Two recent rulings by the South Carolina Supreme Court will make it more difficult for workers who suffer brain damage to get lifetime benefits through workers’ compensation. Despite the plain language of the statute, the rulings set out a stricter definition of this type of injury, meaning workers with brain damage will face more obstacles to receiving lifetime disability benefits.
Before the rulings, workers with brain injury claims in South Carolina did not have to meet such a rigorous standard. According to the 1997 case of Pearson v. J.P.S. Converter & Indus. Corp., which provided a framework for lawsuits of this nature, a claimant was not required to prove “serious” brain damage in order to collect lifetime benefits. This meant plaintiffs just needed to show they were permanently disabled and had an accompanying brain injury to qualify for lifetime disability benefits. This is an important entitlement because the over-whelming majority of South Carolina workers who are totally and permanently disabled are limited to 500 weeks of benefits.
However, the recent rulings of Sparks v. Palmetto Hardwood, Inc., and Crisp v. South Co., Inc., significantly tighten the way lifetime benefits will be awarded in work-related brain injury cases.
Why These Cases Matter
In the Sparks case, the Supreme Court decided that brain damage must be classified as “serious harm” that permanently affects how this vital organ functions. A concussion on its own was deemed not to be the same as this type of acute impairment.
With this ruling in hand, the Court then examined the Crisp case. The Supreme Court concluded that brain damage must be critical to justify the amount of benefits sought by the plaintiff. The presence of a brain injury alone is not enough to receive a lifetime settlement, the court said.
The Court made it very clear that the burden is on the plaintiff to prove his brain damage is so “serious” that he cannot return to work again and requires specialized medical care for life.
The claimants in these cases are seeking reconsideration by the South Carolina Supreme Court, and it is anticipated that brain injury associations will also weigh in on the issue. As anyone who has suffered a brain injury can attest, it’s hard to fathom such an injury not being “serious” and there is no such thing as a “minor” brain injury. It is also questioned whether these decisions are consistent with the clear language of the statutory provision involved. Section 42-9-10 of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act allows for lifetime disability benefits if the injured worker has sustained “physical brain damage.” There is nothing in this provision which addresses the degree of physical brain damage, just that such an injury exists. For the sake of future workers who have suffered such life-changing injuries, it is hoped that the Supreme Court will allow for another hearing to reconsider these decisions.
Need Legal Help?
When you go to work, you expect that you’ll be safe on the job. But if an accident leaves you with a head injury resulting in brain damage, it’s natural to feel frightened about your family’s and your future. Our South Carolina personal injury attorneys at Joye Law Firm know that a brain injury can create physical, emotional and financial consequences for you and your family. If you or someone you love is the victim of a brain injury while at work, contact us for a free consultation at (888) 324-3100 or fill out our convenient online form today.