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Are Big Changes Coming?

Leslie Whitten

Last week Senator Shane Martin sponsored Bill 674, which was introduced and referred to the South Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee.  This bill would completely rewrite the Workers’ Compensation statute and would designate the South Carolina Department of Insurance as the agency to oversee the Workers’ Compensation system.  The bill is quite lengthy, and it appears that one purpose of the new statute is to make the system less litigious.

If this bill were to become law, numerous rules we have now would be completely different.  Here are just a few highlights:

  • The Workers’ Compensation Commission as we know it would no longer exist;
  • Employers would have the option to opt out of the workers’ compensation system and be open to possible lawsuits for negligence;
  • Parties would attend a “benefit review conference,” which seems somewhat like our current informal conferences, but it would be set up to resolve a greater variety of issues prior to the need for a formal hearing;
  • We would have arbitration, to be conducted by an employee of the division.  Parties could elect arbitration rather than a contested hearing, and the decision of the arbitrator would be binding, with no right to appeal unless the award was arbitrary or capricious, procured by corruption, fraud, or misrepresentation, or outside of the arbitrator’s jurisdiction.
  • Notice of a claim would be required with 30 days of the date of injury instead of 90, and the time for filing a claim would be one year rather than two;
  • The term “compensation rate” would no longer exist, and instead the amount of compensation would be a percentage of the average weekly wage, depending on the type of compensation paid;
  • The term “temporary total disability” would no longer exist, but a claimant would typically receive 70% of his or her average weekly wage while out of work;
  • “Maximum Medical Improvement” would never be longer than 104 days from the injury date;
  • An impairment award would be based on the impairment rating under the 4th edition of the AMA Guides, based on 70% of the average weekly wage;
  • As a prerequisite for writing workers’ compensation insurance in South Carolina, an insurance company would have to maintain or provide accident prevention facilities;
  • Each employer would have an affirmative duty to provide and maintain a place of employment that is “reasonably safe and healthful for employees;” and
  • Death benefits would be for the life of the spouse or until he or she remarries, at which time the spouse would receive 104 weeks of benefits, and children would receive benefits until the age of 18 or until they are no longer in college full time.

If the bill does make it through the entire process to become a law, we can expect that some of these things will change.  We will keep you updated as this bill progresses.