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How To Determine Permanent Disability In Workers Compensation

Written by John D. Hawkins on . Posted in .

A work-related injury that leaves someone permanently disabled is more common than you think. In 2021, almost 8 million people across the United States received permanent disability benefits and payments from workers’ compensation, Social Security, or the like. More than a half million recipients of disability benefits that year were new applicants.

If you are left with a permanent personal injury that affects your ability to work, whether it is total disability or permanent partial disability, workers’ compensation insurance is supposed to cover you. Unfortunately, the insurance company will look for reasons to avoid paying your long-term disability claim. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you get as much compensation as possible. Your family should not have to incur the cost of your permanent disability.

According to a Lawyers.com study, workers who hire a personal injury workers’ compensation lawyer are twice as likely to be satisfied with their workers’ compensation benefits settlement as those who do not. Let the South Carolina workers’ comp lawyers at HawkLaw help you with legal advice and assistance.

What Does South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Consider Permanent Disability?

Under South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission laws, once you reach a state of maximum medical improvement, or MMI, your doctor will evaluate you to determine if you have any lasting disability. If you do, they will determine to what extent it impairs your ability to work.

To qualify for permanent disability benefits in SC, you must have specific injuries, or the injuries you have must apply against a schedule regarding the loss of use of a body part, or you must have a loss of earning capacity.

If you need help determining what disability benefits you qualify to receive, call 888-HAWKLAW or complete our online contact form to request a free consultation* with an experienced personal injury lawyer today. We have offices in Charleston, Greenville, Columbia, and Spartanburg to best serve every resident in South Carolina!

How Is Disability Determined Under South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law?

Your doctor determines the extent of your disability and how it impacts your ability to return to work. They are responsible for evaluating your injury and level of recovery, and for assigning a percentage of physical impairment. The impairment rating they give you is a vital piece of the puzzle when determining disability, but it is not the only factor. The type of work you do and your training, age, experience, and education level also come into play.

What Are the Different Types of Permanent Disability Benefits?

The two types of permanent disability workers’ compensation benefits are total disability and partial disability. As outlined above, these are based on the level of injury you suffer.

Permanent Total Disability

Permanent total disability assumes that you will never be able to do any sort of work again for the rest of your life. The rate of disability payments is equal to two-thirds of your average weekly wages before your injury. There is a maximum cap on payments that is re-evaluated and changes every year.

Permanent Partial Disability

Permanent partial disability means that you are not able to work at your full pre-injury capacity, but you may still be able to do some sort of work, even at a reduced capability. As with permanent total disability, the rate is two-thirds of your average weekly wage. The biggest difference between partial disability and total disability is the number of weeks you can receive benefits. With partial disability, you may be entitled to vocational rehabilitation if the injury allows you to still work, but you need to change careers as a result.

How Long Does Workers’ Compensation Pay for Permanent Disability Benefits?

The idea behind workers’ comp is that it lasts until injured workers have recovered from their injuries. In the case of a permanent disability, however, the worker will never fully recover.

Disability benefits in South Carolina usually have a 500-week limit. If, however, you are totally disabled and have become quadriplegic or paraplegic, or have suffered brain damage from a permanent physical brain injury, the benefits can last for life.

Permanent partial disability gets a little more complicated. When you experience the loss of a body part, the schedule lists a duration for each body part. The schedule, for example, provides 140 weeks if you lose a foot. If, on the other hand, you lose only 50% of the use of your foot, you would get 70 weeks of benefits.

Loss of use of your back is somewhat different. If you lose 49% or less of the use of your back, you get a maximum of 300 weeks of workers’ comp, and if you lose 50% or more, you get 500 weeks.

There are three ways to determine how someone can recover compensation after a permanent disability.

Specific Injuries

If, as a result of your injury, you have lost both hands, both shoulders, both feet, both legs, or both hips, you qualify for total disability under specific injuries. You can also apply if you have lost vision in both eyes, or any combination of the above. Likewise, if you lose at least 50% of the use of your back, you will be considered permanently, totally disabled.

Compensation Based on Scheduled Loss

If your injury has led to permanent loss of part of your body, or permanent loss of the use of part of your body, you may receive partial disability under South Carolina law. This includes things like a neck injury, kidney damage, or neurological damage. In such a case, you will get a “whole person impairment rating,” which is expressed using a percentage. That rating will determine the length of your benefits based on the equivalent proportion of 500 weeks. A 50% permanent disability, for example, would entitle you to payments for 250 weeks.

Compensation Based on Lost Earning Capacity

Finally, state courts have ruled that employees who suffer a permanent disability to more than one body part can collect benefits based on an economic model, or on your loss of earning capacity, if that would result in higher compensation. If, for example, you suffer impairments to your back and one leg, you may decide to collect benefits based on your reduced earning capacity instead of the schedule of injuries.

You can, essentially, choose to receive two-thirds of your average weekly wages pre-injury instead of two-thirds of the difference between pre-injury wages and your current earning capacity. The same minimums and maximums apply, as do the durational limits.

On the other hand, with this model, even if medical experts have stated that you are totally unable to work due to a permanent disability affecting a single scheduled body party, under the South Carolina schedule you may only be able to receive partial disability benefits.

How Does South Carolina Determine Pay for Permanent Disabilities?

Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, a workers’ compensation claim is designed to pay your medical bills and medical expenses as well as a portion of your lost earnings when you suffer job injuries. Temporary total disability benefits last until you are healed or reach a point of maximum medical improvement.

The earnings loss continues after your medical treatment is done in the case of permanent disabilities, with a maximum of 500 weeks or a limit prorated against your percentage of disability. As previously stated, the rate of pay is two-thirds of your pre-injury weekly compensation for a specific period of time based on your specific injury.

Can I Still Get Compensated After My Workers’ Compensation Benefits End?

Yes, you can apply for adult disability benefits through the Social Security office. To apply for disability benefits, you must be at least 18 years of age, not be currently receiving benefits on your own record, have not been denied benefits in the last 60 days, and be unable to work due to a long-term disability, a medical condition expected to last for at least 12 months, or one that is expected to result in death.

If you have recently had an application for disability benefits denied, you can file an internet appeal as a starting point to ask the administration to review the determination and challenge the denial. You may need medical evidence to support your claim.

Filing for Social Security Benefits

The first thing to do is print out and review the Adult Disability Checklist from the Social Security Administration. This checklist will help you gather the medical evidence and information you will need to complete the application. You will then need to fill out and submit the benefits application and medical release form. A qualified South Carolina workers’ compensation law firm can help you collect these benefits, fill out your forms, and avoid critical mistakes. They can also gather the necessary medical evidence for your personal injury to support your case.

You Deserve Justice for Your Injuries

Whether it is due to a heavy equipment failure, a slip and fall on the way to the bathroom, or a car accident while heading to a client meeting, you deserve workers’ compensation benefits for your on-the-job injury. A permanent disability can cost you hundreds of thousands over the course of your life.

At the HawkLaw law firm, we know the value of your injuries, and we can help you get the compensation you deserve. We have represented clients from all over the state. Studies have shown that having an injury lawyer in your corner can help you get as much as three times the settlement as you will get without an attorney, on average.

Get in touch with us at 888-HAWKLAW or complete our online contact form to request a free consultation* with an experienced personal injury lawyer today. Let HawkLaw fight to win you the money you deserve.

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Written By John D. Hawkins


John David Hawkins is the Founder and Owner of HawkLaw. He has been licensed to practice law in South Carolina since his graduation in 1994 from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Focusing on litigation, Mr. Hawkins is experienced handling Worker’s Compensation, Personal Injury, Social Security Disability, Administrative Law, and Criminal Law matters.

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