Fighting as Long as it Takes

Forrest has always been proud of the quality of his work and of his family. At age 38, everything seemed to be on track for him.  His son was a junior at the Citadel and he had a good steady job with a heavy equipment company. All of this changed on February 3, 2000.

On that day, Forrest was assisting a crew that was installing a large billboard sign along Interstate 26 near Bowman, South Carolina. “This was not my normal job but it was so windy that they needed someone to help try to hold the large signs steady,” said Forrest.  In order to assist with stabilizing these signs, Forrest and another employee held tightly onto ropes as the sign was lifted into place by a large crane. During the process of the sign’s installation, Forrest was repeatedly jerked back and forth as the wind whipped the sign continuously. At the end of the day, Forrest noticed some soreness in his neck but assumed that it was just strained muscles. During the days after the accident, he had his wife rub his neck and shoulders down with Ben-Gay each night after work. However, within a couple of weeks, Forrest realized that his problems were much more serious than a pulled muscle as the pain in his neck worsened and he began to lose feeling in his left arm. At that time, he went to his employer to report that he had been injured while installing the large sign and he would need to see a doctor. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the beginning of a long battle for Forrest to try to get the benefits he needed for his family and for him.

“I always thought of myself as a good employee and I figured I would get the treatment I needed and be back to work in a few weeks.  Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way,” said Forrest. Forrest waited for several weeks to get instructions about his medical treatment before he was advised that the workers’ compensation insurance company was going to deny the claim claiming that he had not timely reported the injury. It is important to note that South Carolina law gives an employee 90 days to report a work accident and, in many instances, employees do not report a work injury until some time has passed, as they do not realize the serious nature of their injuries when they are hurt. “If you do physical work and you report every time you have a pulled muscle or a sore back, you would get run off the job in no time. Those types of aches and pains just come with the job and you are expected to work with them,” said Forrest.

Upon realizing that his claim was going to be denied, Forrest retained Ken Harrell with the Joye Law Firm to assist him with his workers’ compensation claim. A hearing request was filed on Forrest’s behalf. After the case was tried before the Hearing Commissioner in July of 2000, an Order was issued finding that he had sustained a compensable injury by accident and that he was entitled to receive appropriate medical treatment and disability benefits for his accident injuries. (During the months it took to get a hearing, Forrest had proceeded with having neck surgery performed at the Medical University of South Carolina based on a referral he was able to arrange through his family doctor.) The Hearing Commissioner’s Order did not end the legal fight for Forrest. The insurance company decided to appeal this decision and an appellate hearing was held before the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s Appellate Panel in November of 2000. Again, a favorable ruling was issued for Forrest in January of 2001 as the Panel unanimously affirmed the decision that had been issued by the Hearing Commissioner.

Finally, the insurance company opted not to pursue further appeals. When the Commission’s Appellate Panel’s Order was issued, Forrest had been without income for nearly one year.

Per the orders that had been issued by the Commission, the insurance company paid Forrest a lump sum for his back-owed benefits and placed him on a weekly benefit status. “That year was the hardest year of my life and the hardest year for my family – the financial stress we were under was incredible,” said Forrest.

Today, Forrest remains on disability benefits and continues to be treated by neurosurgeons at the Medical University.  “I do not know how all of this will end up,” he says. “However, I thank God there are lawyers out there willing to fight for employees in situations like mine.”