One of the questions injured employees most frequently ask is, “Why can’t I sue my employer if I got hurt on the job?”
The answer can be found in Title 42 of the South Carolina Code, which contains the laws governing workers’ compensation in South Carolina. These laws constitute, for the most part, the exclusive legal remedy for employees who are injured on the job.
To understand why an injured employee cannot sue an employer requires an understanding of why this remedy was adopted by the South Carolina legislature in the early part of the 20th century.
Before workers’ compensation laws were enacted, an employee who was injured on the job had to file a common law cause of action against the employer and prove that his or her injury was caused by the employer’s negligence (fault). This was often a difficult, costly and very long process.
In the meantime, if the injured employee needed medical treatment, the employee had to use his or her own personal resources to get treatment. The lack of immediate medical treatment often delayed the employee’s recovery, keeping the employee out of work and without an income.
As the 19th century economy became more industrial and less agricultural, the number of industrial accidents and personal injuries grew, leading to an increase in lawsuits. By the end of the 19th century, it was obvious that a new system to address workplace injuries was needed.
In the early 20th century, workers’ compensation laws were adopted throughout the U.S. South Carolina enacted its first workers’ compensation law in the 1930s. A state commission was created in 1935 to administer the new law.
Today, the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission oversees the administration and enforcement of our state system as it has evolved since the 1930s.
The South Carolina system is envisioned as a no-fault system in which the injured worker can be eligible for benefits without the burden of proving that the employer’s negligence (fault) caused the injury. In turn, the employer is protected from common law claims for negligence and the resulting liability.
Generally, an employer who regularly employs four or more workers is required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance to cover employees’ on-the-job injuries. In an accepted workers’ compensation claim, the employer’s insurance carrier is responsible for medical costs, loss of income and remaining disability arising from compensable work-related injuries.
The injured employee receives much needed medical treatment and temporary compensation if out of work due to the injury. The ultimate goal is to return the injured worker to gainful employment as quickly as possible.
South Carolina’s system may seem simple. In reality, it is not. There are 10 Chapters in Title 42 that set out the provisions of our workers’ compensation law. Each chapter has many sections and sub-sections. Another 18 Regulations of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission, each with multiple sections and sub-sections, set out the procedures that an injured worker must follow in pursuing a workers’ compensation claim.
Navigating this system can be perplexing and frustrating to workers unfamiliar with these laws and regulations. Many injured workers need the help of an attorney who practices workers’ compensation law regularly to help them get the benefits they deserve.
We have two attorneys at Jebaily Law Firm, P.A., who practice workers’ compensation law almost exclusively. If you or someone you care about has suffered an on-the-job injury and has questions about benefits, we may be able to help. Call (843) 667-0400 to schedule a free workers’ compensation consultation or submit our online form.
NOTE: Information in this article was obtained, in part, from South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law Annotated 2015: Thompson Reuters