Of all the work-related injuries you might sustain on the job, one that leads to an amputation is among the most catastrophic. Losing a finger, toe, hand, foot, arm, or leg can change every aspect of your life drastically. Not only might you have to learn new ways to perform most daily activities with the help of a prosthesis or assistive equipment, but you might also be unable to work at your previous job and have to worry about supporting yourself and your family in the future. If you suffer a work-related injury leading to an amputation, you’re generally entitled to workers’ compensation benefits that will cover all your medical expenses and approximately two-thirds of the wages you lose while off work after your accident. In most cases, though, workers’ comp benefits stop after a certain number of weeks, so you want to be sure you get all the benefits you deserve for as long as you need them in the aftermath of your injury.
How South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Works
Most South Carolina companies and businesses with four or more employees are required to carry workers’ comp insurance, which provides no-fault coverage of workers’ on-the-job injuries and occupational illnesses. To file a claim, you don’t have to prove your employer’s negligence caused your injury. Even if you were responsible for your own accident, you’re still entitled to benefits if you were hurt in the course and scope of performing your job duties. Your employer may not fire you or retaliate against you for filing a claim. The medical costs associated with amputation, however, are very high, and the number of weeks you might be off work could reach or exceed the maximum benefit time limits set by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission (SCWCC). For these reasons, the insurer that will have to pay your benefits could dispute or deny your claim in order to save money for its shareholders. This is why the services of a workers’ comp attorney are highly recommended in cases of very serious injuries like those leading to amputation.
Causes of Workplace Loss of Limb
Work-related amputations are most likely to result from company vehicle accidents. Other common causes include construction-site mishaps, severe burns, and defective machinery that traps and crushes or severs a digit or limb. In some cases, you might lose a body part in the accident itself. In other cases, a body part could be so badly damaged that it must be surgically removed after the accident. The first objective of the doctor or EMT treating you is to get bleeding under control, sometimes by applying direct pressure to the wound or using a tourniquet to block the flow of blood to the injured area. The damaged tissue is removed, blood vessels sealed, a drain inserted, and a stump created for the attachment of a prosthetic limb. The wound is then closed but might not be stitched up right away because there is a risk of infection and other complications:
- Nerve damage
- Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT)
- Phantom pains
Psychological Trauma After an Amputation
Emotional and psychological complications that you might experience after an amputation include:
The change in your appearance, the use of a prosthetic limb, and/or your lack of mobility might make you self-conscious in social settings.
After an amputation, you might also experience:
- Loss of interest in normal activities or special occasions
- Decreased appetite
- Chronic fatigue
- Excessive sleeping or insomnia
- Thoughts of self-harm
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Even more serious than general depression, PTSD can lead to aggression, anger, nervousness, anxiety, and panic attacks.
In addition to physical and occupational therapy to help you learn to get around and to work after an amputation, psychological counseling to help you adjust to being an amputee should be covered by workers’ comp. The more rehab you can get, the better your chances are of adjusting successfully to your amputation and living a functional life.
Compensation for Workplace Amputations
Workers’ compensation disability payments are determined according to your degree of disability (partial or total) and how long your disability will continue (temporary or permanent). The SCWCC applies a scheduled loss-of-use formula that specifies a certain number of weeks of compensation to be paid for the loss of or the loss of the use of particular body parts. The number of benefit weeks allowed is then multiplied by approximately two-thirds of your average weekly wage to determine your maximum benefit payment. For example, the loss of the use of your arm is worth 195 weeks of benefits. If you normally earn $900 per week, you’re eligible to receive approximately $600 (two-thirds of $900) multiplied by 195 weeks for a total benefit amount of $117,000.
If, however, you’ve lost only the partial use of a limb, the SCWCC must use your medical evidence to determine the percentage of use you’ve lost, and this percentage is figured into the loss of use formula to determine your maximum benefits. Determining that percentage can obviously be a somewhat subjective process. Two or more healthcare professionals might disagree on the precise percentage of use you’ve lost. To make it more complicated, your disability rating is also affected by how your loss of the use of a body part will affect your ability to pursue your career in the future. Losing the use of a foot or leg does not impact the career of an office worker who sits at a desk in the same way that the same loss impacts a manual laborer who must stand and walk all day. In some cases, disfigurement caused by your amputation can be considered, as well, so determining your disability rating is a tricky business. Having a workers’ comp attorney on your side makes you more likely to get a fair rating.
The Role of Your Attorney
If you simply allow the insurance company and its doctors and lawyers to determine your disability rating, you’re likely to receive the lowest possible benefit amount. An experienced workers’ comp attorney, however, can consult with objective medical doctors and use their statements or testimony, along with evidence regarding the specifics of your job duties and other factors, to show that your rating is higher than the insurer claims it is. Once your total benefit amount is determined, your lawyer can sometimes work to have it paid to you in a one-time lump sum. If the insurer disputes or denies your claim, your attorney can help you appeal the denial.
Have You Been Injured On The Job In Florence?
If you've been hurt at your job in or around Florence, South Carolina, you can speak with a workers' compensation lawyer. Please contact us online or call our Florence personal injury office directly at 843.488.7540 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Charleston, Conway, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach or North Charleston office locations.