WORKERS COMPENSATION & AUTO ACCIDENTS
ROBERT J. REEVES P.C.
Attorney Robert J. Reeves has been handling workers compensation cases for over 25 years since graduating law school in 1989. Mr. Reeves is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and has been inducted into the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 and Super Lawyers for South Carolina.* You can reach Mr. Reeves directly by calling 803-554-4157 (mobile) or email . He would be honored to discuss your case and makes himself personally available to his clients when they need him. You can reach him during evenings, on weekends, and even holidays if you need some answers.
FORMER INSURANCE DEFENSE LAWYER
During his first 7 years in practice, he started his career as an insurance defense attorney representing self-insured employers (Springs Industries, Inc., Bowater, Willamette) and workers compensation insurance carriers. From those years on the “other side,” he learned first hand how insurance companies defend and evaluate claims and what mistakes many plaintiff’s lawyers make in developing and negotiating cases. Mr. Reeves now uses those experiences to “reverse engineer” cases to fight for injured workers and their families. By first focusing on the weaknesses, Mr. Reeves is better able to minimize the defenses and then present the strengths of his client’s case. It is best to deal with defenses early on rather than just try to offset with the better parts of a claim. No case is perfect, and to be effective, your workers compensation attorney will have to deal with both the good and bad aspects. Mr. Reeves has worked here in York County since 1991.
FORMER REGISTERED NURSE
Mr. Reeves is also a former Registered Nurse (RN) who understands complex injury cases because he has actually treated seriously injured patients. He is able to comfort families and explain medical procedures and what to expect as their loved one recovers. He is also able to communicate effectively with treating doctors as he secures legally necessary “medical causation” evidence establishing the full extent of injury and harm caused from a work-related accident.
The law firm Robert J. Reeves P.C. focuses its practice on three areas: serious personal injury, including workers compensation claims, and helps those clients who need us here in Rock Hill, Fort Mill, and Indian Land. We offer offices for your convenience in York County and Charlotte.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT LAWYER FOR YOU
Before choosing a workers compensation attorney to fight for you and your family, we encourage you to carefully compare different lawyers and firms and look at their actual experience in handling workers compensation claims. There are many lawyers who market for workers comp cases, but very few who actually practice in this area. There are even fewer lawyers who have handled workers compensation claims for over 25 years. Certainly, you can get some recommendations from friends, family members, or even coworkers. Almost everyone knows a lawyer. But remember, while this is a good place to start, you should do your research. The choice of which lawyer or firm to use is critical, and it can be difficult to change firms once the claim is underway. You should even consider meeting with several lawyers to see who gives you the most confidence and also helps you feel the most comfortable. This is a big decision. Make your choice carefully. When considering different firms, we would be honored to have a chance to personally sit down with you and review your particular situation. We will explain the law, review what to expect, and then give you some options. After you know what you are facing, you will be in the best position to decide how to proceed. You will always be in charge of your case and make all the decisions. We will guide you through the process and make recommendations. Then, you decide what is best for you and your family.
YOU NEED A LAWYER ON YOUR SIDE
Workers compensation laws were created to help injured workers who get hurt on the job. Fault is not an issue in most cases, but there are different “legal traps” that you must avoid. Many people, and even some lawyers who occasionally practice in this area, erroneously believe workers compensation cases are “easy” and that you may not need an attorney. In relatively minor injury cases, a private consultation may be all that is required and would be very helpful. However, for serious accidents with resulting permanent injuries, you will be taking a real risk by trying to represent yourself and not hiring experienced counsel. As a former South Carolina workers compensation insurance defense lawyer, attorney Robert J. Reeves knows the mistakes inexperienced lawyers often make and has seen the resulting effects their lack of knowledge or preparation can cause. One reason Mr. Reeves stopped defending insurance companies and started helping injured workers and their families was seeing how many cases were lost because “mill firm” lawyers either came to court unprepared or really did not know what they were doing. When a lawyer fails, it is the client who suffers. If you are going to practice in an area, you owe it to the people you represent to do your best and know the law. Insurance companies hire law firms that focus on workers compensation claims to represent their interests. It is important that an injured worker be able to “balance the playing field” by retaining a workers compensation lawyer with similar experience and credentials.
AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENTS ON THE JOB
Workers compensation accident claims while on the road present several legal issues. This area of law can be both confusing and complex and requires an experienced attorney to sort through the various claims and defenses available. The final analysis will determine whether you receive full compensation and from which party or parties. If you drive for a living, you are usually covered under workers compensation laws. But, if you are involved in an automobile accident while “on the clock,” you may or may not be protected. Or, in some situations, you may actually have two (2) potential claims: a workers compensation claim AND a third party claim. Here’s how this works:
EMPLOYEE OR INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR
If you drive a work vehicle owned and maintained by a company (short haul truck, utility truck, delivery vehicle), you are covered if the employer has four (4) or more regular employees (full time or part time). If you are injured in an accident while making your delivery or going to the next job, you will get workers compensation benefits. Some drivers, however, are not covered. For example, long haul truck drivers who own their own rigs and make their own schedules are considered independent contractors and are not covered by definition under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Sometimes, the lines get blurred. Closer cases typically involve companies who classify workers as “non-employees” when, in fact, they really are covered “employees.” The exact determination will depend on how much control a company exerts and how a job is done. In this new era of part-time and seasonal jobs, many workers compensation cases will be fought aggressively by insurance companies over whether someone is actually an “employee” or an “independent contractor.” This distinction can be critical in determining whether someone who gets injured also gets any benefits.
IN THE COURSE AND SCOPE OF EMPLOYMENT
An automobile accident may be compensable depending on whether the employee was legally “on the job” when injured. Starting again with the semi-truck driver or utility van driver, an accident is clearly covered if the accident occurs while driving to make your next delivery or next job site. But what if you stop to run a personal errand? Well, it depends on how far out of the way you go to take care of something non-work related. The law is unclear here and very fact specific. If you are on your regular route, then you are probably covered under workers compensation. However, if you stray too far from where you should be, you may be found to be outside of workers compensation guidelines. As detailed above, this distinction can make the difference between benefits and nothing at all.
SPECIAL ERRAND RULE
Just like going too far away from your work-related task can make a personal errand not covered, doing something specifically for your employer can bring you under the workers compensation umbrella. Ordinarily, simply getting to work or going home from work is not a workers compensation event. If you are involved in an accident after leaving your house to go to work, that would be covered under private automobile insurance. However, if your boss asks you to come to work early or to pick up something related to your job and you are injured, that accident arguably could be covered as a workers compensation claim. It gets pretty confusing, and insurance companies are quick to try to confuse you and fight claims based on these critical distinctions.
THIRD PARTY CLAIMS
The last segment we need to discuss is what if you are involved in a compensable accident while on the job and your injuries are caused by a third party? What is a “third party” and how does that affect my workers compensation claim? A third party is simply someone who is not related to your employer. If you are injured by a fellow employee, you can only bring an action against your employer. However, if you are injured from someone outside of your job, then you can have a workers’ compensation claim as well as a third party claim. Two potential claims are available but must be prosecuted very carefully. Otherwise, you may lose a portion of available benefits or even waive a claim altogether. In my experience, the best course is to finish the workers compensation claim first. Once resolved, you will then know the full extent of harm caused and have completed totals of medical bills and lost wages. Just remember to make sure you file a third party claim before the civil statute of limitations expires. For personal injury cases, you have three (3) years. But for wrongful death claims, you have only two (2) years. In addition to your medical bills and lost wages, you can also request compensation for pain and suffering in a third party action which, of course, you cannot claim in a workers compensation claim.
MEDICAL PAYMENT ISSUES
The final aspect of a third party case is the workers compensation insurance lien on any proceeds you receive. Any monies paid to you in workers compensation must be accounted for in your third party settlement or verdict. You are not allowed to “double dip” under the law. That’s fair. You cannot make the same claim twice. Of course, your medical bills are covered, but your lost wages are only paid at two-thirds your average weekly wage which means you still haven’t been covered for the remaining one-third of your pay. And, as we mentioned earlier, you get nothing for pain and suffering or punitive damages if the other party’s negligence was really bad. It is generally better to try to negotiate the workers compensation lien before starting the third party case so that you can know what you will be required to pay back. However, if an agreement cannot be reached, the Workers Compensation Commission will decide what percentage has to be repaid.
As you can see, these areas can get complex quickly. It is imperative, especially in these scenarios, to consult with a seasoned workers compensation practitioner. Even if you decide to retain a different firm, we hope you will consider our attorneys in your search for a workers compensation lawyer to help take care of you and your family.
*Membership in legal organizations is not meant to convey any particular legal expertise or case value. Every claim is unique and ultimate valuation will be determined after full discovery of the unique facts and circumstances present.