Workers’ Compensation and Office-Related Injuries: What is Covered?
Workplace injuries can be stressful, severe, and life-changing. Such injuries can range from a slip and fall to an accident with workplace equipment to repetitive stress injuries and beyond.
All South Carolina workers are covered by workers’ compensation except in very specific circumstances. Thus, if you are injured on the job, you are eligible to receive compensation for your medical bills and lost wages without having to prove fault or sue your employer.
In order to obtain workers’ compensation benefits, you must prove that the injury or illness was arising out of employment and occurring during the course of employment (AOE/COE). The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a work-related injury or illness as one that was caused by “an event or exposure in the work environment.”
Under South Carolina law, if you are injured on the job you are entitled to all necessary medical treatment—including hospitalization, medical supplies, surgery, prosthetic devices, and prescriptions. You are also entitled to weekly disability pay for the time you are out of work, and, if you suffered a permanent disability.
Repetitive trauma/strain/stress injuries
One of the most common questions is whether workers’ compensation covers a repetitive trauma/strain/stress injury. While not caused by one single event, repetitive trauma injuries occur gradually over a period of time due to repetitive motion, pressure, or strain on a particular part of your body. One of the most common repetitive trauma injuries is carpal tunnel syndrome that affects the arms, wrists, and hands.
Pursuant to South Carolina law (S.C. Code Ann. § 42-1-172), repetitive trauma/strain/stress injuries are defined as injuries which are gradual in onset and caused by the cumulative effects of repetitive traumatic events. Further, the repetitive on-the-job activities must have caused the injury and must be proven by supporting medical documentation or expert opinion and testimony.
Given the increased use of computers in the workplace, carpal tunnel syndrome has been on the rise; however, carpal tunnel syndrome is not limited to repetitive computer use. It can also be caused by repetitive tool use.
Other repetitive trauma/strain/stress injuries can affect the neck, back, and legs—depending on the job. Administrative and secretarial, assembly line, driving, stocking shelves, packing, bending, and climbing work—even massaging, sewing, and playing musical instruments—are all activities that can cause repetitive trauma/strain/stress injuries. Absent proper treatment, these types of injuries can become permanent and irreversible.
Another repetitive type injury that is covered under workers’ compensation is hearing loss due to long-term exposure to loud noises.
Does workers’ compensation cover preexisting injuries?
Another common question addresses whether workers’ compensation covers preexisting injuries. In South Carolina, if a work injury exacerbates a preexisting injury or medical condition, it is still covered under workers’ compensation law. However, such cases do, in fact, complicate matters.
In order to collect benefits, you must prove through medical documentation and expert opinion that either the work injury worsened the prior injury or the prior injury worsened the work injury. For example, if you had a prior back injury that didn’t limit your ability to work and had a work-related injury that aggravated your back injury to the point that you can’t work, then you should be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits.
Because of the complexity of these types of cases, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to ensure that you obtain the benefits you deserve.
Workers’ compensation for occupational Illnesses
Occupational illnesses or diseases occur due to on-the-job exposure to a substance. Examples of occupational illnesses include asbestosis due to asbestos exposure, AIDS/HIV due to exposure to infected blood, or black lung disease from coal dust exposure. Workers’ compensation generally covers these types of illnesses due to the well-established medical connection between these substances and illnesses.
Obtaining workers’ compensation from other illnesses such as high blood pressure, lung cancer, and heart disease is generally more difficult because many of these diseases are conditions that people develop throughout their lives due to numerous causes.
Work-related stress injuries
Despite the growing recognition by the medical community of the connection between stress and physical and psychological illnesses, obtaining workers’ compensation benefits for work-related stress can be difficult. Under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act if you suffered a mental health issue as a result of an on-the-job incident, you must prove an “extraordinary and unusual” circumstance of employment or a physical injury caused the mental illness in order to be eligible for workers’ compensation. For example, a store clerk who was the victim of an armed robbery and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may, in fact, be eligible to collect workers’ compensation benefits arising from the situation. Similarly, the inherent danger of certain jobs like police and firefighters may cause mental or stress illnesses that may be covered by workers’ compensation. South Carolina lawmakers recently introduced a bill to cover these special situations. However, mental illnesses or stress arising from common working conditions such as transfers, promotions, terminations, and salary reviews, for example, are generally not covered.
Finally, if you develop a mental or emotional condition arising from a work-related physical injury, then such a condition is generally considered to be related to the original work injury and, therefore, covered under workers’ compensation.
Does workers’ compensation cover auto accidents while on the job?
If you are involved in a car accident during the course of your job, then you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Accidents that are typically covered include those that occur while:
In a company vehicle
Running errands for your employer
Making deliveries as part of your job
Conducting work-related travel, or
Transporting other employees or clients
Generally, workers’ compensation does not cover accidents incurred by employees while commuting to and from work.
We can help
If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact Venus Poe today at 864.963.0310 or fill out an online case evaluation form. We have offices in Greenville and Fountain Inn, South Carolina to better serve you. Knowing your rights is imperative to ensure that you obtain the benefits and compensation to which you are entitled. Also, there is no obligation or charge for our initial consultation to see if we can assist you with your case.
The information you obtain in this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should not read this article to propose specific action or address specific circumstances, but only to give you a sense of general principles of law. Application of these general principles to particular circumstances must be done by a lawyer who has spoken to you in confidence, learned all relevant information, and explored various options. Before acting on these general principles, you should hire a lawyer licensed to practice in the jurisdiction in which you may have a case.