By Davis Rice
The teaching profession is one of the noblest callings that a person can enter into as a career choice. Teachers are charged with educating, molding and shaping our society’s future generation. Indeed, many of today’s most successful entrepreneurs and innovators were first inspired by a dedicated teacher. Unfortunately, the rewards of the teaching profession come at a financial cost to those that enter this profession as teachers are some of the most undercompensated in our state. Because the benefits available to an injured worker are contingent on the worker’s pay, teachers who have been injured at work often face considerable financial strain. To make matters worse, insurance adjusters may attempt to further limit an injured teacher’s benefits.
Under South Carolina law, an injured worker who is out of work is entitled to weekly compensation of two-thirds of the worker’s “average weekly wage.” Pursuant to Section 42-1-40 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, a worker’s average weekly wage “must be calculated by taking the total wages paid for the last four quarters immediately preceding the quarter in which the injury occurred . . . divided by fifty-two or by the actual number of weeks for which wages were paid, whichever is less.” Thus, for most work injury claims, an injured worker’s average weekly wage will be determined by dividing the worker’s earnings by fifty-two weeks.
In the instance of an injured teacher, an insurance adjuster handling the claim will often divide the teacher’s salary by fifty-two weeks to determine the average weekly wage. However, most teachers in South Carolina are hired to work 190 days, or thirty-eight weeks. As such, the appropriate method for determining a teacher’s average weekly wage is to divide the teacher’s salary by thirty-eight weeks, not fifty-two weeks. This can result in a considerable difference in the amount of workers’ compensation benefits available to an injured teacher. For instance, let’s take a teacher who has a 190 day contract with a school district for $38,000.00. Dividing this teacher’s salary by fifty-two weeks results in an average weekly wage of $730.77, whereas dividing it by thirty-eight weeks results in an average weekly wage of $1,000.00. As you can see, this can make a significant difference for an injured teacher who is out of work and trying to pay bills.
The workers’ compensation laws in South Carolina are highly complex and filled with nuance. As such, it is extremely important for anyone who has been injured at work to consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.