South Carolina workers’ compensation cases may conclude in one of three ways. The settlement outcome or award often depends on whether you need future medical care, as well as the degree of any permanent injury. If you are thinking about settling your case, be familiar with these options:
1. A full and final release, known as a “clincher” agreement;
2. A settlement agreement between the parties that allows for further medical treatment within one year from the date of settlement; or
3. A hearing in front of a Workers’ Compensation Commissioner (i.e. judge).
"Clinchering" The Case
The first option, a “clincher” agreement, brings the case to conclusion more quickly than options two and three. By “clinchering” a claim, the employer is forever released from all future liability pertaining to the work injury. The injured worker is essentially taking responsibility for any additional treatment that may be required. Even when a claim is “clinchered,” we demand that our client be compensated for all future treatment needed to maintain their condition or lessen the recovery time. For these reasons, clincher agreements often cost employers’ insurance companies more money up front and result in a larger settlement figure. Put simply, employers and their insurers must pay good money for a final release from liability. Clincher agreements are appealing to many clients who want a greater sum. Clients who require no further treatment or possess health insurance are also more likely to seek a clincher agreement so they can once more choose their own doctors rather than treat with providers workers’ comp was paying.
Maintaining Access to Medical Care
Other clients may best be served by a settlement agreement that “keeps the medicals open for one year.” This option might result in a less significant initial payment, but in turn permits the injured worker to seek additional treatment within one year if the individual experiences a “substantial change of condition.” For example, if a client tore her rotator cuff at work, undergoes arthroscopic surgery, but continues to experience daily pain, muscle fatigue, and a clicking noise at the injury site, she may elect to “keep the medicals open” rather than clincher the case. By electing this option, the client can receive additional treatment for her shoulder injury within one-year of the settlement provided we can establish she experienced a “significant change of condition” since the settlement date. Additionally, all future medical care that lessens the period of disability must be paid for by the insurer. Clients who require considerable future treatment or lack health insurance often choose this option.
Seeking Justice from the Workers' Comp Commission
Finally, if the employer’s insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement amount, we will request that a SC Workers’ Comp Commissioner decide the case. When this occurs, my client and I appear before the Commission, and present the evidence. I generally have the client testify as to the facts of the injury, medical treatment, current condition, education, work history, and any other matter that may affect the ruling. I also subpoena witnesses and examine them as to their knowledge of the case when it furthers the client’s interest. Once all evidence is submitted, a Workers’ Comp Commissioner will decide what, if any, financial award an injured worker will receive. When cases are decided by the Commission, the medicals remain open for one year. Commissioners also have authority to order future treatment that lessens the period of disability.
More Free Information
South Carolina's workers' compensation cases can be highly nuanced. The outcome can change dramatically based on your understanding of the law. If you have any questions about settlement options in your case, you should call me for a free consulation and request free copies of my books. Contact us today at (803) 790-2800.