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When you suffer an injury at work in South Carolina, you may file a workers’ compensation claim for benefits. This pays for lost wages and medical costs, but the amount of time you receive coverage is based on the severity of your injury and your expected recovery timeframe.

As part of your workers’ comp case, your doctor will determine Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI), the stage at which you have recovered as much as possible. This MMI determination impacts your workers’ comp claim, including the time you are given to recover, eligibility for long-term disability benefits, and accommodations you require upon returning to work.

Learn more about MMI and how it influences the support you receive from workers’ comp in South Carolina. Speak with our South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at Joye Law Firm for legal guidance on your case.

What Is Maximum Medical Improvement?

Maximum Medical Improvement is when your physician assesses that your injury or medical condition is unlikely to improve further with additional treatment. It’s determined through a professional evaluation that considers your medical history, the treatments administered, your response to treatments, and your current physical or mental status.

For example, you suffer a serious work-related back injury. Your assigned physician treats you with physical therapy and medication, periodically assessing your condition. Once they determine that your back has healed as much as medically possible and additional treatment won’t improve it, they declare that you’ve reached MMI.

This declaration is an important milestone in your recovery and the workers’ compensation claim process. It indicates that you’ve achieved the highest level of recovery, even if you experience some residual effects from the injury, such as ongoing medical care or limitations.

How Does MMI Affect Your Workers’ Compensation Claim?

The assessment of your MMI influences return-to-work schedules, necessary accommodations, and short- and long-term benefits.

  • Return-to-Work Timeframes: MMI is a key factor in deciding when you’re ready to return to work, aiming for the fullest possible recovery and avoiding further injury aggravation. As part of your medical documentation, your doctor will provide a MMI evaluation specifying the anticipated duration of work absence. For instance, if you’ve suffered a broken femur, the MMI might be about 4 to 6 months. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to resume partial duties before this time.
  • Workplace Accommodations: The outcome of your MMI assessment is critical in determining the need for adjustments when you return to work. For example, if your MMI evaluation reveals physical limitations that necessitate a modified workplace, your employer might offer supportive devices or change your responsibilities to accommodate these needs.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation: Workers’ compensation may provide vocational rehabilitation support if your injury prevents you from resuming your former position. For example, if your MMI evaluation indicates that you can no longer undertake your prior manual labor role, vocational rehabilitation could assist you in acquiring the skills necessary for a less physically intensive job, such as administrative office tasks.
  • Wage Replacement Calculation: In South Carolina, you receive two-thirds of your average weekly wages for workers’ comp claims for the duration of your recovery. Your MMI, which could take several weeks to months, influences how long you receive this coverage for your injury.

What Happens if You Return to Work Before You Reach MMI?

Returning to work before you’ve reached MMI can impact your health and workers’ comp benefits. Depending on your injury, you may risk your health by returning before you’ve healed. For instance, if you suffered a repetitive strain injury, jumping back into work where you perform the same movements could worsen the condition.

Trying to work before you’ve fully healed could also lead to poor work performance. For example, you suffered nerve damage due to carpal tunnel syndrome and underwent surgery. If you don’t let yourself reach MMI, you may struggle to keep up with the demands of your job.

Going back to work before MMI has been determined can also impact your workers’ compensation benefits. It could indicate to your employer that you can work, resulting in a loss of compensation before you’re recovered. This can impact your ability to continue medical treatment or receive paid time off for appointments related to the injury.

If you believe your employer or assigned doctor requires you to return to work before you’ve healed, an attorney from Joye Law Firm can help. We can appeal so you can choose your physician and receive a second opinion regarding your MMI and return-to-work capacity.

Can You Continue Receiving Benefits After MMI?

You can continue receiving benefits after reaching MMI, but the type and extent of those benefits might change. You typically can’t receive workers’ compensation. However, if you cannot return to your previous work due to the injuries, you may be eligible for disability benefits. 

Your doctor can perform a Functional Capacity Evaluation after you’ve reached MMI to assess your capabilities and assign a disability rating. This rating may allow you to apply for disability benefits to continue receiving wage benefits.

Review your situation with a skilled workers’ compensation attorney to understand the benefits you’re entitled to after reaching MMI.

Protect Your Right to Workers’ Compensation

Understanding the complexities of workers’ compensation claims, especially when it comes to reaching MMI, can be overwhelming. If you’re facing uncertainties about your MMI status or have questions regarding your workers’ compensation claim, speak with Joye Law Firm.

We can advocate for an accurate MMI determination for fair benefits, and help ensure you receive the compensation and support you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation.

About the Author

Ken Harrell joined Joye Law Firm in 1994, and has been the managing partner since 2006. With 30 years of experience, he protects the rights of injured South Carolinians, including cases involving workers’ compensation, car accidents, and defective products. Ken also leads the firm’s referral practice, helping to ensure that our clients receive the best possible representation. He is a past president of South Carolina Injured Workers’ Advocates, and has served as the co-chairman of this organization’s legislative affairs committee for 12 years.

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