We helped Steve, a 43-year-old field mechanic who serviced equipment for an equipment rental company, recover a workers’ compensation settlement for second-degree burns that fortunately left no scars.

The injury was really scary. As Steve performed preventive maintenance on a portable furnace, it exploded, causing second-degree burns on about 9% of his total body surface area, located on his right lower abdomen and right upper leg.

For a workers’ comp claim involving a burn at work, Steve ended up extremely lucky. The burns healed without scars. Still, he endured immense pain and required follow-ups from a wound care doctor for about three months.

The Biggest Question for Employees Who Get Burned at Work in South Carolina

One question Steve had was, can I sue if I get burned at work? In his case, the answer was yes, but the real question was, would it be worth it? In South Carolina, you can't sue your employer for injuries if you get hurt at work. Instead, you're limited to your workers’ compensation settlement for burns caused by your employer at work. 

But there was a catch- Steve’s burns were caused by defective equipment manufactured by a company different than his employer. In South Carolina, if your injuries are caused by a company or person other than your employer, you can sue the other company or person for your injuries. This is called a third-party action.

Steves third-party action would be a defective product lawsuit against the portable furnace manufacturer. Defective product lawsuits are notoriously expensive because you've got to hire an expert to testify the product is defective. These experts drive up the cost of the case because they get paid by the hour, they do highly technical work that's extremely time-consuming, and they're located out of state. That makes the cases extremely risky for employees because it doesn’t make sense to pursue a case if it costs too much, as the cost of funding the lawsuit comes out of the employee settlement in the end.

To boil it down, a defective product lawsuit likely makes no sense for an employee unless the burns or injuries are life-changing or, sadly, cause wrongful death. In Steve's case, he was thankful his injuries didn't justify the defective product lawsuit.

Getting a South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Settlement for Second-Degree Burns With No Scars

A key to most South Carolina workers' compensation settlements revolves around doctor conclusions of an impairment rating, permanent work restrictions, and future medical care required by the injury. As a further example of Steve’s stroke of enormous luck, he had none.

That made my job harder. I got Steve to tell me the real-world effect of these “mild” burns to present to the insurance company as evidence of permanent damage we could show a workers’ compensation commissioner at a hearing. Steve revealed the injuries continue to affect his skin. Heat has become his enemy, as just sitting in the sun irritates it. It becomes so tender he feels it every time he moves.

When he sweats, the burns turn fire engine red and become inflamed, burning, itching, and drying out his skin. It drives him crazy. To prevent it, he applies baby powder every day. If he's going outside, he applies perfume-free deodorant to prevent a breakout.

If he sweats anyway, he applies Aquaphor to calm the irritation.

I presented this to the insurance company in our demand letter to opposing counsel to kick off negotiations for a settlement. After a series of settlement negotiations, we reached a $30,000 settlement. 

Getting a settlement Steve was satisfied with was nice, but for both Steve and me, the best part of this case was his burned at work claim didn't involve life-changing, permanent all-over body scarring and disfigurement that could have crippled him for life. 


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