In South Carolina, like in most other states, the vast majority of workers’ compensation claims settle before going to hearing. Settlement is a good way to get the money you need quickly and without the time and expense of a hearing. With this fact in mind, it’s important to understand how the settlement process works in South Carolina.
Long before the Hyatt Hotel chain made “Why Settle?” its tagline, the question has always been among the most pressing in the mind of the injured worker. You should never give up rights to future compensation without considering the pros and cons of settlement. Some of the pros include getting your money quickly and avoiding the risk of a hearing commissioner awarding you less than the settlement amount at a hearing. Some of the cons include accepting less money than you think you’re entitled to and, in most cases, losing the right to any further compensation, even if your injury worsens.
In South Carolina, there are two types of workers’ compensation settlements:
All settlements must be approved by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. For both types of settlement, no hearing is necessary if the injured worker is represented by an attorney. If the injured worker is not represented by an attorney, the parties must attend an informal approval hearing before a workers’ compensation commissioner. The commissioner will approve the settlement agreement if it appears to be fair to the worker, based on the worker’s wages, severity of disability, and other factors. The goal of the Workers’ Compensation Commission is to make sure you are not being taken advantage of because you don’t have an attorney.
A clincher agreement is similar to settlements in personal injury cases, such as a car accident or slip and fall. This agreement fully and finally releases the employer, and its insurance company, from any further liability for your workplace injury. Payment is typically made in a lump sum, but it can also be paid through a structured settlement, which acts like an annuity and provides you with a guaranteed monthly payout for a fixed period of time.
Once the commissioner approves a clincher agreement, it becomes legally binding. This means you cannot receive additional compensation or medical treatment even if the injury worsens. This type of settlement makes sense in cases where the injury is fairly straightforward and unlikely to change after the settlement, such as a broken bone that has fully healed. Employers and insurance companies generally prefer clincher agreements because payment is fixed and closes out your case for good.
A Form 16A settlement is different from a clincher in two main respects:
(Form 16 is used for injuries occurring before July 1, 2007.) The insurance company must agree that you are permanently disabled, either fully or partially, and you both must agree on a specific weekly benefit amount based on your pre-injury wage.
The answer to this question depends on a number of fact-specific considerations such as your income, the degree and severity of your injury, and whether you will also be receiving Social Security Disability Benefits, which will offset your workers’ compensation award. (See our article on workers' compensation benefits in South Carolina to learn how much you might expect to receive.) To avoid accepting an unfair settlement, you should consult with a workers’ comp attorney about the value of your claim.
Contingency fee arrangements, in which the attorney collects a portion of the total award, are common in South Carolina. In workers’ comp cases, lawyers cannot charge more than 33.3%. (To learn more, see our article on attorneys’ fees in South Carolina workers’ comp cases.) As with any legal representation, you and your attorney should both sign a representation agreement, part of which details the fee arrangement.
Although you always have the right to represent yourself in your workers’ comp case, it’s usually beneficial to retain an attorney. An attorney can often get you a higher settlement or award, even when factoring in attorneys’ fees. You don’t want to give up your rights without proper compensation.