When Allen Peters found out he needed surgery after a work injury, the insurance company tried to pretend like he had waited too long to report his accident. Allen knew he needed a serious law firm that understood workers’ compensation laws. So, he called the Joye Law Firm. Our workers’ compensation lawyers made sure that Allen was treated fairly, and we got him the workers’ comp benefits he needed.
Those of us who live in the Lowcountry marveled at the Cooper River Bridge. It is an engineering marvel, but as with any worthy goal, the costs to be paid included the risk of injury for the hundreds of men and women employed to construct the bridge.
For Allen Peters, being hired as a head crane operator on the Charleston bridge project was a dream come true.
“All of my adult life has been spent as a crane operator, and this was the kind of job you dream of,” said Allen. “The hours available and the rate of pay was allowing me to make about $60,000.00 a year and I knew the project was set to last for several years.”
Allen began working for the company building the bridge in the fall of 2002, and his work was exceptional. Each of the numerous company representatives who testified at his eventual workers’ compensation hearing agreed that Allen’s work as a crane operator was stellar.
Unfortunately, things took a bad turn for Allen on May 16, 2002. As he was moving equipment from one barge to another, he felt a sharp pain in his back. Initially, Allen did not think much of the incident.
“With the type of work we do, you are going to have pulled muscles from time to time and that is all I thought it was. You certainly don’t run to your supervisor every time you have a backache if you do heavy construction work,” he said.
A few days later, Allen went to his family doctor. The last thing he wanted to do at that time was to have a workers’ compensation claim filed. Therefore, he advised his family doctor that it was “possible” that he had been injured at work. During the weeks thereafter, Allen continued to work a busy work schedule, often working 60 to 70 hours a week.
Unfortunately, the pain in his back persisted and he also began to experience a shooting pain in his left leg. While Allen had experienced pulled muscles in his back before, he had never experienced any type of shooting pain in his legs before the incident.
While his problems worsened, Allen still hesitated to report his work accident.
“Looking back, I just kept hoping that the problem would go away,” he said. “You have to understand that this work is the only thing I have ever known. I had just bought a new home and gotten a promotion on the job, and I did not want to do anything to jeopardize the money I was earning.”
Allen also testified that he knew the maximum weekly benefit for a South Carolina work injury claim was around $500.00 (the maximum compensation rate in 2002 was $549.42) and he did not think he could afford such a drastic reduction in his earnings.
Eventually, Allen was referred to Dr. Steven Poletti, a well-respected orthopedic surgeon. As soon as Dr. Poletti reviewed Allen’s diagnostic tests, he knew that Allen had a severe problem. Dr. Poletti advised Allen that he had a significant herniated disc in his lower back and he would almost certainly need surgery. He also advised Allen about the severe risks he faced by continuing to work.
At that time, Allen realized he had no choice other than to report his injury and pursue workers’ compensation benefits.
This would begin a lengthy ordeal for Allen and his family.
Upon being notified of Allen’s claim, the bridge company advised him that it was denying the claim as he had not reported the work accident to the company immediately after he was injured. Allen then contacted Joye Law Firm attorney Ken Harrell for legal assistance.
Mr. Harrell noted that Allen’s situation is not an unusual one for South Carolina workers, especially workers in physically demanding fields like construction.
“The law in South Carolina gives an injured employee 90 days to report a work accident because it recognizes that many workers are not inclined to go to their boss every time they experience an ache or pain on the job and this is especially true for construction workers. While many companies have a policy that accidents are to be reported within 24 hours, not doing the same does not bar an injured worker from receiving workers’ compensation benefits, especially if they have a reasonable basis for waiting, as I think Allen certainly did,” said Mr. Harrell.
In fact, during the depositions taken of company representatives and at the hearing, various supervisory employees confirmed that a construction worker who reported every back ache to his supervisor would be seen as a liability to the company.
Mr. Harrell filed a hearing request on Allen’s behalf in August of 2002. However, the hearing in Allen’s case did not take place until June of 2003, some ten months later, and the hearing was not completed until July of 2003.
Throughout this period Allen and his family lost virtually everything, except for their home. Fortunately, Dr. Poletti was kind enough to perform two surgeries on Allen’s back during this interim period even though his right to receive payment for the surgeries was on hold pending the outcome of the case.
“The amount of time it takes to get hearings set in South Carolina is a real hardship for employees like Mr. Allen, and for their families,” said Mr. Harrell. “The severe budget cuts for state agencies have left the Workers’ Compensation Commission short-handed.”
Mr. Harrell knew the stress that Allen’s family was under financially.
“During the depression, Franklin Roosevelt once said that when you reach the end of your rope, you need to tie a knot and hang on,” said Mr. Harrell. “I didn’t have any other advice for Allen except that he needed to hang on while we kept fighting on his claim.”
Finally, in September of 2003, the hearing commissioner issued an order finding Allen’s claim fully compensable and ordered the insurance company to cover all of Allen’s treatment costs to date, pay him back-owed weekly disability benefits for the previous 15 months, and place him on a weekly benefits payment status until he reached maximum medical improvement.
Initially, it appeared that the battle on Allen’s claim would go on for several more months as the insurance company filed an appeal of this decision to the Commission’s Appellate Panel. However, in November of 2003, the insurance carrier agreed to drop its appeal and Allen’s back-owed benefits were paid. “I still have a lot of worries about how all of this will turn out because of the problems I still have,” said Allen. “However, I am so grateful to Ken for fighting for my family and me. No matter what lies ahead, I can’t imagine things getting any worse than they were for the year and a half that I had nothing coming in.”