WEEKLY BENEFITS IN SC WORKERS’ COMP CASES
One of our clients’ first and most pressing concerns when they meet with us is how to get their weekly benefits started. They have to be able to pay their bills and provide for their family. We understand and appreciate that stress and will do our best to get your weekly checks coming as quickly as possible. South Carolina workers compensation laws dictate how much you get and when those benefits begin. We explain further below:
AVERAGE WEEKLY WAGE / COMPENSATION RATE
Specifically, SC Code of Laws Section 42-1-40 defines “average weekly wages” as “the earnings of the injured employee in the employment in which he was working at the time of the injury during the period of fifty-two weeks immediately preceding the date of the injury… (or) such other method of computing average weekly wages may be resorted to as will most nearly approximate the amount which the injured employee would be earning were it not for the injury…Whenever allowances of any character made to an employee in lieu of wages are a specified part of a wage contract they are deemed a part of his earnings.” This initial calculation is critical as it will become the “weekly benefit” amount and will also be used to calculate the value of any eventual permanent partial disability award. What the law requires is for the employer to look back over the preceding fifty-two (52) weeks and report all wages and other allowances and divide that amount by the number of weeks actually worked. That figure represents the “average weekly wage.” Then, that amount is reduced to two-thirds (2/3) to determine the “compensation rate.” This final calculation is what the injured employee receives weekly and then used to determine any permanency award. These benefits represent periods of “temporary” and later “permanent” disability, not lost income. As a result, ALL workers’ compensation benefits are NOT subject to either state or federal income taxes. Any amounts received are not even reported on tax filings. So when do benefits begin?
WHEN DO WEEKLY BENEFITS START?
SC Code of Laws Section 42-9-200 mandates when benefits start and states, “no compensation shall be allowed for the first seven (7) calendar days of disability resulting from an injury…but, if the injury results in disability of more than fourteen days, compensation shall be allowed from the date of the disability.” Provided an injured worker is written out of work by an authorized treating physician or placed on light duty restrictions that cannot be accommodated by the employer, the carrier begins owing weekly benefits on the eighth (8th) day. If the employee remains out of work for a total of fourteen (14) days, the employer will owe back benefits for the first seven (7) days. Benefits will continue while under authorized medical care or until light duty restricted work is offered by the employer. What if the injured worker cannot perform offered light duty work?
LIGHT DUTY RESTRICTIONS / RISK OF REFUSAL
SC Code of Laws Section 42-9-190 addresses “no compensation to injured employee refusing suitable employment’ and states “if an injured employee refuses employment procured for him suitable to his capacity and approved by the Commission he shall not be entitled to any compensation at any time during the continuance of such refusal.” We get this question in a lot of cases. Doctors tend to return injured workers to “light duty” restrictions rather early, and many employers claim to have such work when, in fact, they do not. And at the same time, injured employees are still given prescription pain medications that warn not to use “while driving or operating machinery.” If taken, the injured worker risks a possible arrest or being fired for being “intoxicated” on the job. This is a very difficult dilemma without an easy answer. Our first advice is to tell the doctor there are no “light duty jobs” and that the patient still needs their narcotic pain medication every day. If that approach fails, the injured worker will have to at least show up at work and try. If they still feel the offered work is too much, they can go home. But to avoid the punishment of this section, they have to show a documented effort to attempt to comply.
ROBERT J. REEVES P.C.
As you can see, workers compensation laws are complex and can be confusing. This is where experience really matters. Attorney Robert J. Reeves has practiced South Carolina workers compensation law for over 25 years since 1989. He is a former insurance defense lawyer and former Registered Nurse (RN) so he knows and understands both the legal and medical sides of your case. Mr. Reeves would be honored to sit down with you personally and review your situation. We know you are under tremendous stress and anxiety while trying to heal from your injuries. Let us take some of that pressure away. You focus on getting back on your feet while we focus on your workers compensation claim. Call Mr. Reeves directly on his mobile phone 803-554-4157 or email.