Bobbie came to us after an unexpectedly devastating worker’s compensation injury at a major package delivery company in Gaffney. She'd worked there for 21 years. Like many of my clients, she wanted badly to be a loyal employee. She even refused to hire a lawyer for over a year, going along with what the insurance company provided. 

Bobbie hired me because she became overwhelmed. In my experience with folks who sustain serious worker’s compensation injuries, it's inevitable.

I can assure you both Bobbie and I are profoundly thankful she didn't wait too long. I helped her get a settlement far beyond what she would have been able to get on her own. 

How Even a “Routine” Workers’ Compensation Injury Can Threaten Your Career

When she got hurt, Bobbie was 57 years old. She'd held her job as an administrative assistant in the human resources and finance department of her company for 21 years.

On the surface, her injury seems pretty run-of-the-mill. She slipped on the wet floor onto her elbow. However, the severity of the injury and the resulting damage caused far-reaching implications. 

Here's how it happened. As Bobbie walked in the front door on a rainy day, she slipped on the wet tile floor, slamming onto her left elbow because the rug intended to keep the area dry had no functioning stay strips.

The impact caused massive damage. Her surgeon assigned her the following diagnosis:

  1. Severely shattered left elbow with shattered cartilage at the joint, including free-floating cartilage fragments, requiring an operation to wire it shut as best the surgeon could. The surgeon deemed it ‘a complex, bad injury.’
  2. Torn bicep tendon
  3. Left frozen shoulder  
  4. Left-hand edema and stiffness  
  5. Left post-traumatic ulnar nerve neuritis and neuropathy, meaning nerve damage
  6. Left-hand weakness, loss of dexterity, grip strength, residual diminished sensation, and pain 
  7. Left ring and pinkie fingers decreased motion 

She struggled mightily with serious pain in her shoulder, elbow, arm, hand, and fingers, so much so her surgeon referred her to a pain management doctor. She remained under her surgeon's care for just over a year and a half. 

Bobbie wanted badly to be a good employee. That's when the tide turned against her at work.

Her new manager heartlessly refused to honor the work restrictions given by her surgeon. Bobbie simply couldn't do her job like she used to. Luckily, she convinced the workers’ compensation insurance company to put her back out of work because of her inability to do the job under her work restrictions. But by the time she hired us, Bobbie feared she'd be fired for incompetence.

Sometimes Medical Science Can't Fix a Workers’ Comp Injury

Bobbie did get lucky with the insurance company's choice of surgeon. He's helped several of my clients over the years. He's extremely smart and highly talented. But there was only so much he could do. Her injuries saddled her with permanent nerve damage that make her left wrist, hand, and last two fingers hurt all the time, a dull, constant pain. For that, she takes gabapentin. 

Sometimes, her fingers burn so badly it “feels like someone can pull my fingers off.”

Sometimes, her elbow and shoulder hurt.  It’s usually sharp, shooting, and stabbing.  

These injuries have left her unable to accomplish some of the simplest tasks required to live her life, such as:

  • Reaching overhead or behind her back to fasten a bra
  • Loosening a jar, which is critical to a hobby she enjoys, canning
  • Bringing her arm overhead to do swim laps, which is critical to another hobby she enjoys: swimming
  • Going through a drive-through or ATM because she now has to reach across her body with her right arm since the nerve damage has made her left arm clumsy
  • Sleep through the night without pain

As far as the impact on her ability to work goes, Bobbie also endures permanent side effects that threaten her career. She is an administrative assistant, the classic office worker whose primary job is typing and filing documents. Her injury left her virtually unable to do that at the speed and accuracy her job demands.

How I Helped Bobbie Get a Better Settlement  

Most South Carolina workers’ compensation cases award settlements based on the value assigned to the injured body part by the workers’ compensation law. The critical factor is often the body part assigned and the impairment rating by the treating doctor. In this case, it was her arm. Against an inexperienced employee, an insurance company can negotiate a lowball settlement for someone hurt as badly as Bobbie by dismissing her problems as, “Oh, it's just an arm.”

But I knew better. South Carolina workers’ compensation law allows additional benefits in the right situations where more than one body part is injured. It's called the “two injury rule.” And “injured” doesn't have to mean directly impacted. If you can prove another body part is affected by an injury, that body part can sometimes qualify as an injured body part. In this case, nerve damage from Bobbie's broken elbow caused pain, numbness, and weakness in her hand and fingers. The hand and fingers are separate body parts under workers’ comp law.

Proving her case was expensive, risky, and complicated. It required me to hire a vocational evaluator, an expert who can give an opinion about what kind of jobs an injured worker qualifies for after an injury. I use them in cases like this and in cases where I suspect a client is potentially totally and permanently disabled under workers comp.

Bobbie’s Vocational Evaluation and How I Used It 

Bobbie reported for her vocational evaluation with an expert I trust. He issued a detailed report establishing Bobbie couldn't do her job anymore. That didn't mean she was disabled because she has other talents and skills, giving her access to other jobs. The evaluator provided the types of jobs she qualified for but noted she'd lost the ability to make the kind of money she made when she got hurt. As such, she fell under a workers comp benefit called wage loss.

I combined the report with other information in a demand letter sent to opposing counsel. The letter summarized Bobbie’s injury and medical treatment. It included questionnaires created by me and answered by her surgeon, establishing her pain is permanent and she'll suffer arthritis from her injury. It also listed her permanent work restrictions, including her inability to use her left hand for typing and her inability to perform repeated activities for more than half a workday. Another factor was a relatively hefty impairment rating of 17% to her left arm.

Based on the factors in my demand letter, I was able to negotiate a much higher settlement than Bobbie would have gotten if her settlement was based solely on her arm. She was pleased we were able to achieve a settlement of $125,000, which goes a long way to keeping her on her feet financially while she figures out her next move.


Rob Usry
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Rob is a Spartanburg personal injury lawyer. Rob also practices as a workers' compensation attorney.