South Carolina Farmworker Injuries
Learn about your options for compensation and medical care after an injury on a farm in Columbia
Farm work is a cornerstone of South Carolina’s agricultural industry, contributing significantly to the state’s economy. However, it’s important to recognize that it’s not without its risks. The harsh conditions in the fields, heavy machinery, and physically demanding tasks make farm work one of the more hazardous occupations in the U.S.
In this article, we’ll delve into the potential dangers that farmworkers in South Carolina face and explore the options available for medical care and financial recovery in the unfortunate event of an on-the-job injury.
Despite recent decline in fatalities, farm work remains dangerous
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2021, the industry reported 133 fatal injuries among agricultural workers, 15 fewer than the previous year, marking the lowest number since 2013, which had 128 fatalities.
Notably, 25 of these fatal incidents in 2021 involved motor vehicle accidents that occurred off public roadways. Remarkably, 1 out of every 8 off-road motor vehicle-related fatalities in 2021 occurred among agricultural workers.
Since 2012, the agricultural sector has seen 1,542 fatal injuries, with the highest annual count being 183 in 2019. These statistics underscore the inherent risks associated with agricultural work and the critical need for comprehensive safety measures and workers’ compensation coverage for farmworkers in South Carolina.
Common risks and injuries on South Carolina farms
Farmworkers in South Carolina encounter a multitude of risks while carrying out their duties, which can lead to a wide range of injuries and health issues. Some of the common risks and resulting injuries for farmworkers include:
- Machinery accidents. Farming often involves the use of heavy machinery and equipment, such as tractors, combines and balers. Accidents involving these machines can lead to severe injuries, including crushed limbs, amputations and even fatalities.
- Repetitive strain injuries. Tasks like planting, harvesting and packaging require repetitive motions. Over time, this can result in conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
- Falls. Working at heights, such as when picking fruit from trees or repairing structures, can result in slips, trips and falls. These falls can lead to fractures, sprains and head injuries.
- Respiratory issues. Dust and allergens from hay, grain and animal dander can cause respiratory problems, including asthma and allergies.
- Transportation accidents. Farmworkers may need to transport goods or equipment, increasing the risk of road accidents.
- Chemical exposure. Farmworkers may come into contact with pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Prolonged exposure to or mishandling of these chemicals can lead to skin irritations, respiratory issues and long-term health problems.
- Heat-related illnesses. Working in the South Carolina heat can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke. These conditions can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.
- Animal-related injuries. Farms often have livestock, and interactions with animals can lead to bites, kicks or crushing injuries.
- Overexertion. Farm work is physically demanding, and overexertion can lead to musculoskeletal injuries, including strains and sprains.
It’s crucial for farmworkers to be aware of these risks and take appropriate safety precautions to minimize the likelihood of injury. Additionally, knowing their rights and available resources for medical care and financial support in case of injury is essential for their well-being.
Are farmworkers in South Carolina entitled to workers’ comp benefits after an injury?
In South Carolina, farmworkers are generally not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits due to exemptions in the state’s workers’ compensation laws for agricultural employees. This exemption means that if a farmworker is injured on the job, they typically cannot claim workers’ comp benefits through their employer.
What options do farmworkers have after an injury in SC?
While workers’ compensation is not an option for most agricultural workers in South Carolina, there may be other avenues available to get the medical and financial help you need after an on-the-job injury.
Pursuing a personal injury lawsuit
A farmworker might be able to file a personal injury lawsuit after an injury in several scenarios:
- Negligence by a third party. If the injury was caused by someone else’s negligence, such as a contractor or equipment operator working on the farm who acted carelessly.
- Defective or unsafe equipment. If the injury resulted from defective farm machinery or tools. In this case, the manufacturer or distributor of the equipment could be liable under product liability laws.
- Vehicle accidents. If the injury involved a farm vehicle or equipment and was caused by another’s negligence, such as in a collision with a delivery vehicle on the farm.
- Chemical exposure. If the injury was due to exposure to hazardous chemicals or pesticides without proper safety measures or warnings in place.
- Unsafe working conditions. If the injury occurred due to hazardous conditions on the farm that the employer failed to address, such as poorly maintained facilities or unsafe work practices.
- Lack of proper training or safety equipment. If the injury was a result of inadequate training or a lack of essential safety equipment provided by the employer.
In these cases, the farmworker would need to prove that the injury was a direct result of the negligent actions or conditions and that it led to specific damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Given the complexities involved in such cases, injured farmworkers should seek legal counsel to evaluate their situation and guide them through the process of filing a personal injury lawsuit.
At Smith, Born, Leventis, Taylor & Vega, our personal injury attorneys offer free consultations to answer your questions and help you determine if you have a legal claim against a third party. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by scheduling an appointment, so contact our office today to learn more about your rights.
Seeking help from non-profit community-based health care providers
In South Carolina, there are non-profit groups that may be able to provide you with health care at a reduced cost. For example, the South Carolina Primary Health Care Association (SCPHCA) caters to a wide range of patients, accepting most health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid. For uninsured patients, the SCPHCA offers services on a sliding fee scale, which is determined based on the patient’s income and family size.
The program covers a broad spectrum of individuals involved in agricultural farm work, including migratory/H2A/B farmworkers, seasonal farmworkers, and those engaged in various aspects of farming, such as planting, harvesting, animal production and aquaculture. This inclusivity ensures that a wide range of farmworkers can access the services.
The program also extends its benefits to former farmworkers who have left the field due to age or disability, as well as family members of those primarily employed in agricultural farm work. This broader coverage provides support beyond the individual worker, recognizing the impact of agricultural work on families.
The process to determine eligibility is straightforward. Individuals can visit their website or call their toll-free bilingual line for assistance at 1-800-768-3627, making the program accessible to those who may face language barriers or have limited access to online resources.
Given that many farmworkers may not have standard health insurance, this program can provide crucial health services that might otherwise be inaccessible. This is particularly important for migrant and seasonal workers who face unique challenges in accessing health care.
Injured on a farm? Get help from an experienced Columbia work injury attorney.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed while working on a farm in South Carolina because of someone else’s negligence, reach out to the knowledgeable work injury attorneys at Smith, Born, Leventis, Taylor & Vega. We’re here to provide guidance and support during this challenging time.
Our consultations are always free, and you never owe us money unless we win your case. Learn more about your rights by scheduling your appointment today.