$175,000 workers' compensation settlement for forklift driver injured on the job. Attorney Sarah Khouri of Joye Law Firm's Columbia office

A recent workers’ compensation case skillfully handled by Joye Law Firm highlights the crucial role of a workers’ comp attorney when an on-the-job injury results in severe injuries. Attorney Sarah Khouri, along with Case Manager Javonna Brantley, secured a $175,000 settlement for a forklift driver who suffered a life-altering neck injury on the job in Cayce, South Carolina. The journey to a settlement required the persistent efforts of our legal team to secure much-needed medical treatment and compensation.

An Inadequately Secured Load Bar Causes a Severe Spine Injury

Our client had been working with a national freight company as a Dock Worker for roughly six months when tragedy struck. Part of his job duties included placing locking bars in the back of the tractor-trailers as they were being loaded. The purpose of these bars is to prevent the sliding of cargo during transport. Concerned for the safety of his co-workers and himself, he previously voiced concerns that the notches in which the bars sit were not adequate to hold them in place. He was told the concern was being addressed.

On the day of the incident, our client was loading a container. While doing so, a bar above him became dislodged, fell, and struck him on the back of the neck. He immediately reported the injury but was told by his supervisor to continue working.  He eventually went to Prisma Health Baptist as his “pain was so severe” that he would feel “paralyzed for two minutes” at a time. The doctor provided by his employer’s workers’ compensation insurance dismissed his concerns of a severe injury. Instead, he was instructed to complete physical therapy, which he found incredibly painful, along with other conservative treatments. This doctor also placed him on light duty in the office, which his workplace accommodated. Despite his best efforts to push through the pain, however, he was not able to perform the tasks. He tried to work with his supervisor to find a solution but was ultimately fired because he could not complete the assigned work.

Joye Law Firm Works to Get a Second Medical Opinion

Two months after the initial injury, he contacted Joye Law Firm. Attorney Sarah Khouri was assigned the case, and was shocked to see the state her client was in during their first meeting. “He was in such bad shape. It was unfortunate that the doctor had placed him on light duty because he couldn’t complete that. He desperately needed a second opinion, which we promptly got for him,” remarked Attorney Khouri. The second opinion came in the form of an exam with an independent spine surgeon, where major injuries were revealed. In fact, the surgeon recommended immediate surgery and explained that the delay in treatment and attempting physical therapy may have actually worsened his condition. The surgeon, while known for his conservatism, emphasized the critical nature of the surgery. He highlighted that even a minor injury to our client’s spine could result in paralysis if he did not go through with the surgery. However, due to a preexisting condition with his spine, getting approval from the workers’ comp insurance company for the surgery proved difficult, despite the doctor’s dire warning. “A carrier is never going to automatically authorize treatment if the same body part is injured in a work accident,” explained Khouri. To get approval for the surgery Khouri requested a hearing with the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. In preparation for the hearing, she asked the surgeon to fill out a questionnaire confirming that the work accident aggravated the worker’s preexisting condition of ‘degenerative disc changes and spinal stenosis’.

The Burden of Proof in a Work Injury Claim

Having spent years as a workers’ compensation defense attorney, Attorney Khouri’s background representing insurance companies gives her the advantage of understanding the tactics the defense team will employ. In a South Carolina workers’ comp case, the burden of proof, which must be met in order to receive treatment and benefits, is the plaintiff’s obligation. That means an injured worker must provide evidence proving their charge or allegation prior to receiving workers’ compensation benefits. This is a fairly high bar for people, like injured workers, who are not familiar with the legal system. A carrier might initially deny a claim in the hope that the injured worker will simply give up on the claim, which saves their client money. “A lot of what goes on during a Workers’ Compensation claim is burden shifting. The burden of proof is always initially on the client and relating the injury to the work incident. Then the burden shifts to the carrier, then something like a preexisting condition comes up and the burden shifts back to the victim,” explains Khouri. Workers’ Comp is a niche area of law and requires an immense amount of knowledge about how the system works. Because of her experience, Attorney Khouri knows the timeframe of when to expect changes. She knows what will likely get denied, and essentially has the playbook as a former defense attorney to use to assist her clients.

Multi-Level Cervical Fusion Surgery

A hearing with the Workers’ Compensation Commission was originally scheduled for June 2022, however, due to Khouri’s’ diligent preparation of proof, the insurance carrier approved the surgery without a hearing. The client then underwent an extensive multi-level cervical fusion surgery, which was the most extensive of this type of procedure that Khouri had seen during her seven years of legal practice.

By undergoing the surgery, our client was able to begin receiving weekly workers’ comp benefits, which, by law, amounted to 2/3 of his weekly gross wages prior to the accident.  People who undergo this surgery typically experience a 6-month recovery timeframe. However, due to the substantial injury our client incurred, his recovery took over a year.

Chronic Pain, Emotional Struggles, and Persistent Legal Advocacy

Despite the surgery, our client’s pain did not subside as the damage was too extensive. He was also left with almost no mobility in his neck. He reported feeling “helpless” and experienced numbness in his right arm. The decreased range of motion, coupled with chronic pain, hindered his ability to engage in once-enjoyable activities such as fishing and playing basketball with his grandchildren. Financial strain from his job loss added to the burden.

After his recovery, Joye Law Firm had the client undergo an Independent Medical Evaluation and set him up with a vocational expert. These professionals agreed he had permanent restrictions and could not go back to driving a forklift or doing any activity that involved rotating his neck.

Workers Compensation Commission Approves Settlement for Permanent and Total Disability

The case proceeded to mediation in September of 2023, where Attorney Khouri alleged that our client was permanently and totally disabled. This was challenging as our client was found to have a 32% impairment to the spine. Under South Carolina Workers’ Compensation law, to claim Permanent and Total Disability an injured worker must have two body parts injured, or, if the worker suffers an injury solely to the spine, the disability to their spine must be at least 50%. Settlements involving permanent and total disability are also capped at 500 weeks of weekly benefits under the law, and our client had already received 60 weeks of Temporary Total Disability benefits.

Mediation ultimately resulted in a settlement of $175,000, in addition to the weekly TTD benefits and medical expenses covered throughout treatment. The settlement marked the conclusion of a challenging legal journey for our client. Despite the frustrations experienced by the client throughout the case, the resolution brought a sense of relief. Our client expressed gratitude in a heartfelt email to our team, emphasizing the invaluable support received during a trying period.

This case serves as an example of the pivotal role legal representation plays in complex workers’ compensation cases. “Our client needed an attorney because he was not getting the medical treatment he needed from the workers’ comp system. Without an attorney, he would have never received an evaluation from a spine specialist that led to him getting approved for surgery. In some cases, you can’t get the treatment you need without someone fighting for you,” explained Attorney Khouri.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury on the job, you don’t have to go it alone. Contact Joye Law Firm for a free case evaluation. We have been fighting for the rights of injured workers since we opened our doors in 1968. Our firm has offices across South Carolina in Columbia, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Summerville, and Clinton to best assist you and we take all cases on a contingency fee basis meaning you pay nothing unless you win. Give us a call at 843-324-3100 to speak with a member of our legal team today.

Disclaimer: Past results do not guarantee future outcomes.