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.
Unfortunately, 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. 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. If you suffered a head injury on the job, and have questions about what benefits – including lifetime medical care – are available under our state’s workers’ compensation laws, call me today at (803) 790-2800.