Understanding How a Permanent Disability is Handled Through Workers’ Compensation

Workplace injuries can be quite serious, especially if you work in a factory, in a rail yard, at a construction site, or virtually any other industrial setting. If you or a loved one suffered a serious, debilitating injury that may never fully heal, you could be eligible for permanent disability benefits through the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Insurance Program. But keep in mind that not all serious injuries will automatically result in an award of permanent disability benefits. The potential benefit award depends on the type of injury, the level of disability, and other important factors.

Permanent Partial Disability

If you suffered a serious injury to a particular area of your body, but may still be able to find employment in a different field or workplace setting, you could qualify for permanent partial disability. Compensation for a permanent partial disability is generally based on the severity of your disability. The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission generally reviews your medical records, affidavits from your doctors, and the impact of your partial disability on your ability to work in your chosen field; more on this issue below.

Common Permanent Partial Disability Injuries

Serious back injuries and spinal trauma are most often cited as the basis for seeking permanent partial disability benefits. This is especially true for laborers, rail workers, and other workers who haul and lift heavy objects on a daily basis. Other types of injuries that may be eligible for permanent partial disability benefits, include:

  • Amputation of a limb
  • Chronic carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Hearing loss
  • Knee injuries
  • Nerve damage
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Wrist and elbow injuries
  • Shoulder injuries
  • Significant burns that can be seen from at least eight feet away
  • Vision loss

Benefits Awarded for Permanent Partial Disability

If you are awarded benefits for permanent partial disability, they will be calculated based on your percentage of disability. This percentage is determined by a doctor who will examine the body part that you claim is permanently impaired.

The Commission has assigned each body part a specific “maximum value.” This may seem somewhat arbitrary and subjective considering the value of a person’s knee varies depending on the individual’s chosen profession. Nevertheless, the most you can get is the max value.

The benefits you are awarded will be determined by the severity and location of your injury. If you are awarded permanent partial disability benefits, they will be paid out for up to 340 weeks. As you can see, these are not benefits paid out for the remainder of your life.

Permanent Total Disability

If you or a loved one suffered a catastrophic, life-changing workplace injury, you may qualify for permanent total disability benefits. But keep in mind, you have to meet a specific threshold to qualify for these benefits. For example, if you lost both of your hands, you would qualify for permanent total disability. Similarly, if you lost both feet, arms, or legs, in a workplace accident, you would likely qualify for permanent total disability. The same goes for losing your vision in both of your eyes. If you suffered a combination of these catastrophic injuries, you are likely to be deemed totally and permanently disabled.

Being considered permanently and totally disabled means you will receive additional financial benefits based your average weekly wage for up to 500 weeks.

Compensation Calculation for Permanent Injury

As mentioned, you will be compensated primarily on the severity of your disability. The severity receives a rating score. A minimal disability would be rated at 10 percent while a severe disability might be rated at 75 percent. Another main factor is your average weekly wage rate.

The Commission generally awards only 66 ⅔ percent of your average weekly wages. You may be asking yourself, “How is the severity of my disability determined?” See below.

Impairment Ratings – You Have Rights

If you are claiming a permanent injury like a lost limb, vision loss, nerve damage, etc. then you will be likely be rated by a physician. This is known as your “impairment rating.” Here is the rub – your employer can select the doctor who assigns your impairment rating. As you may expect, a doctor hired by your employer may be less inclined to give your disability a higher impairment rating.

Remember, if you disagree with the doctor’s assessment, you have rights.

Many employees wrongly believe they have to accept what their employer’s physician says and fail to seek a second medical opinion. This is a big mistake. If you have a South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer handling your case, they should be able to schedule an independent medical examination so a third-party specialist can review the severity of your injury and provide their own impairment rating. This is critically important if you are trying to get the maximum benefits available.

Conference to Discuss Your Benefits

If you or a loved one suffered a permanent disability, you will likely be asked to attend an “informal conference.” This conference will also be attended by the insurance company for your employer and a commissioner or claims mediator. This conference is meant to determine the total amount of benefits you will be awarded for your permanent disability.

If you do not agree with the benefit total discussed during the informal conference, you do not have to sign the settlement agreement. If you do not sign, a hearing will be scheduled before the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Do Not Take On The Insurance Company Alone – Contact an Experienced South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

If a hearing is scheduled with the Commission, it will likely be held a few months after the informal conference. Getting the advice of a dedicated South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney is incredibly important. You want the maximum benefits available under the law. The Dan Pruitt Injury Law Firm can help. Our team of attorneys and professionals are here to answer your questions and help you understand your legal rights. Contact our office today to schedule a free, confidential, and comprehensive case review with an actual attorney.