Don’t Fall for the Wrong Information When it Comes to Your Workers’ Compensation Rights.
In South Carolina, workers’ compensation is a “no-fault” system. One of the main goals of our workers’ compensation system was to eliminate fighting over who caused the accident that resulted in someone’s on-the-job injury. In a nutshell, it doesn’t matter whether the incident that resulted in your injury was your own fault. Workers’ compensation was intended to shift the focus away from “fault” and towards the resulting injury. The basic idea went something like this: If you were at work, and you were working when you got hurt, then you were covered by workers’ comp, even if the accident was your own fault.
Over the years, workers’ compensation law has been defined and redefined over and over again by our legislature and high courts. Smaller, more complex areas of workers’ compensation law have emerged. Sometimes, things that seem like common sense, legitimate work injuries get denied because of some disagreement over how our courts have interpreted just what is and is not work related. Over time the rules have changed, and just because you were at work when the injury occurred does not necessarily mean that your injury was work related.
So…Just What Did You Trip Over, Anyway?
This is the question posed to people who fall down and get hurt at work. Sure, if you slip and fall, or trip over something while working, then you are covered. But what about someone who simply scuffs their shoe or accidentally loses their balance and falls down, resulting in injury? Within the last two decades, we have seen more and more decisions where someone fell down at work, was injured, but could not necessarily point to anything that caused the fall. At least, nothing that was obviously work related, like tripping over a piece of work equipment or slipping in a puddle of oil.
In cases involving people who fell down at work on a level surface but didn’t necessarily trip or slip over anything, insurance companies have been arguing harder and harder that this type of fall is not work related. “It could have happened anywhere,” they argue, “and it had nothing to do with their job.” These types of cases are called “idiopathic fall” cases and they are frequently denied by employers and insurance companies. However, the South Carolina Supreme Court recently ruled on two such cases and essentially called the defendants on the carpet.
In those cases, both injured workers fell while walking at work, but neither was able to point to any obvious work-related reason for their fall, such as slipping or tripping. However, the Supreme Court vindicated both injured workers by holding that an “idiopathic fall” is one that is caused by some personal, non-work-related, internal breakdown of the person’s body. (Common examples are falls that are caused by fainting or by a seizure.) But in these two new cases, the Supreme Court found that neither person fell because of some internal breakdown in their body. Rather, these two people were at work, doing something work related, when they accidentally fell down and were injured. So, even though the falls were on level surfaces and the workers’ could not necessarily say why they fell, they had legitimate workers’ compensation claims.
What Does This Mean for You?
To me, it means that a little bit of common sense has returned to this area of workers’ compensation. And this could certainly benefit you if you suffer a fall while on the job. It doesn’t have to be someone or something else’s fault that you fell and were injured. Don’t let anyone at work tell you that you don’t have a workers’ compensation case just because you fell on a flat surface at work. Likewise, don’t let anyone at work tell you that you don’t have a workers’ compensation case just because you didn’t slip on something or trip over something. If you fall down at work and get hurt, you need to notify your employer immediately and get medical treatment. Workers’ compensation claims can be very tricky, so please consult an attorney as soon as possible. You don’t want to miss out on benefits because you missed a deadline that you may not have even known about!