Historically, teaching has not been considered a physically dangerous job, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that nearly 50,000 teachers suffer work-related injuries annually. If you're a teacher injured in the course of performing your job duties in South Carolina, you're generally entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Workers' comp is no-fault insurance that covers employees' work-related accidental injuries and occupational illnesses. Most South Carolina employers (including schools) with four or more workers on the payroll are required to carry workers' comp.
Benefits include payment of your medical expenses and two-thirds of wages that you lose during treatment and recovery. Vocational re-training is also available in some cases. If you've lost a loved one to an injury or illness sustained at school, you may file for death benefits. To file a workers' comp claim, you do not need to prove that your school's administration did anything wrong to cause your injury or illness. Even if you caused your own accident, you may still file a claim, and your employer may not terminate you or retaliate against you for filing.
Health Risks for Teachers
Accidental injuries and occupational illnesses suffered by teachers include the following:
Slip and Fall
Wet floors, worn-out carpeting, extension cords, food spilled in the cafeteria, students' feet in the aisle, icy parking lots, and objects on the floor can cause a teacher to trip or slip and fall on the job. Concussions or bone injuries often result.
Repetitive Strain Injury
Writing on the board, grading papers, using a computer, and distributing books or study materials require a teacher to use the same muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments over and over again throughout each school year. Repeating such motions can cause bursitis, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other repetitive strain injuries (RSIs). RSI symptoms include tingling, numbness, weakness, cramping, stiffness, pain, and reduced range of motion. Physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medication are often required to treat RSIs.
Exposure to Toxic Substances
Cleaning products, chemicals used in science laboratories, mold, insecticides, sewage, and other toxic substances might be ingested by teachers at school. Swallowing, inhaling, or coming into physical contact with such toxins can cause lung damage, intestinal problems, or birth defects. Symptoms of toxin ingestion include:
- Damaged vision
- Skin rash
- Nausea and vomiting
- Irritation of ears, nose, or throat
- Diminished mental capacity
Sitting at and rising from a desk, walking around the classroom, moving desks, going up and down stairs multiple times a day, and handling heavy items such as books and media equipment can result in arthritis, osteoporosis, sarcopenia, and even bone fractures.
Teaching several large classes per day, budget cuts, lack of materials, mountains of homework to correct, increasing workloads, disciplinary problems, pressure to make sure students get high scores on standardized tests, and mainstreaming of special-needs students can all cause mental stress for teachers today. Resulting psychological injuries such as anxiety or depression could require therapy, counseling, medication, and time off work. In extreme cases, mental stress can have physical repercussions such as facial tics, overuse of medication, and even heart disease.
In the past, educators very rarely suffered injuries from violence at school, but the extreme increase in the number of school shootings across the country in recent years makes school a more dangerous environment than ever for both students and teachers. Gunshot wounds sustained in mass school shootings regularly cause catastrophic injuries and even death in far too many cases today. Additionally, teachers can be victimized by their own students, particularly in middle and high schools.
What to Do If You're Injured at School
Even though you're entitled to workers comp benefits if you suffer an accidental injury or develop an occupational illness while performing your teaching or other duties at school, the school system's insurance company might try to deny you benefits in order to save money. If you're hurt or become ill on the job, you should take the following steps to strengthen your workers' compensation claim.
Report Your Injury and File Your Claim
As soon as possible after you're injured or diagnosed with a work-related illness, report your injury or illness in writing to your supervisor or a claims representative at the school. If possible, provide photos of your injury, the specific location where it occurred, and the object(s) or conditions that caused it. Your employer should inform the insurer of your injury and file a claim on your behalf with the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission (SCWCC).
If this does not happen within a week or so after your report, you should file the claim on your own by submitting Form 50 (for injury or illness) or Form 52 (for the death of a loved one) from the SCWCC website. Although you have 90 days to report your injury and two years to file your claim, do not wait. Any delay on your part gives the insurance company ammunition to use against you. It can claim that you're not as badly hurt as you say you are or that your injury is not really work-related.
See a Doctor for Treatment as Soon as Possible
You should seek medical attention right away, but you must accept treatment from a physician certified and recommended by your school system's insurance company. You may not simply visit your own doctor. Doing so could damage your claim. Follow the doctor's treatment plan to the letter. Keep all appointments, follow up on all referrals, take medication as prescribed, and retain all receipts and other documentation of your treatment. If the doctor releases you to return to work with restrictions that require you to teach less than full time or perform a "light duty" job, you must attempt to comply.
Call a Lawyer If Circumstances Warrant it
Your claim may require the services of a workers' compensation attorney in the following circumstances:
- The insurer claims that your injury or illness is not work-related
- The insurer is slow to approve necessary treatment expenses
- Your school's administration fires you or retaliates against you for filing a claim
- You're not satisfied with your doctor or your treatment
- You're forced back to work too early
- Your claim is disputed or denied by your employer or its insurance company for any reason
In any of these instances, your lawyer can help you request an informal conference, a commission review, or a hearing before the SCWCC. If your claim is still denied, your attorney can appeal your case to the SC Court of Appeals. Although you may not sue your employer for damages resulting from your accident or illness, your lawyer can help you to file a third-party personal injury lawsuit against any other party that is partially responsible for your accident or illness. Examples of such potentially liable third parties include an outside cleaning service, violent fans at a school athletic event, or an active shooter in the building.
Have You Been Injured On The Job In Charleston, South Carolina?
If you've been hurt at your job you can speak with a workers' compensation lawyer. Please contact us online or call our Charleston, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.2359 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Conway, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach, Florence or North Charleston office locations.