Workers' compensation is no-fault insurance that covers South Carolina employees' work-related injuries and occupational diseases. If you're hurt or become ill in the course of doing your job, you're generally entitled to benefits that will pay your medical bills and reimburse you for two-thirds of your lost wages. In addition, the families of workers killed on the job are entitled to death benefits. The South Carolina workers' compensation system is invaluable to injured and ill workers.
Many workers' compensation claims are straightforward and can be handled without an attorney, but when problems arise, it's important to understand how a lawyer can help you get the workers' compensation benefits you deserve and what you can expect from the process. We cover all of the basics here.
Do I Need a Myrtle Beach Workers' Compensation Lawyer to File My Claim?
You are not required to have legal representation when filing a workers' compensation claim in Charleston. If your work-related injury is a minor one, resulting in low medical bills and little or no time off work, you might be able to pursue workers' compensation benefits on your own as long as you meet all deadlines and satisfy all procedural requirements.
If, however, your injury or illness is severe enough to require expensive medical treatment and significant time away from work, the services of a workers' compensation attorney are highly recommended to help you get the workers' compensation benefits you need and deserve. Ways a workers' compensation lawyer could be an important asset in your case include the following.
Fighting Employer Retaliation for Filing a Workers' Compensation Claim
Many injured workers hesitate to file workers' compensation claims because they fear their employers might fire them or retaliate against them in other ways. Employer retaliation for filing, however, is strictly prohibited.
If you're terminated or punished on the job after filing your claim, your attorney can represent you in a hearing before the SCWCC or a Commission Review and fight back against retaliation.
Proving Your Injury Is Work-Related
If your injury or illness is one that has developed over time on the job (like carpel tunnel syndrome), your employer's workers' compensation insurance company is likely to claim it's not work-related or that it's the result of a preexisting condition.
An experienced workers' compensation lawyer can consult with your doctors, request an independent medical exam, and bring in expert witnesses to help prove your injury is work-related and that you're entitled to benefits.
Filing an Appeal If Your Workers' Comp Claim Is Denied
If your workers' compensation claim is denied for any reason, you may ask for an informal conference with the employer and its workers' compensation insurance company to question that decision. You may also request a hearing before the SCWCC or a Commission Review to appeal the denial.
At such proceedings, the workers' compensation insurance company will be represented by its lawyers, who are well-trained and well-paid to dispute your claim. Having your own workers' comp attorney there to represent you and counter their arguments could be vital to your case.
Your lawyer may also appeal your denied workers' compensation claim to the South Carolina Court of Appeals or Supreme Court if necessary.
How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Workers' Comp Lawyer in South Carolina?
A workers' comp attorney generally will offer you a free first consultation to evaluate your case and decide whether to represent you. If you do retain a lawyer, you typically will pay no attorney fees upfront, but you will owe them a portion of your settlement once your workers' compensation claim is resolved. Typically, a workers comp attorney will charge a contingency fee and that fee will be deducted from your settlement or award an then any costs associated with your case will also be deducted. This is discussed further below.
What Is a Contingency Fee?
You and your lawyer will agree on a contingency fee to be taken from your settlement if your workers' compensation claim is ultimately successful. The maximum contingency fee allowed by South Carolina law is one-third of your settlement, but each case is unique.
It's also important to remember that your chances of getting a fair settlement are generally better with a workers' comp attorney than without one, so your legal services might pay for themselves and more. In some cases, your lawyer can negotiate to get injured workers a lump sum payment rather than weekly benefits.
Other Potential Costs to Consider
If your workers' compensation claim is not successful, you will owe no attorney fees. Your lawyer's firm, however, will incur certain costs in the process of representing you and fighting for fair benefits, including:
- Evidence fees
- Medical treatment records fees
- Deposition costs
- Consultations with your doctors
- Expert witness fees (in some cases)
- Filing fees
- Mediation (in some cases)
Win or lose, you might be charged for these fees to reimburse your attorney, who will go over all anticipated costs with you in advance. Before anyone is paid, the SCWCC must examine and approve all fees and orders against your settlement.
Choosing the Right Attorney in a Myrtle Beach Workers' Compensation Case
Most workers' compensation law firms will offer a free, no-obligation consultation. This is an opportunity for you to learn all you can about the firm and decide if you'd like it to represent you and for the attorney to evaluate your case and decide whether to take you on as a client.
You'll meet with a lawyer who may be assisted by a secretary or paralegal. The lawyer will ask you a lot of questions about your accident, your injury or illness, and other relevant factors. You should also ask questions of the attorney in order to be sure the firm has all of the following qualifications to handle your case.
A Record of Success
You want a firm with a proven track record of winning workers' compensation benefits and appeals for clients in South Carolina over many years of practice.
Experience in All Kinds of Workers' Compensation Claims
South Carolina workers' compensation laws are complex and sometimes tricky. You want an attorney who focuses on personal injury and workers' compensation law, not someone who handles it as a sideline.
To be sure there are no divided loyalties, you also want to be sure the firm represents claimants only—not employers or insurance companies.
Open and Clear Communication
During your consultation, the attorney should listen to you and answer your questions clearly and thoroughly. You also want a lawyer who's going to stay in touch with you and keep you informed about your case, focusing on present issues while staying one step ahead of the other side.
Most workers' compensation firms take cases on a contingency fee basis so that you pay no attorney fees until your case is won. Be sure to ask how much and when you will pay. There could also be other expenses like fees for expert witnesses or independent investigators.
Your South Carolina workers' compensation lawyer should make clear how, when, and by whom such expenses will be paid. If you can't afford to pay them upfront, you need to know if the firm can absorb these expenses and deduct them from your settlement later.
Solid Support Staff
You should expect courteous, efficient service from all staff members at the firm. Look for signs of good morale and concern for injured workers among everyone you encounter there.
Dedication to Your Case
You should leave your consultation convinced that your attorney is 100% in your corner, believes in your claim, and intends to fight until you get the workers' compensation benefits you deserve.
Questions to Ask During Your Initial Consultation With a Workers' Compensation Attorney in South Carolina
What Percentage of Your Practice Is Devoted to Workers' Compensation Cases?
You may want to choose a law firm that focuses on representing injured workers who have filed workers' compensation claims. They must be knowledgeable about South Carolina workers' compensation laws.
Who Will Actually Work on My Case?
Unless the firm is very small, your case will probably be handled by a team consisting of:
- Your lawyer
- Associate attorneys
- Legal administrative assistants
Your primary attorney, however, should be supervising everyone and staying on top of your workers' compensation case at all times.
How Much Workers' Compensation Experience Does the Lawyer Handling My Case Have?
More experience always helps, but you should look for someone with a minimum of five years of experience in workers' compensation claims and who is certified by the South Carolina Bar Association to practice workers' compensation law. Experienced workers' compensation attorneys can make a big difference in your case.
What Is Your Success Rate With Workers' Compensation Cases?
If the firm can show proof of success in helping injured workers with their claims for benefits, this is a good sign.
How Often Do You Take Workers' Compensation Cases to a Hearing or Trial?
The great majority of cases are settled out of court, which is less expensive and less time-consuming for all concerned. It is possible, though, that the insurance company will refuse to offer you a reasonable settlement.
In such a case, you might have to request a hearing before the SCWCC and possibly take your case to the state Court of Appeals or Supreme Court. You want to know that your attorney has the skill and experience to do so.
Who Will Communicate With Me About the Status of My Case—and How Often?
Consistent communication and information about the progress of your workers' compensation claim are essential. Most successful attorneys are busy with several cases at once, but your calls and emails should be answered in a timely fashion.
Having regular access to a paralegal or assistant when you have questions or need updates is a good sign.
Do I Have a Strong Workers' Compensation Case?
You're not looking for promises of a certain settlement at this point. (In fact, a lawyer who guarantees a specific dollar amount should raise a red flag for you.) You can, however, expect a confident assessment of your case from an attorney who believes you have a solid claim.
What Should I Do and Not Do While Awaiting a Decision on My Claim?
Your lawyer should be able to explain clearly the steps you should take while your workers' compensation claim is pending and warn you about common mistakes that might hurt your claim.
How Much Do You Charge for a Myrtle Beach Workers' Compensation Case?
Most firms take workers' compensation cases on a contingency fee basis. This means your lawyer is paid an agreed-upon percentage of your settlement, and any fees and costs associated with your case are deducted from your settlement after attorney's fees.
Can You Provide Me With Any References?
Former clients or respected law firms in the area might be able to share their knowledge of the firm and give you a recommendation.
How to Make the Most of Your Free Consultation
At your first consultation, the lawyer will need some basic information to evaluate your workers' compensation case and answer your questions thoroughly. You should be prepared with the following:
- Names and contact info for your employer and the insurance company
- Copies of any correspondence from the employer or insurance company about your claim
- Your job description and how long you've worked at your place of employment
- Details of any previous accidents, injuries, illnesses, or disciplinary problems
- Details of any preexisting medical conditions
- Copies of your accident and injury report and details about when and to whom you submitted the report
- Name and contact info for the doctor treating you and dates and details of treatment
- Names and contact info for any witnesses who saw the accident
It's also a good idea to take notes during your consultation and be sure the attorney has explained everything in a way that you can understand. Don't hesitate to ask for clarification if you need it.