Injured at Work in South Carolina? What you need to know. (Part 2)

This is the second of a series of blogs written to tell workers in South Carolina what they need to do if they suffer a work-related injury.  

2.    Tell the treating doctor that you got hurt at work!

In my previous blog, I stressed the importance of reporting your work injury immediately to your employer.  Today, I stress the importance of telling your doctor that you got hurt at work and how you got hurt at work.

In many denied workers’ compensation claims, there is, for lack of a better word, a swearing match going on between the injured worker and the employer.  The worker claims to have been injured on the job.  The employer denies that the worker got injured on the job or claims that the injured worker did not properly report his injury to the employer.  The workers’ compensation commissioner is charged with the responsibility of finding the truth and, therefore, must decide which one to believe.  

In my experience, the commissioner often relies on the medical records to break the tie.  He discounts the injured worker’s testimony as well as the employer’s denial because they are both taking self-serving positions.  Then, he especially looks at the initial medical record of treatment of the injured worker to find the truth because he assumes that the initial treating doctor does not “have a dog in the fight.”  If the initial medical record documents that the employee was being treated due to an injury that the employee contends occurred at work, and especially if the record describes how the injury occurred, the commissioner will view that record as giving credibility to the injured worker’s claim.  On the other hand, if the injured worker does not mention anything about the work injury to the initial treating doctor, the commissioner will likely view that record as giving credibility to the employer’s defense that the employee did not get hurt at work.

Therefore, if you were injured at work, it is imperative that you document that you are at the doctor’s office seeking treatment for an injury that occurred at work on all of the forms that the doctor’s staff may ask you to complete prior to your examination and then you must describe the injury to the doctor when he examines you so that he will include it in your medical record.  

As a general rule, the more details that you can give to the doctor, the more believable your claim will be to a commissioner.  For example:

  • know the exact date of your injury before you go into the doctor’s office.  Do not guess at your date of injury because it will come back to haunt you if your claim is contested and the date of injury that you give the doctor is wrong.  I have seen situations where the injured worker haphazardly reports to the doctor that he got hurt at work on Wednesday about two weeks ago and then prior to the workers’ compensation hearing we learn from  reviewing his time cards that the worker did not even work on that Wednesday.  At that point after closer examination, we realized that the injury actually occurred on Wednesday, but it was three weeks ago rather than two weeks ago as reported to the doctor.  That is an error that can be explained and corrected, but it could have been avoided all together if the worker had been prepared when he initially went to the doctor.
  • be specific in your description of the injury to the doctor.  Which is more believable?

    • “I hurt my back at work last Wednesday just doing my job;” or
    • “Last Wednesday afternoon at work, I injured my back lifting a 75 pound box  off of the floor.  I was going to put the box on my work table.  As I twisted while lifting up the box, I felt a sharp pain in my lower back and pain even went down my left leg.  I had to put the box back down on the floor and was never able to lift it up to the table.”

In conclusion, it is imperative that you give your doctor specific details about your work-related injury during your first medical appointment after the injury.  If you do so, the employer and insurance carrier will likely admit that you got hurt at work and will provide you with workers’ compensation coverage without unnecessary delay.

My next blog will be about the fact that you can suffer a work injury without being required to suffer trauma.


 

(Ernie Trammell is the author of this blog post and subsequent posts on Workers' Compensation in South Carolina. Mr. Trammell has been a Workers' Compensation attorney in South Carolina for 29 years, primarily in the Upstate encompassing the counties of AndersonAbbevilleGreenvilleGreenwoodLaurensOconeePickens, and Spartanburg.) 

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