According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a workplace crush injury takes place when an employee or an employee's body part is squeezed, pinched, caught, or compressed between objects or between parts of an object. Such injuries are among the top four causes of employee death on construction sites. Crush injuries also occur in factories, on loading docks, and in other workplaces where:
- A worker's hand, arm, or fingers get caught between moving parts of a machine or a heavy piece of equipment.
- A building that's under construction collapses on top of workers inside.
- A driver or loading dock worker gets trapped between a wall and a truck, forklift, or another vehicle.
- A heavy object falls off a truck or drops from a crane and pins a worker to the floor.
What Is Crush Syndrome?
Although crush injuries can obviously fracture or crush a victim's bones, even more dangerous is crush syndrome, which results from the crushing of skeletal muscles. When these muscles are crushed, the circulation of blood to the muscles is cut off, and abnormally high levels of phosphorous, potassium, and myoglobin are released into the body. An overload of these chemicals can cause the victim to go into shock or suffer kidney failure. Other results of crush injuries include:
- Nerve damage
- Skin damage and scarring
- Internal bleeding
- Blood clots
- Organ damage
- Severed limbs or digits
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
In the worst cases, when a worker's body is trapped, pinched, or compressed between objects for an extended period of time, crush syndrome can result in death.
Crush Injuries Are Covered by Workers' Comp
If you're a full-time or part-time employee of a South Carolina company with four or more workers, your employer is generally required by law to carry workers' compensation insurance, which provides no-fault coverage of employees' work-related accidental injuries and occupational diseases. You don't have to prove any negligence on your employer's part to file a workers' comp claim if you're injured on the job, and your employer cannot fire you for filing.
Even if you caused your own accidental injury, you're entitled to benefits, which include all your medical expenses and two-thirds of your lost wages, as well as long-term disability care and occupational re-training in some cases. If you lose a loved one in a work-related crush injury, you may file for workers' comp death benefits on behalf of the deceased.
Steps to Take After a Workplace Crush Injury
If you suffer a work-related crush injury, you should take the following steps immediately to begin the workers' compensation claim process:
Report Your Accidental Injury
As soon as you're physically able to do so, report your accident and injury to your supervisor or a claims administrator at your workplace. If you are hospitalized or incapacitated, ask someone to do so on your behalf. Your employer should inform their insurance company of your injury and file your claim for benefits with the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission (SCWCC). If this does not happen within a week to 10 days, you can do so yourself (or with someone's help if necessary) with Form 50 from the SCWCC website.
Get Medical Attention
If you're not transported to a hospital after your accident, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible from a doctor who is certified by your employer's insurance company. You should not get treatment from your own doctor. Doing so could damage your claim for benefits. Follow the recommended doctor's treatment plan to the letter, keep all medical appointments, follow up on all referrals, and take all medication exactly as prescribed. You should also retain all receipts and other documentation of your treatment.
Keeping a daily journal of your treatment and recovery process can further strengthen your claim. In your journal, focus on your ability (or lack thereof) to perform the physical activities required by your job. If you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) and are cleared by your doctor to return to work, even with restrictions or at a light-duty position, you should show up and perform your duties to the best of your ability.
Although the SCWCC actually allows you 90 days to report your injury and two years to file your claim, you should not wait to do either. Any delay in reporting, filing, or seeking medical attention can be cited by the insurer as evidence that you're not as badly hurt as you say you are.
Be Prepared for a Fight
While it's very important for you to meet all deadlines and observe other procedural requirements, simply filing your claim correctly and on time does not guarantee that you'll be granted fair benefits. You may be in for a fight with the insurance company and its lawyers, so you're well advised to have an experienced attorney in your corner as well.
Because your employer's workers' comp insurer is in business to earn a profit, it is most likely to accept and pay claims for minor injuries resulting in low medical expenses and little or no lost income. Claims for crush injuries, however, often require surgery, long-term hospitalization, physical therapy, home care, rehabilitation, assistive equipment, and vocational re-training. These treatments can add up to a very expensive claim that the insurance company might dispute and refuse to pay.
When You Need an Attorney
Even if your claim is accepted, the insurer still might be slow to approve necessary medical procedures due to their expense. You should contact a workers' comp lawyer right away if your claim is denied, payments are not timely, or your employer retaliates against you for filing a claim. Your attorney can help by:
- Representing you in an informal conference
- Requesting a hearing before the SCWCC or a commission review
- Appealing your denied claim to the Court of Appeals
If your crush injury results in long-term or permanent disability, your lawyer can negotiate in some cases to have your benefits paid in a lump sum rather than in weekly payments.
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.