A few years ago, ProPublica published a report on how states compensate workers if they get hurt on the job and lose use of a body part. As the report notes, it is truly a “patchwork of laws.” Workers’ compensation benefits vary from state to state. For instance, the amount you may receive if you lost the use of your arm in a work accident in North Carolina could be very different from the amount you could get in a workers’ comp claim in, say, Ohio or Texas.
Here, we look at how you would calculate the potential value of your workers’ compensation claim in South Carolina if you lost the use of a body part. We encourage you to also check out our video on this topic which features Patrick L. Jennings, one of our experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorneys at Joye Law Firm.
As Patrick explains, you should always talk with a lawyer about your case. The lawyer will help you to understand your rights and the potential value of your workers’ compensation claim. Above all, the attorney will work hard for you and pursue the maximum benefits that South Carolina law entitles you to receive for your work injury.
What is Your Average Weekly Wage?
To determine the value of your workers’ compensation claim, you must first consider how much money you were earning at the time of your work-related injury. In particular, you must look back to your gross earnings – before taxes – over the four fiscal quarters that immediately preceded the quarter when you got hurt on the job. Then, you will calculate the weekly average of those earnings. South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law calls this figure your “average weekly wage.”
Your average weekly wage determines how much you will receive in weekly workers’ compensation disability benefits, or “lost wage benefits.” If you suffer from a total disability, you can receive two-thirds of your average weekly wage, or to be more specific, 66 and two-thirds percent.
However, two exceptions apply to this rule. First, if your average weekly wage comes out to less than $75 per week, you will receive your full average weekly wage. You will not be subject to the two-thirds cap. Second, South Carolina limits how much you can receive in weekly lost wage benefits. The cap changes each year. For instance, in 2017, the maximum weekly rate was $806.92. In 2018, it is $832.21. So, even if two-thirds of your average weekly wage exceeds the maximum rate, you cannot receive pay that is higher than that rate.
What Body Part Did You Injure On the Job?
Additionally, you need to consider the specific body part that you hurt on the job. If you injure certain body parts, South Carolina law will put a limit on the number of weeks for which you can receive in workers’ compensation benefits. The law basically puts these injuries on a “schedule.” You can find the complete schedule at S.C. Code § 42-9-30. Some examples are:
- Thumb 65 weeks
- Eye 140 weeks
- Hand 185 weeks
- Leg 195 weeks
- Arm 220 weeks
- Hip 280 weeks
Keep in mind: The schedule determines the maximum number of weeks that you can receive scheduled member injury benefits. Typically, you will receive benefits for that entire period. Fortunately, few cases involve the amputation of a body part. In most cases involving a permanent injury, the injured worker’s doctor assigns an impairment rating to the affected body parts and that is where settlement negotiations start. For example, if the doctor assigns someone a 10% impairment of the arm, the value of that rating would be 22 weeks of benefits (10% of 220 weeks). However, there are many things that an experienced lawyer can do to help increase this amount, including considering scheduling an independent medical examination by a doctor with no ties to the insurance company.
A lawyer from Joye Law Firm can help you to fight for what you deserve.
What is the Extent of Your Disability and MMI Rating?
Finally, you must consider the extent of your disability and how it will permanently affect your ability to work as you move forward. As noted above, one key factor in this determination will be the impairment rating that a doctor assigns to your injury.
In South Carolina, a doctor will give you an impairment rating after determining that you have reached “maximum medical improvement”. The MMI rating that the doctor gives you can be based on a variety of factors, although most doctors opt to rely on an impairment rating guide published by the American Medical Association. Even the doctor’s choice of an A.M.A. guide can be an issue (there are several editions). Many states have specifically rejected the use of the 6th edition for workers’ compensation awards because of its complexity and the fact that some of its ratings (especially for spine injuries) are considered to be unfairly low.
However, your impairment rating is only one factor that will go into determining the extent of your disability. Your age, education, training and work experience should also serve as factors.
Our South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Can Help You
If you suffer any type of injury on the job in South Carolina, you should see a doctor as soon as possible – for the sake of your health and for the sake of your workers’ compensation claim. You will need to document the injury. Additionally, throughout the course of your workers’ compensation case, you should make sure to follow your doctor’s orders and stick to your treatment plan. Remember: Workers’ compensation benefits should cover all medical expenses that are necessary and related to your work injury.
Additionally, don’t wait to contact Joye Law Firm. Our South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers will provide a free review of your case, with no strings attached. For more than 50 years, we have fought for injured workers throughout South Carolina. You can count on us to fight for you, too.