South Carolina’s workforce is made up of many people engaged in medium and heavy-duty labor. For this reason and many others, brain injuries commonly occur at work in Lexington, Columbia, Orangeburg, and other parts of South Carolina. Whether you experience a concussion or a severe closed head injury at work, your ability to work and earn a paycheck could be at stake. Therefore, it's important to be able to recognize the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury and to know about South Carolina laws concerning on-the-job brain injuries, our South Carolina personal injury attorney recommends, so you can make sure your legal rights are protected if you suffer a TBI at work.
South Carolina Workers' Comp Laws for On the Job Brain Injuries
South Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act is designed to protect people who get hurt on the job. This includes employees who sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a result of a work accident. However, in 2013, the workers’ compensation laws governing head injuries in South Carolina underwent major changes. Whereas before, an injured worker could get lifetime benefits if he was permanently and totally disabled and had a physical brain injury, we must now prove that the brain damage itself is so severe, that the individual will never be able to regain meaningful employment. The change in law might sound like lawyer talk or semantics, but in my opinion, it may have opened a Pandora’s box. Short of on-the-job brain injuries that render a worker severely handicapped, how do we judge whether or not brain damage is severe?
The brain is not like the knee or shoulder. When you bruise your brain or tear up the axons that carry messages between nerve cells, it does not result in a bit of a limp or a little less range of motion. Rather, it can devastate a person’s family and livelihood.
Proving a Brain Injury Occurred Can Be Difficult
Though South Carolina law may be on your side, that does not mean brain injury claims are easy to prove. Many people who sustain TBIs suffer from memory loss, and have trouble recalling the details of the work accident. Moreover, brain injuries are often missed at the initial hospital visit, and go undocumented and untreated for several months.
Likewise, brain damage often goes undetected by basic MRIs. Similarly, micro-hemorrhaging (i.e. brain bleeds) are regularly missed by dated CT equipment. While cutting edge brain imagery might be available to people of great means or great health insurance, most workers are never afforded the opportunity to find out their true extent of injury. They struggle with work, may find difficulty concentrating, and might even experience fits of rage, yet everyone is telling them that they should be fine. Insurance companies use this lack of medical evidence against injured workers – even in cases where friends and family members testify that their loved one has been only a shadow of himself/herself since the accident. When these people can no longer keep a job due to cognitive, emotional, or behavioral impairments that arose after a closed head injury, they must throw themselves at the mercy of insurance doctors who might accuse them of malingering, insurance defense attorneys who try to pick apart, and employers who are hesitant to hire a “claim-filer.”
Thus, when South Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Commission and Supreme Court require that brain damage be severe, what must be proven? How severe must severe be for an injured worker to receive justice? Though basic tests might come back negative, those results do not rule out the possibility of permanent harm. There is no such thing as a “mild” traumatic brain injury.
Receiving Workers' Compensation Benefits After A Work Brain Injury
Under our state’s law, a person who is permanently and totally disabled due to a work injury is generally limited to 500 weeks of benefits (i.e. less than 10 years, even though the person will never work again). However, there are two exceptions to the 500 week limitation: 1) paralysis; and 2) physical brain injury. Therefore, if someone suffers a severe head injury at work, they could be entitled to payments and medical benefits for the rest of their lives.
In less severe cases, an injured worker can still receive medical care, payment for time missed from work due to the TBI, and a final settlement ranging from 25-250 weeks of compensation (i.e. anywhere from 25-250 x the amount of the weekly workers’ compensation check).