What types of injuries qualify for workers’ compensation coverage in SC?

If you are injured on the job in South Carolina, you may be entitled to workers’ comp benefits. 

But how is “injury” defined for purposes of workers’ compensation coverage? 

Below, we will discuss what types of injuries qualify, including:

  • How SC law defines “injury,”
  • What “course and scope of employment” means,
  • Repetitive trauma injuries,
  • Occupational diseases, and
  • Mental injuries like PTSD.

What is an “Injury” Under SC Workers’ Compensation Laws?

SC Code § 42-1-160 of SC’s workers’ compensation laws defines “injury” as an “accident arising out of and in the course of employment.” 

In many cases, this means a sudden, physical injury that is accidental – broken bones, a sprained ankle, a crushed hand, or electrocution, for example. The only requirements are 1) that the injury was accidental and 2) that the injury happened during the course and scope of your employment.

What Does Course and Scope of Employment Mean?

This is an area that is often litigated by insurance defense lawyers – if they can prove that you were not engaged in an activity required by your job duties, the insurance company can deny your workers’ comp claim. 

Examples of injuries that occur during the course and scope of employment include:

  • A fall from a roof when your job is to install roofing,
  • Injuring your back when lifting something at work,
  • An auto accident when your job is to deliver pizzas,
  • An auto accident when your boss sent you to the store to buy materials, or
  • Electrocution when you accidentally touch a hot wire on a construction site.

Examples of injuries that will probably not be covered by workers’ compensation include:

  • A fistfight with a coworker who insulted your mother,
  • An auto accident on your way home from work (although there are exceptions),
  • Lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes on your work break, or
  • A broken arm you got demonstrating some new dance moves for a coworker.

Other Types of Injuries that Qualify for Workers’ Compensation in SC

Workers’ compensation coverage is not limited to single-event physical injuries like broken bones, however. The definition of injury in SC’s worker’s compensation laws also covers injuries that are caused by a series of events or exposures like repetitive trauma, occupational diseases, and, in some cases, stress-related injuries and mental injuries.

Repetitive Trauma Injuries

SC Code § 42-1-1-60(F) says that “accident” does not include a series of events – unless the series of events results in repetitive trauma or an occupational disease. 

SC Code § 42-1-172 defines a “repetitive trauma injury” as an injury that occurs gradually and is caused by “repetitive traumatic events.” This includes conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, tendonitis, or pinched nerves when they are caused by typing, operating a machine, pulling a lever, pushing a button, or any repetitive motions required by your work duties. 

To recover for a repetitive trauma injury, you must establish a causal connection between the repetitive motion and the injury through medical testimony.

Occupational Disease

Occupational disease is another “injury” under SC workers’ compensation laws that is caused by a series of events – often exposure to chemicals or airborne irritants that result in disease. 

SC Code § 42-11-10 defines an occupational disease as a disease:

  1. Arising out of and in the course of employment,
  2. That is caused by a hazard not “ordinarily incident to employment,”
  3. That is caused by a hazard that is “peculiar to a particular trade, process, occupation, or employment,” and
  4. That is a “direct result of continuous exposure to the normal working conditions of that particular trade, process, occupation, or employment.”

Jobs where occupational disease is common include places where workers are exposed to harmful dust, chemicals, fumes, or loud noises including:

  • Any job that requires drilling or blasting,
  • Construction workers,
  • Railroad workers,
  • Farmworkers,
  • Miners, and
  • Welders.

Many different types of occupational diseases are compensable as injuries under SC workers’ compensation, including:

Stress-Related Injuries, Mental Injuries, and Mental Illness

SC Code § 42-1-160 excludes stress, mental injuries, and mental illness from the definition of “injury” for purposes of SC’s workers’ compensation laws unless they are accompanied by a physical injury, or you can prove by a preponderance of the evidence:

  1. That the conditions causing the stress, mental injury, or mental illness were extraordinary as compared to the normal work conditions for the same job, and
  2. Medical causation between the stress, mental injury, or mental illness and the employment conditions.

For example, if you are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after a fall from a great height accompanied by physical injuries, the mental injury (PTSD) should be a compensable injury that is covered by workers’ compensation insurance.  

If you are a police officer, however, who is suffering from PTSD as a result of an on-duty shooting where the officer was not physically injured, the PTSD is most likely not a compensable injury because on-duty shootings, although terrible, are not extraordinary for a police officer’s job duties.

If a pre-existing stress-related injury, mental injury, or mental illness is aggravated by a work-related injury (but not caused by the on-the-job injury), it is a compensable injury if:

  1. The employer and their insurance company admit that it is compensable,
  2. An authorized physician notes in a medical record that the condition is at least partly caused by the work conditions,
  3. A psychologist or psychiatrist finds that the aggravation of the condition was caused by the work conditions, or
  4. The employee’s physician notes in a medical record that the aggravation of the condition was caused by the work conditions.

Questions About Types of Injuries that Qualify for Workers’ Compensation?

If you need legal help filing for social security disability, workers’ compensation, or a personal injury claim in SC or NC, call the Law Office of Nicholas G. Callas, P.A. at 803-369-3968 or contact us through our website for a free consultation.

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