If you’ve been injured on the job in any profession, you will be assigned an impairment rating that helps to determine the amount of workers’ compensation benefits you receive for your injury.
There are many pitfalls and complexities in South Carolina workers’ compensation law that require an experienced attorney to navigate.
This guide highlights a few of the issues related to your impairment rating that you may encounter in pursuing your workers’ comp benefits.
It is important to note that the terms “impairment” and “disability” mean different things when referring to benefits. “Impairment” refers to the issue affecting your physical or neurological condition, while “disability” describes the limits and restrictions on your ability to complete tasks.
After you have been injured, the doctor who treats you makes a professional opinion about your injury based on medical evidence and accepted legal standards. The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) then determines how the degree of impairment will affect your ability to do your job.
After the doctor releases you from care, you will be asked to meet with the WCC to determine whether you are eligible for additional benefits due to permanent disability. They will consider your level of education, age, previous employment history, and other personal factors unique to your situation. The rating varies depending on the body part sustaining the injury and the level of its disability.
Some permanent scarring may entitle you to additional benefits if, for example, the scar substantially detracts from your appearance and would be visible in the ordinary course of your employment. You would not receive benefits for both disfigurement and disability to the same body part except in the case of severe burns and keloid scars.
It may be possible to receive benefits even after you are eligible to return to work if your doctor reports that you have a permanent physical impairment. If you are still experiencing a wage loss due to your injury after returning to work, you may still receive benefits. If you are receiving regular wages, the value of your benefits may be lowered.
The amount of weekly compensation or “lost wage” benefits you receive for your injury is based on your average weekly wage.
You calculate this by looking at your before-tax earnings over the four fiscal quarters immediately preceding your injury. Then determine the weekly average of those earnings.
This calculation can also be affected by factors such as whether you were employed for a full year, five days a week, whether you were in the same industry or job for the past year, and whether you were a seasonal or temporary worker.
For total disability, the maximum amount you can receive is two-thirds of your average weekly wage. This cap is waived if you make less than $75 per week. Also, there is a monetary limit that changes every year. In 2019, this limit was $845.74.
In the case of total permanent disability, South Carolina law limits benefits to 500 weeks (or roughly nine and a half years). People with paraplegia, quadriplegics, and those suffering brain damage can receive benefits for life, however.
Depending on what body part is affected, South Carolina law puts a limit on how long you can receive benefits, for example:
This is the maximum number of weeks that benefits can continue, but if you still have use of the injured body part, this timeline will be reduced accordingly.
There are also dollar amount limits on each injured body part. ProPublica has a helpful interactive site that displays these limits based on your state and injured body part here.
In most cases, the doctor treating an injured worker will assign an impairment rating to the injured body part, and settlement negotiations start from there.
For instance, if you injured your shoulder and it has a 20% impairment rating, the benefits would last for 60 weeks (20% of 300 weeks = 60 weeks).
There are many issues involved that can make this rating more complicated, however. Doctors rely on a variety of guides in their workers’ comp diagnoses, including several different editions of the American Medical Association guide. Which guide the doctor uses can affect the rating your injury is given. For instance, some states have rejected the 6th edition because of its complexity and the unfairly low ratings it prescribes, especially for spinal cord injuries.
After you have suffered a workplace accident, you should see a doctor immediately to treat and document your injury. Workers’ compensation benefits cover not only lost wages, but also medical expenses related to your injury.
Your focus at this time is on recovery and healing. You have enough to worry about without having to deal with loads of paperwork, phone calls, and other frustrations required to ensure you are awarded the compensation you are owed under the law.
Trying to handle a claim on your own while you are impaired could easily result in a missed deadline or miscommunication, jeopardizing your compensation. An experienced attorney can pursue a fair result for you.
Jebaily Law Firm has been serving clients for half a century, and we are committed to protecting the rights of workers just like you who’ve been hurt or have become ill on the job.
Our knowledgeable South Carolina workers’ compensation attorneys will listen to your needs and fight for the outcome that you deserve. Don’t take any chances with your well-being or your family’s security. Contact Jebaily Law Firm to schedule a free consultation today.