Carolina Workers’ Compensation law, only “employees” are entitled to benefits under our laws. This term is broad but, essentially, if your employer proves that you were in fact an independent contractor rather than an “employee,” you could be denied the benefits you deserve if you are injured on the job. Fortunately, just because your employer says you are an independent contractor, does not necessarily mean that you actually are an independent contractor; it is much more complicated that a simple label.

These complicated cases require a deep analysis of the work relationship an employer and an employee had at the time the worker was injured.

Who Determines Whether I Am An Independent Contractor or Employee?
South Carolina Courts look to four different factors in determining whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee. These four factors are: 1) the employer’s right to exercise or actual exercise of control over the details of the work and how it is performed; 2) the method of payment; 3) who furnishes the equipment; and 4) the employers’ right to terminate the employment. Generally, these factors are weighed by the Court to make a determination.

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Generally, workers’ compensation has the right to direct medical care when they have accepted compensability for the specific part of your body, always subject to supervision by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. But this right is not absolute.

Am I Entitled to A Second Opinion?

There are provisions to obtain a second opinion for treatment with another physician. Sometimes you can simply call the adjuster and give them the name of another doctor from whom you want to receive treatment. However,usually it is not that easy. The adjuster may want to keep control over what doctor you see for a second opinion for many reasons that are important to workers compensation. Sometimes there is common ground as to who you can see for a second opinion, sometimes it is highly disputed. Sometimes the doctor you want to see does not want to treat workers compensation claimants, or, after reviewing your medical records, may not feel that they have anything to offer you. GS 97-25(b) sets out the provisions for a second opinion at workers’ compensation’s expense. Note that there is a 14-day notice requirement for a second opinion request, which will be even more significant if you would like to change providers. There are times when it may be advantageous to pay for the second opinion yourself. If there is a dispute between your treating doctor and the recommendations of the second opinion, the Industrial Commission always has the authority to decide who will be authorized to provide further treatment.

If the treatment that the workers compensation doctor is providing is no longer effective, or after talking with the doctor and sharing your concerns, you are still having a real problem with the recommended care, you probably should seek a second opinion. Especially when it comes to invasive treatment such as surgery.

Most doctors won’t operate on unwilling patients for obvious reasons. The general rule is that where the surgery is of serious magnitude and risk, involves much pain and suffering and is of uncertain benefit, the refusal of the claimant to undergo surgery is reasonable and will not prejudice the claim. Watkins v. City of Asheville, 99 N.C. App. 302, 304, 392 S.E.2d 753, 756 (1990). That is not to say, however, that you can simply refuse surgery and there not be any consequences of push-back from workers compensation. It gets complicated.
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Say you work for a company in South Carolina and your boss asks you to organize an employee kickball game to make the work atmosphere more enjoyable. And say you jump during the game, land awkwardly and fracture your leg.

Are you eligible for South Carolina workers’ compensation?

Yes, indeed, according to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which recently approved workers’ compensation in just such a scenario. The case involved an employee of a public relations firm who shattered his tibia and fibula during a company kickball game and underwent two surgeries.

If you have been injured on the job, you may be wondering about your rights under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation laws. You may be scared to file a workers’ compensation claim because you fear that your employer will fire you, demote you or cut your pay for doing so. This is called retaliation and is a very serious issue.

Under South Carolina law, employers are not allowed to fire or demote any employee because the employee has filed a workers’ compensation claim or has testified or is going to testify in a workers’ compensation hearing. It is illegal for employers to do so.

I believe this law is good public policy. It helps ensure that hurt workers are not afraid to report injuries so that they can receive the medical help and treatment they need.

If you have been injured on the job, it is critically important that you notify your employer and take certain steps so that you can pursue your Workers’ Compensation benefits in South Carolina.

As a Workers’ Compensation Attorney, here are the two most common questions I get regarding notice:

Who do I need to notify of my work injury?

The latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the number of workplace fatalities in North Carolina was down by 10 in 2012, with 138 that year compared to 148 in the prior year.

Reductions were also reported in South Carolina, where there were 31 workplace fatalities reported in 2012, compared to 81 in 2011.

In both cases, our Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers understand, transportation injuries were the leading cause of death at work, which was a factor in line with the rest of the country as well.

Our thoughts and good wishes are with the 8 workers who were injured because of the collapse of scaffolding at a construction site at McDowell High School in Marion this week. That incident has triggered an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Division of the North Carolina Department of Labor. According to the Asheville Citizen Times, it could take weeks or months before the investigation determines whether workplace violations contributed to or caused this incident.

Fines for workplace safety violations are supposed to act as a deterrent to make sure companies will provide a safe work environment for employees. However, a 2008 investigative report by The Charlotte Observer found declining inspections and weak enforcement of regulations in North Carolina. In addition, it found that fines for violations in North Carolina can sometimes be minimal. The report showed that fines for serious violations in North Carolina were often half the national average.

A report this year by the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health titled North Carolina Workers Dying For A Job, found that in cases where workers died on the job and the employer was cited for at least one violation, the median fine was $3,250.

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