SC Workers Compensation Claims | Why You Need an Experienced Workers Compensation 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 many different “legal traps” that you want to avoid. Most people, and even some lawyers who dabble in this practice area, falsely believe workers compensation is “easy” and that you really don’t need an attorney. In minor injury cases, I would agree that a private consultation may be all that is necessary but would be helpful. However, for serious accidents and resulting permanent injuries, you would 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 an inexperienced lawyer can make and the devastating effects their lack of knowledge or preparation can cause. In fact, one of the reasons Mr. Reeves switched from defending insurance companies to helping injured workers and their families was the realization that many “mill firms” and other lawyers with flashy advertisements really did not know what they were doing. When a case is denied, the employer and their insurance carrier hire law firms that do nothing but workers compensation to represent their interests. That’s why it is so important that the injured worker “balance the playing field” by retaining a lawyers with similar experience and credentials.
Reeves Aiken Hightower & Burns LLC
Our workers compensation attorneys have over 70 years combined experience practicing law. We practice workers compensation law state-wide and have local offices in Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Indian Land, Columbia, Charleston, and Greenville.
Attorney Robert J. Reeves is located in the firm’s Rock Hill / Fort Mill / Indian Land office and has been handling workers compensation cases for over 25 years since 1989.
During his first 7 years, Robert was a workers compensation insurance defense attorney and represented employers and their insurance companies. Those experiences led him to become a plaintiff’s attorney and he has proudly fought for injured workers and their families ever since. He is also a former Registered Nurse (RN) and understands complex injury because he has actually treated those seriously injured at work and in vehicle accidents. Mr. Reeves is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, National Trial Lawyers Top 100, and Super Lawyers in South Carolina. You can call him directly at 803-554-4157 (mobile) or emailing Robert@RJRlaw.com.
Attorney Arthur K. Aiken is located in the Columbia office and has also been practicing workers compensation law for over 25 years. He and Mr. Reeves were law school classmates. Following law school, Art represented insurance carriers and employers for 10 years before making the decision to represent those hurt on the job. He finds helping those truly in need much more satisfying than simply defending claims for insurance companies. He takes those skills and experiences from working with “the other side” and now uses those tactics against them. Mr. Aiken is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and National Trial Lawyers Top 100 in South Carolina. In more serious cases, Art and Robert “team up” to combine their honed trial skills and credentials.
Attorney Jeffrey R. Gilbert is located in the Greenville SC office and has practiced workers compensation law for over 20 years. Like Mr. Reeves and Mr. Aiken, Jeff has a background in workers compensation insurance defense. His trial skills and strategies as a former defense attorney now enable him to anticipate and prepare for those tactics he used to employ against claimants. He has seen what lack of preparation and experience can cause at a hearing or on appeal. Mr. Gilbert is known among his peers as being thorough and an able practitioner in court.
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. Certainly, get some names from friends or coworkers. But remember that “everyone knows a lawyer.” While this is a good place to start your search, you should do your research. You might even consider meeting with several lawyers to see who gives you the most confidence and makes you the most comfortable. This is a big decision and can be critical in the outcome of your case. We would be honored to personally sit down with you and review your particular situation. We will explain the law and give you options. In the end, the decision of how to proceed is always yours.
Automobile Accidents While On the Job
Workers compensation accident claims while on the road present several interesting 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 end debate will determine whether you receive full compensation and from which part(ies). If you drive for a living, you are probably protected under workers compensation laws. But not always. And, if you are involved in an automobile accident while working, 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
First, let’s take the easy case where a driver on the road is definitely covered under workers comp. If you drive a work vehicle owned and maintained by a company (short haul truck, utility truck), you are protected 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.
Auto Accidents While “On the Job”
Next, we will examine when an accident is compensable depending on whether an employee was “on the job” when injured. Starting again with the semi-truck driver or utility van driver, clearly an accident is covered if an 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 for Employer
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 would 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 nuances.
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 Liens
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 the best workers comp lawyer to help take care of you and your family. At the firm Reeves Aiken Hightower & Burns LLC, we wish for your best medical recovery and then financial recovery. Be safe and get back home to what really matters. Your family needs you.