South Carolina Workers’ Compensation for Occupational Arthritis
Learn how to prove your arthritis is work-related and recover maximum compensation through a workers’ comp claim
Occupational arthritis can be a debilitating condition that significantly impacts your ability to work and enjoy a fulfilling life. Whether caused by repetitive motion, overexertion or exposure to certain workplace hazards, arthritis can lead to chronic pain, joint inflammation and limited mobility.
Fortunately, most South Carolina workers who develop arthritis due to their jobs are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. This article will explain how to prove your arthritis is work-related as well as how to file a claim for benefits.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a common condition characterized by inflammation and stiffness in the joints. It refers to a group of more than 100 different types of conditions that affect the joints, surrounding tissues and other parts of the body.
Common types of arthritis include the following:
- Osteoarthritis (OA). OA is the most prevalent form of arthritis and is common in workers across a number of industries. It occurs when the cartilage that cushions and protects the ends of the bones slowly wears down over time, often affecting the joints in the hands, knees, hips and spine.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system incorrectly attacks the joints, leading to inflammation and joint damage. It typically affects multiple joints symmetrically, such as the wrists, hands and feet. While RA isn’t caused by work, it can be aggravated by certain job duties and affect your ability to work. In fact, one study found that people with symptoms of RA typically miss an average of 6.1 days of work in a 3 month period, compared to 3.8 days for people without RA symptoms.
- Gout. Gout is characterized by sudden and severe joint pain, often in the big toe. It occurs when there is a buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints, resulting in inflammation.
- Ankylosing spondylitis (AS). AS primarily affects the spine, causing chronic inflammation and stiffness. It can also impact other joints, such as the hips, shoulders and knees.
- Psoriatic arthritis (PsA). PsA is a type of arthritis that develops in some people with psoriasis, a chronic skin condition. It causes joint discomfort, stiffness and swelling, often affecting the lower back, fingers and toes.
- Juvenile arthritis. This refers to a group of arthritis conditions that affect children and adolescents. It can have various subtypes and may cause joint pain, swelling and stiffness.
How common is arthritis?
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 58.5 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with some form of arthritis annually.
While the majority of people who suffer from arthritis are 65 or older, younger people develop arthritis as well. In fact, almost 30% of U.S. adults between the ages of 45 and 64 have been diagnosed with arthritis.
Symptoms of arthritis
Arthritis symptoms usually develop gradually, though there are some cases in which symptoms may suddenly emerge. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include the following:
- Joint pain
- Redness or other signs of inflammation
- Limited range of motion
- Chronic pain
Can arthritis be caused by work?
Any job that requires physical labor, repetitive motion or even sitting in one position for hours on end can cause or aggravate arthritis symptoms. This includes office workers whose jobs require constant typing and truck drivers who may aggravate their joints when sitting behind the wheel during long stretches of travel.
Other workers at an increased risk of developing arthritis include the following:
Many of these labor-intensive jobs are more likely to cause or aggravate joint inflammation because workers are often required to repeatedly lift heavy objects or twist, turn and bend.
Arthritis and workers’ comp eligibility in South Carolina
Most South Carolina employers with 4 or more employees are required to provide workers’ comp benefits to workers who develop injuries or illnesses related to their jobs. This includes occupational diseases like arthritis that occur over time as well as injuries that result from one-time accidents.
South Carolina workers may receive workers’ comp benefits for arthritis if their case meets certain criteria:
- The worker must be classified as an employee; workers’ comp benefits are generally not available to independent contractors.
- Employees may only receive workers’ comp benefits if the arthritis was caused by their job or job duties or if their job aggravated the condition.
Explore the key factors affecting workers’ comp eligibility, including employee status, the nature of the injury or illness, and reporting and filing deadlines.
What benefits are available to workers who develop occupational arthritis?
Workers are entitled to the following benefits in South Carolina if they develop arthritis because of their job duties:
- Medical benefits, including surgeries, doctor’s appointments, medications, hospitalizations and rehabilitation
- Wage loss benefits, which are typically two-thirds of your average weekly pay while you are unable to work or can only work in a reduced capacity.
- Death benefits to surviving family members if a worker dies from an injury or illness caused by their work
Steps to filing a workers’ comp claim in South Carolina
To file a claim for workers’ comp benefits for arthritis, you should take the following steps:
- Visit a doctor to receive a diagnosis and treatment. Be sure to explain your symptoms and work duties so they can determine if work is the cause of your arthritis. Unless it’s an emergency, you’ll be required to see an employer-approved physician.
- Inform your employer of your injury. In South Carolina, you’re required to notify your employer within 90 days of any work-related injury or the discovery of a work-related injury or illness. Since arthritis typically develops over time, you’ll want to notify your employer within 90 days of being diagnosed with it.
- Wait for your employer to file a claim. It’s your employer’s responsibility to file a claim with their insurer and notify the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. If they refuse to do so, you can file it yourself by submitting Form 50. Your employer’s insurance company will award benefits based on your doctor’s findings, the severity of your injury and your prescribed treatment plan.
- Contact an attorney. If your claim is denied or if you want help filing your claim, reach out to a workers’ compensation attorney for help.
Injured workers can file a workers’ comp claim on their own. However, it’s always better to consult a South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney. Attorneys can quickly respond to challenges that may arise throughout the claims process.
In some cases, the employer’s insurance company will offer a lump sum settlement. A work injury lawyer can evaluate the insurance company’s settlement offer and advise you on whether the offer is fair.
Physical accommodations for workers who have arthritis
There are several practices employees can physically implement in the workplace to avoid triggering arthritis pain:
- Ergonomic tools allow workers to go about their tasks while minimizing stress on their joints. Pencil grips, keyboards, hand tools and door knob extenders are all available in special ergonomically-designed versions. Workers can use these tools to avoid aggravating arthritic joints.
- Frequently changing body positions allows each joint to have brief periods of rest. Workers should try to alternate between standing and sitting throughout the day, or place one foot at a time on a small footstool if they’re required to stand.
- Taking breaks from repetitive tasks like typing can allow the fingers and wrist to recover. These actions break up the monotony of repeating the same motion for several hours without interruption and alleviate the strain on arthritic joints.
- When lifting heavy objects, bending the knees reduces back strain. Holding heavy objects close to the body will reduce the amount of weight the arms and wrists carry. Whenever possible, workers should lift heavy objects with a coworker’s help and store items in areas that are easily accessible.
- If you have arthritis in your knees, combine tasks to reduce the number of trips you take up and down stairs. Practice maintaining a neutral body position in which your knees are slightly bent and your head is held straight.
A workers’ compensation attorney can take measures to ensure your employer makes reasonable accommodations to allow you to avoid aggravating your condition.
Employer accommodations for workers who have arthritis
Employers should take steps to adapt the workplace to support workers who have arthritis. Consider the following to minimize the risk of further employee injury whenever possible:
- Assistive technology can take the strain off of employees’ bodies and shift the stress onto a machine or device.
- Job coaching ensures employees are following best practices within the context of their physical condition and allows employers to receive insight into how well accommodations are working for their employees.
- Adjustable furniture and ergonomic workstations make it easier for employees to vary their movements and complete tasks without being impeded by arthritis in the workplace.
- Flexible scheduling allows employees to work when they’re more likely to be feeling their best.
Contact an experienced South Carolina work injury attorney
If you’re suffering from work-related arthritis symptoms, it’s crucial to take steps early to minimize your symptoms and ensure you remain eligible for benefits. An attorney can help you file a claim, gather evidence (including expert opinions) and negotiate with your employer’s workers’ comp insurance company so you get maximum benefits for your claim.
Remember that legitimate workers’ comp claims are denied every single day, and claims for occupational diseases like arthritis are often more challenging to prove. Don’t get discouraged if your claim is initially denied, but be sure to reach out to an experienced work injury attorney who can help you protect your right to compensation.
At Smith, Born, Leventis, Taylor & Vega, we believe that every employee is entitled to a safe work environment. When on-the-job accidents or illnesses occur, you shouldn’t have to worry about how you’re going to afford your medical care or pay your bills. That’s why our Columbia workers’ compensation attorneys offer free, no-obligation consultations to give you the help and information you need to get back on the road to recovery.
Contact us today to see how we can help you get maximum compensation for your claim.