One thing that any experienced South Carolina Workers’ Compensation lawyer knows is that there are no two cases that are exactly alike and therefore no bright line rule as to how long Workers’ Compensation cases take to reach their conclusion in South Carolina. That being said there are some milestones, time lines and other just general pointers that can give you the reader an idea of what a typical, and not so typical, Workers’ Compensation case could look like.
The first big determining factor as to how long a Workers’ Compensation case will last is the seriousness of the injury or injuries that was caused in the work related accident to begin with. Obviously if someone has a sprain to their knee wrist or ankle for example then their recovery for their injuries will take a lot less time than someone who has more significant injuries for example an herniated disk in their lower back, a tear in their rotator cuff in their shoulder, a tear in their meniscus in their knee and so forth. Also implicit in that conversation is whether or not the case is surgical has a certain impact on how long the case will take. In most cases where surgery is required the doctor will want to wait at a minimum six months and usually up to twelve months before they will find that the injured worker is at maximum medical improvement and able to be released with their final impairments and work restrictions in the case. Because of this fact, most surgical cases tend to go longer and take a longer amount of time than cases that are non surgical.
Another thing that is very important in addition to the extent of injuries and whether or not the injured worker needs surgery is whether or not the case is accepted or denied by the employer and their insurance carrier. In an accepted case, at least theoretically, the case will go smoother and have a quicker start and hopefully a faster finish and conclusion than one that is not accepted. Now this is an over simplification of things in that even an accepted case can go on and on for months or even years. However, what is very clear in a denied case is that the employer and their Workers’ Compensation insurance carrier are not even agreeing that the accident occurred or that the injuries were caused by that accident. Given this it will take your lawyer more time to gather evidence and prepare the initial stages of your case to prove or at least hopefully prove that you have a compensable Workers’ Compensation claim. When developing the evidence in a denied case, your lawyer will do things such as interview witnesses, take depositions of certain witnesses that the law requires a more formal questioning occur, have meetings with your doctor to obtain causation and other medical statements and opinions to help prove your case, issues subpoenas to gather employment records and personnel files and the adjusters claim files for example and gather up other information from state agencies to determine the correct Average Weekly Wage and Compensation Rate among other key and serious issues in your case. The time that it takes to gather all this information and complete what is known as “discovery” in any case varies dramatically however, it is safe to say that in a denied case typically these will take longer than most accepted cases to reach conclusion in South Carolina.
The next big factor is whether or not there will be a battle over your ability or inability to return to work. In the event that you have suffered an injury for example to your knee, receive an impairment rating and are able to reach some type of settlement with the insurance company prior to having to go to a merits hearing in your case, then your case typically will last a shorter amount of time than those that have to go to a merits hearing to prove the extent of disability. This of course is just generally speaking because again as I’ve pointed out several times in this article no two cases are alike and every case has its own merits and issues that will either shorten or lengthen the time the case will take to reach its final conclusion. While settlement of a case is usually a goal, this is not always able to be accomplished for a variety of reasons. Many times the insurance carriers just aren’t able to act reasonable and offer fail value for the injuries and extent of disability you sustain as a result of your work related accident. In the event that you’re not able to settle your case with the insurance company in many cases the next step would be to file for a merits hearing in your case.
But that does not end the analysis along the way of trying to settle your case in that many cases, especially those that are seeking Total and Permanent Wage Loss or Permanent Partial Wage Loss will have another opportunity to try and reach settlement through something called “mediation”. Mediation is simply a day where all parties put aside the other cases that they’re working on and focus on your individual case. During this day there was a mediator who was a “neutral” who will not be working for the insurance company and will not be working for you but rather will be working for both parties in an attempt to try and reach a final resolution in settlement of the case. In those cases your lawyer and you will stay in one room and the insurance companies representative and their lawyer will sit in another room while the mediator acts as a go between to go back and forth between the two rooms relaying demands and offers of settlement in hopes of reaching an agreement amongst the parties. In the event that your case mediates that would be the end of the case and you would be paid for the fight all disability that you agreed to be paid and the insurance company agreed to pay in your case. In the even that this mediation were to fail the next step would be to go to a merits hearing to determine the extent of your disability the extent of the future medical care and treatment you would need and all other issues that are still outstanding in your case at that time.
In a case that your claim is taken to a final merits hearing on disability the process would be to file what is known as a Form 50 (hyperlink to form 50 on commission’s website) to ask for a final merits hearing in your case. Once the Form 50 is filed then the employer and their insurance carrier will have 30 days to respond to same with what is called a Form 51 (hyperlink). Once the defendant’s have had a chance to answer your Form 50 in your case then the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission will issue a hearing notice for a formal hearing. These hearing notices allow for thirty days notice to both parties and require that each side submit what is known as a “pre hearing brief” detailing the evidence and the specifics of the issues that are to be decided at the merits hearing. The amount of time it takes to get the hearing set depends in the large part on how many people have filed for a merits hearing in front of you. That is to say it’s much like being in line at a grocery store in that if someone pays for their groceries you then move up one space if someone gets irritated and leaved the line then you move up one space. By analogy when you’re waiting for your hearing all those other injured workers that filed for a merits hearing prior to you are in line before you and your case will be set in the turn that your Form 50 was filed in your case. That being said it usually takes currently a few months to get a merits hearing in a South Carolina Workers’ Compensation case. While this may seem like a long period of time, by civil litigation standards this is lightning quick. In the event that you are to try and file for a personal injury case for an automobile accident for example or for some type of medical malpractice or other type of personal injury claim, it would not be uncommon for it to take several years for you to get your final jury trial which is the equivalent of a merits hearing in a South Carolina Workers’ Compensation case. The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation hearing is very streamlined in that the hearing commissioner is both the finder of fact and the finder of law in your case. This is really just a fancy way of saying that there is no jury and there is nobody other than the Commissioner that will be deciding all the issues in your case. Because of this it is not uncommon to get a decision from the commissioner in very short amount of time after having your merits hearing. While there are exceptions to this rule it is often times the case that you’ll receive a decision within thirty days of having your hearing in your case. Again I’ve seen cases where we did not get the order back from the commissioner for several months however I’ve found this in my years of experience to be the exception and not the rule.
Of course after your merits hearing either party you or the employer and their Workers’ Compensation insurance carrier can file for an Appeal in your case. Either side has fourteen days to file the appeal once the final order is signed by the hearing commissioner. In that case it will take several months for the Appellate Panel of the Workers’ Compensation Commission to hear the appeal of your case. In that time appellate briefs will be filed by both parties and then a date for oral argument will likely be set in most cases. Once the appeal is heard before the Appellate Panel then said panel usually issues its findings and order within a thirty day time period. Again there are always exceptions to the general rule but this is what I’ve found in my experience over many many years. From there theoretically your case could be appealed to the South Carolina Court of Appeals and ultimately to the Supreme Court of South Carolina. It is important to note that very few cases are appealed to this level however it is possible and does happen in Workers’ Compensation cases. In the even that were to happen your case could drag on for a year two years or more. That being said this is the exception to the rule in most cases are resolved either through settlement through a mediation through a merits hearing or through the first level of appeal to the Appellate Panel in most cases generally speaking.
So the question is how long will it take for a Workers’ Compensation case in South Carolina? As you can see this is a varied response that has many many answers. And most of which are very case specific to the fact pattern that is presented in your case. If you have questions about how long your Workers’ Compensation case will take call one of our experienced South Carolina Workers’ Compensation lawyers now. The initial consultation is free and we’re happy to give you advice and take you through the ins and outs of the Workers’ Compensation system and how it applies to the facts of your specific case. Don’t wait or cause further delays in your case call us now.