The food service industry employs people in a number of different positions: chefs, line cooks, bartenders, servers, dishwashers, bussers, hosts and hostesses, delivery drivers, and others. These workers are often at risk of injury or illness on the job due to the nature of the bar-restaurant business.
If you are injured or develop an illness in the course of doing your food-service job, South Carolina law allows you to file a claim for workers’ compensation. Workers’ comp is no-fault insurance that covers your medical expenses and two-thirds of any income you lose due to your work-related injury or illness.
Common Food Service Accidents and Injuries
Accidents and injuries that commonly affect employees in a bar, restaurant, or nightclub include:
Chefs and cooks often work at a fast pace in an environment full of open flames and hot surfaces. Ovens, stoves, griddles, woks, fryers, hot pans, grease, and oil are all sources of heat and flames that can easily cause serious burns to hands, arms, fingers, and other parts of the body. Even the hot water from a dishwasher can cause burns and blistering. Open flame, electrical appliances, and faulty wiring can also cause fires in restaurants and threaten the safety of all employees.
Slip and fall.
Spills of liquids and other slippery matter onto kitchen floors create a risk of slip-and-fall accidents. Kitchen areas, aisles, and walkways cluttered with boxes, equipment, or other obstacles also increase the chances of slip-and-fall mishaps, which can result in broken or fractured bones, spinal injuries, concussions, and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
Butchering meat or slicing vegetables and fruit with sharp knives can lead to deep and dangerous lacerations in a restaurant kitchen. Other chopping and slicing devices can seriously cut fingers and hands if there are no safety guards or the employee does not use gloves or other protective equipment. Blood from such cuts can drip onto the floor and increase the risk of slip-and-fall accidents mentioned above. Servers also carry large, heavy trays full of breakable dishes through crowded dining rooms. Bartenders continually handle breakable bottles and glassware that can cause serious cuts.
Joint and muscle injuries.
Moving tables, carrying large trays of food, stocking shelves, and operating a dishwasher or other large appliances can injure an employee’s hands, arms, fingers, wrists, shoulders, neck, knees, or spine.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).
CTS and other repetitive motion injuries can result from carrying trays, operating a dishwasher, or running a cash register for long periods of time. Nerve damage might be sustained not only in the wrist but also in the neck, elbows, ankles, or back.
Exposure to toxic substances.
Contact with sanitizing and cleaning products can damage a food service employee’s lungs, eyes, or skin, especially in an environment with insufficient ventilation.
Employees of establishments that feature very loud live or recorded music might suffer hearing loss over time.
Disgruntled or intoxicated patrons of a bar sometimes become angry over issues like customer service, exorbitant bills, or food quality. In extreme cases, a diner who is angry, drunk, or mentally unstable might harm a food service worker. Violence leading to injuries can also break out among employees under the stress of fast-paced work in a busy establishment.
Filing a Workers’ Comp Claim
If you suffer any of the injuries or conditions mentioned above, you should take the following steps as soon as you’re accidentally injured or diagnosed with an occupational illness:
- Report your injury or illness in writing to your employer or a workplace claims representative right away. Although you technically have 90 days to do so, you should not wait.
- If your employer does not file your claim with the South Carolina Workers Compensation Commission (SCWCC) in a timely fashion, do so by using Form 50 from the SCWCC website. You have two years in which to file your claim, but you should do so as soon as possible. Any delay in reporting or filing can be cited by your employer’s workers’ comp insurer as evidence that you’re not as badly hurt as you say you are.
- Seek medical treatment as soon as possible from a physician certified by your employer’s insurer (not your own doctor).
- Follow the doctor’s medical advice and treatment plan conscientiously, keeping all receipts, records of your treatments, and a journal of your recovery from your injury or illness.
- If the insurer denies your claim, fails to approve necessary treatment, sends you to a doctor who is not helping you, or is generally uncooperative, contact a workers’ comp attorney.
Because workers’ comp is no-fault insurance, you don’t have to prove your employer was negligent or did anything to cause your accident or illness. Even if you’re responsible for your own injury, you may still file a claim, and your boss may not fire you or retaliate against you in any way for doing so.
Nearly every South Carolina business with four or more employees is required by law to carry workers’ comp insurance, but there are some exceptions. If you’re hurt on the job, and your employer carries workers’ comp, you must file a claim to get benefits covering your medical bills and lost wages. You may not file a personal injury suit against your company unless it carries no workers’ comp coverage. Whether your employer does or does not carry workers’ comp, however, you may file a personal injury suit against a third party who is fully or partially responsible for your accident or illness.
Third-party claims are fairly common in food service because delivery truck drivers, vendors, sales representatives, and patrons visit restaurants frequently. If a beer truck driver, for example, drops a case of full beer bottles on your foot and breaks your toe, you probably have a claim against the driver and perhaps the driver’s employer. An experienced lawyer can help you with the complex process of filing a third-party claim against an outside defendant and a workers’ comp claim against your employer at the same time.
Have You Been Injured On The Job?
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 or North Charleston office locations.