What to Do When Workers’ Compensation is Not Enough
Workplace accidents happen much more frequently in South Carolina, with hundreds of people needing to miss work. Diligent employees suddenly find themselves in too much bodily pain to return to work, which causes intense financial pressure. Helpfully, workers’ compensation provides disability benefits regardless of fault.
But what can you do if the benefits aren’t enough to pay your bills? This is a common situation. After all, workers’ compensation typically only pays about 2/3 of your pre-injury wages, not 100%. That represents a considerable loss of income for many people who were barely scraping by to begin with. Many of our clients are struggling to pay the rent or mortgage and are afraid they’ll be forced to leave their homes.
File a Third-Party Liability Claim
Under South Carolina law, an injured worker cannot sue their employer for a workplace accident. However, someone else might have been responsible for your injury, and you might file a lawsuit based on the following:
Automobile accidents. Were you struck by a negligent driver while traveling for your job? In these situations, you might collect workers’ compensation benefits and sue a careless driver for hitting you.
Defective products. A dangerous product could have malfunctioned at work and injured you. Anyone injured by a dangerous product might sue the manufacturer for a design or manufacturing defect or for the absence of warning labels.
Premise liability accidents. Some workers are injured in hotels or motels when traveling for their jobs. You might be able to sue the property owner for accidents caused by hazards, so long as the property owner is not your employer.
Toxic torts. Many workplaces have dangerous toxins which can leave a worker with an occupational illness. You might be able to sue the manufacturer for exposure.
Violent attacks. A customer, vendor, or stranger could have attacked you on the job. You can sue them for your damages, and you might sue a coworker for injuring you as well.
There are definite benefits to bringing a third-party liability claim. We can ask for 100% of your lost wages and benefits in compensation. We can also request fair compensation for pain and suffering. Workers’ comp won’t pay a dime for physical pain or emotional distress in most cases, so adding this type of lawsuit can dramatically expand the pot of money available.
These claims also present challenges. You need to prove liability. Whereas workers’ comp benefits are no-fault, a third-party claim rests on proving the defendant was at fault for hurting you.
Seek Public Assistance
The government provides many benefit programs for low-income residents. You might qualify for food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, childcare scholarships, and other public benefits. A good website to check is maintained by the South Carolina Department of Social Services. There are also rental assistance programs around the state.
Apply for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
Workers who pay into the Social Security system might also qualify for disability benefits (SSDI), even if they receive workers’ compensation. You must satisfy the eligibility criteria, which include having a disability that will last at least 12 months or result in death. There are other requirements, which we can explain in more detail.
SSDI benefits are a great help to injured workers. However, your workers’ compensation benefits might be offset. That means you can’t receive $1,200 in workers’ compensation and another $1,200 in SSDI benefits on top.
Also, your combined workers’ comp and SSDI benefits cannot exceed a certain threshold, which is currently 80% of your pre-disability wages. Still, 80% is better than 67. Any income is beneficial when a person can’t work. Many applicants report that the process is harder than they anticipated and so you may need a lawyer. In fact, many applicants are initially rejected.
See if You Can Return to Work
You might be able to return to light duty. Essentially, your employer might modify your job in some way to accommodate your disability by cutting your hours or removing certain tasks which are hard to perform. Other employers might offer a different job altogether.
Light duty often pays less—but not always. Your employer might keep the pay the same but relieve you of certain onerous tasks you can’t perform due to bodily limitations. That would at least help you bring in income again. We do not recommend that anyone return to work—not even light duty—unless they are sufficiently healed enough to work. But it is an option we feel obligated to discuss.
Request Vocational Services
It might be time to think about a new career. South Carolina workers’ compensation benefits typically include vocational rehabilitation services, which might include returning to school for more education or a certificate. You can build up new skills that can help you transition to a new job. Ultimately, getting back to work is the ideal way to rebuild your income—but you might need new skills to find suitable employment.
Speak with an Aiken, SC Attorney Today
Injured workers face many challenges. Rehabbing painful injuries can feel like a full-time job—because it is. So many of our clients are traveling all over the state to meet with specialists and participate in physical rehabilitation. There is very little time to think about other matters.
Although workers’ compensation benefits are a great resource, they still leave many workers feeling distress. Please contact Surasky Law Firm to speak with a lawyer about how to supplement these benefits.