South Carolina’s workers’ compensation system protects employees injured in industrial accidents. Workers’ compensation benefits are not synonymous with damage awards, however. This is because workers’ compensation is an insurance matter, whereas damages arise from jury awards in the civil justice system. While damage awards can offer more extensive compensation for an injury, in the form of pain and suffering or emotional distress, for example, the time, cost, and likelihood of obtaining such damages is problematic in the employment context. As one might imagine, an employee can ill afford to risk money on court costs and legal fees in an attempt to prove employer negligence and thereby recover damages at a time when he or she is unable to work and earn income due to a workplace injury or illness.
Unfortunately for late 19th and early 20th century South Carolina workers, this was the battle they faced when trying to impose the cost of a workplace injury or death on a negligent employer. Of equal concern to the nation as a whole was that the slow, expensive compensation process was also bad for the local, state, and national economies. Without medical and disability benefits, employees couldn’t get back to work very easily. When hit with huge jury damage awards for employee injuries, an employer might go out of business. In the interest of the employees, and also the employers, workers’ compensation was introduced during the Progressive Era in the early 20th century. The first reforms were on a federal, rather than state, level, and provided government employees with medical and disability benefits in the event of a work-related injury or illness. Soon, benefits expanded beyond strictly government employees, and were enacted on a state level. South Carolina’s first workers’ compensation laws were passed in 1935.
Current Workers’ Compensation Laws in South Carolina
Under South Carolina’s current workers’ compensation system, employees are unable to recover benefits analogous to civil damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress. This is not necessarily a negative, however. It’s about trade-off and compromise. As discussed above, a recovery of damages in the civil context requires an employee plaintiff to meet a burden of proof with regard to employer negligence. As noted, meeting this burden of proof can be costly, time-consuming, and not necessarily result in a victory for the employee. What modern South Carolina workers’ compensation law does is replace the burden of proof common law model with a “no-fault” system. Under the no-fault system, an industrially injured South Carolina employee need only prove that he or she was working at the time of the injury. In other words, the injured employee no longer needs to prove negligence on the part of the employer. While this new system limits the compensation an injured employee can cover, it reduces the time, cost, and uncertainty in recovering compensation. Employers benefit as well, as they are much less susceptible to the kind of costs seen in the civil jury award system.
If you have been injured in a workplace accident in South Carolina, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney today. An attorney will work to get the maximum compensation you need and deserve for your health and financial future.