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Social Security Disability: Go Away, Give Up, or Get Help

First of all, Social Security disability is a crazy, frustrating, mostly broken system which will confound you at every turn and make you curse, if you are that type of person, as most of us are or will be by the time we get through dealing with Social Security.  Several years ago when the Trammell Law Firm attorneys were asked to come up with TV commercial scripts for our areas of practice, I entitled my script about Social Security “It’s A Nightmare”, and it was then and it still is now, and it most likely always will be a nightmare.

For example, most of the time when people come to see me about their disability claim, it’s right after they get their first turn-down letter saying that they are NOT DISABLED.  One of the most important things for you to know is that getting that turn-down letter most often means absolutely NOTHING about the strength of your disability claim and whether you will ultimately be successful.  I would conservatively estimate that 99.9% of EVERYONE who applies for disability gets turned down at least once, and most often for a second time as well. For a long time after I first started practicing Social Security disability law many years ago, I tried and tried to come up with some reasonable way of explaining to my clients, who were understandably upset, why they got turned down.  But you know what?  There is NO REASON, except that Social Security wants you to give up and go away.  That is a terrible thing to say, but I believe it is the only way to explain all these constant turn-downs for everyone, even people whose medical records show that they are obviously sick or injured and cannot work.

So, the lesson to be learned is: DON’T GIVE UP!  You have to keep fighting Social Security by appealing every time you get turned down until you finally get your day in Court before a Judge.  Except in very, very rare cases, only when you get your Social Security Disability Hearing with a Judge will you finally get a fair and honest review of your claim.  When you get a letter from Social Security turning you down for disability, it will state very clearly that you have 60 DAYS TO APPEAL the denial decision.  Pay attention to the date on the front of the letter, and DO NOT LET THAT 60 DAYS RUN OUT BEFORE YOU FILE YOUR APPEAL!  If you let the 60 days run out, and you do not appeal, Social Security will most always make you start all over again with a new claim, and if you have to start over, you might ultimately lose some money if you win your case.

OK, then, that’s all for today, and thanks for reading my first official blog.  Sorry about all those capital letters, but every time I think about what Social Security disability does to my clients for no reason, it makes me mad all over again, so thanks for letting me vent.  My plan is to try and talk about some more of the Social Security disability nightmares from time to time, so be on the lookout for future posts.

Hello everybody.  I’m Brad Bledsoe and I am the Social Security disability lawyer here at Trammell Law Firm.  Trey has invited me to contribute to his “blog” by “blogging”. I don’t really know what that means because I’m old and not up on all these technological things like Trey and the other youngsters.  My paralegal’s 4-year-old was nice enough to show me (more than once) how to take a picture with my new iphone, as an example.  (Between you and me, the word “blogging” reminds me of the sound a cat makes before it coughs up a hairball, but what do I know?)  Anyhow, Trey says it means to write something about Social Security disability which might be of interest to people who want to know some things about how it works – or doesn’t.

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Doctors, Patients, and Pain Medication: The Perfect Cure for All that Ails

Insurance companies and defense attorneys frequently question injury claimants on their specific degree of pain and suffering. Knowing this is a subjective element of damages the big corporations and their hired guns move next to the medical providers to seek better clarity. Inevitably there is the case where the doctor did not believe the patient was truly in pain but subsequently prescribed pain medicine. Why on Earth would a medical provider be at such odds with themselves? It must be because he fears legal repercussions and higher insurance premiums, right? Or is it because he is paid more, or even paid by the pharmaceutical company?

Two articles caught my attention over the past few days:

  1. “Diagnosing a Patient as a Faker” by Melinda Beckof the WSJ– reporting on several issues in medicine and not totally in line with her eye catching headline. However, she cites the Archives of Internal Medicine, 2011 indicating: a) Prescriptions rose nearly 50% from 2000-2009, b) Abuse of opioid pain relievers is the second leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., after car crashes, and c) 15%-20% of doctor visits in the U.S. involve an opioid prescription; and
  2. “Doctors Already Know Secret to Better Health Care” by Walter Ezellin The Greenville News-illustrating the need for more in depth time between patients and doctors, not just quick visits, drugs, and positive reinforcement for negative health habits. To quote Ezell’s article:

Only medical doctors can prescribe prescription medicine or perform surgery. This isn’t necessarily because surgery and drugs are the most important contributors to human health, but because in the wrong hands, they are dangerous.

Here is the paradox. Because doctors have a monopoly on drugging and invasive procedures, and spent a lot of money to join the guild, they get paid more for those practices and need to get paid well. There is an economic incentive to do more drugging and surgery, with little incentive to give patients the time, empathy and wisdom that are critical to achieving optimum health.

Doctors who want to address the whole person (and there are many) are swimming against the tide of their own economic interest. Unless they are working in an academic medical center, or already involved in an alternative practice, they may not have time to lavish the needed attention that each patient deserves.

We could all use more in depth time with our doctors in explaining all that ails us. The doctors may prefer more one on one time but being mandated by corporate interests within the hospital administration and/or through pure bottom line views of paying overhead, can’t manage this need.

Patients are certainly to blame in going into the doctor’s office and not being as detailed as possible in explaining mechanisms of injury or symptoms. Of course, some patients probably take advantage of this being their only human interaction outside their normal day and talk about unrelated issues.

The bottom line is that only doctors can prescribe pain medications and only patients can control their adherence to healthy habits. Unfortunately there is too much subjective gray area in between and too many entities vying for a piece of that control.

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Injured at Work in South Carolina? What you need to know. (Part 2)

This is the second of a series of blogs written to tell workers in South Carolina what they need to do if they suffer a work-related injury.

  1.  Tell the treating doctor that you got hurt at work!

In my previous blog, I stressed the importance of reporting your work injury immediately to your employer.  Today, I stress the importance of telling your doctor that you got hurt at work and how you got hurt at work.

In many denied workers’ compensation claims, there is, for lack of a better word, a swearing match going on between the injured worker and the employer.  The worker claims to have been injured on the job.  The employer denies that the worker got injured on the job or claims that the injured worker did not properly report his injury to the employer.  The workers’ compensation commissioner is charged with the responsibility of finding the truth and, therefore, must decide which one to believe.

In my experience, the commissioner often relies on the medical records to break the tie.  He discounts the injured worker’s testimony as well as the employer’s denial because they are both taking self-serving positions.  Then, he especially looks at the initial medical record of treatment of the injured worker to find the truth because he assumes that the initial treating doctor does not “have a dog in the fight.”  If the initial medical record documents that the employee was being treated due to an injury that the employee contends occurred at work, and especially if the record describes how the injury occurred, the commissioner will view that record as giving credibility to the injured worker’s claim.  On the other hand, if the injured worker does not mention anything about the work injury to the initial treating doctor, the commissioner will likely view that record as giving credibility to the employer’s defense that the employee did not get hurt at work.

Therefore, if you were injured at work, it is imperative that you document that you are at the doctor’s office seeking treatment for an injury that occurred at work on all of the forms that the doctor’s staff may ask you to complete prior to your examination and then you must describe the injury to the doctor when he examines you so that he will include it in your medical record.

As a general rule, the more details that you can give to the doctor, the more believable your claim will be to a commissioner.  For example:

  • know the exact dateof your injury before you go into the doctor’s office.  Do not guess at your date of injury because it will come back to haunt you if your claim is contested and the date of injury that you give the doctor is wrong.  I have seen situations where the injured worker haphazardly reports to the doctor that he got hurt at work on Wednesday about two weeks ago and then prior to the workers’ compensation hearing we learn from  reviewing his time cards that the worker did not even work on that Wednesday.  At that point after closer examination, we realized that the injury actually occurred on Wednesday, but it was three weeks ago rather than two weeks ago as reported to the doctor.  That is an error that can be explained and corrected, but it could have been avoided all together if the worker had been prepared when he initially went to the doctor.
  • be specific in your description of the injuryto the doctor.  Which is more believable?
    • “I hurt my back at work last Wednesday just doing my job;” or
    • “Last Wednesday afternoon at work, I injured my back lifting a 75 pound box  off of the floor.  I was going to put the box on my work table.  As I twisted while lifting up the box, I felt a sharp pain in my lower back and pain even went down my left leg.  I had to put the box back down on the floor and was never able to lift it up to the table.”

In conclusion, it is imperative that you give your doctor specific details about your work-related injury during your first medical appointment after the injury.  If you do so, the employer and insurance carrier will likely admit that you got hurt at work and will provide you with workers’ compensation coverage without unnecessary delay.

My next blog will be about the fact that you can suffer a work injury without being required to suffer trauma.

 

(Ernie Trammell is the author of this blog post and subsequent posts on Workers’ Compensation in South Carolina. Mr. Trammell has been a Workers’ Compensation attorney in South Carolina for 29 years, primarily in the Upstate encompassing the counties of AndersonAbbevilleGreenvilleGreenwoodLaurensOconeePickens, and Spartanburg.)

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Injured at Work in South Carolina? What you need to know. (Part 1)

This is the first of a series of blogs written to tell workers in South Carolina what they need to do if they suffer a work-related injury.

  1.  Report your work-related injury immediately!

The most important advice that I can give an injured worker is to report the injury to his supervisor immediately and to make sure that the injury is documented by the employer.  While the law only requires the injured worker to report the injury within 90 days of the occurrence, the practical effect is that most employers will deny the injured worker’s claim if the injury is not reported immediately.

Having represented only injured workers for more than 29 years, I can’t count the number of times that a potential client came to see me because his workers’ compensation claim had been denied by his employer solely due to the fact that he had waited a few days to report his work injury.  The most common excuse given to me is this:

“I thought I had only strained my back and that it would get better in a couple of days so I did not tell anybody about my accident.  It was only after it did not get better that I decided to say something about it to my boss.”

While the excuse may sound reasonable to the employee, it often gets him in trouble when he subsequently decides to report the injury.

How does it get the injured worker in trouble? 

  • First, the delay in reporting the accident gives the employer greater reason for questioning whether the worker truly got hurt at work.  After the injury is reported, the employer will likely investigate the accident by questioning co-workers.  If the worker did not say anything when he got hurt, there will not be any co-workers to confirm his injury claim.   Even if the injured worker did say something to his co-workers when the injury occurred a few days earlier, they may, as a practical matter, be too afraid to speak up on his behalf to the employer for fear of job retaliation.  It is an easy way out for the co-worker to simply say to the employer that “I don’t remember it.”  I have even seen some co-workers try to gain favor in the eyes of the employer by saying that the injured worker told them that he had gotten hurt at home rather than at work.  The bottom line is that a delay in reporting the accident by the injured worker gives the employer justification to question the injured worker’s credibility and to deny the claim.
  • Second, some companies even have a policy that requires injured workers to report their injuries immediately to the company.  Failure to report the work accident immediately is deemed to be a violation of company policy for which the injured worker may be terminated.  Therefore, the worker who does not report his work accident immediately because he fears that he may get fired by his employer for getting hurt at work (which is against the law for the employer to do in South Carolina) actually gets fired for violating company policy when he reports the accident late.

In conclusion, it is imperative for the injured worker to report his accident at work immediately to his employer regardless of how insignificant he may initially think that his injury will be.  Often the very severe pain from an injury such as a back strain may not arise until the following morning.

How many times have you gone out and done some strenuous work or exercise only to feel a little sore immediately after you finished, but then felt like you could not move the next morning when you woke up?  Don’t take the chance.  Report the injury immediately!

My next blog will be about the importance of the medical history that you give to the physician when you go for medical treatment after you have suffered a work related injury.

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Summer, The Most Dangerous Driving Season

We love so many things about summer.  School is out, the weather is great, the lakes and beaches are inviting us to get away and enjoy some much needed down time.  Summer also means more cars on the road, which can easily make it the most dangerous driving season of the year.

According to the South Carolina Public Safety Traffic Collision Fact Book, there’s a traffic collision every 3.7 minutes in this state.  Every 13.5 minutes, one of those wrecks causes an injury.  And every 9.5 hours, a crash involves a death—of a driver, passenger, bike rider, or a person not even in a vehicle.  Teenage drivers age 15-19 are in fatal or injury collisions every 90 minutes in South Carolina.

More motorcycles are on the road during summer, and their numbers aren’t any better.  Fatal motorcycles crashes rose sharply in 2021, higher than it’s been in decades.  Last year saw 154 motorcycle deaths, which is more than any year since 1980—the first year South Carolina compiled its Collision Fact Book.  By comparison, there were 116 in 2020.

There are several main causes for these wrecks and alcohol is high on the list.  The Centers for Disease Control ranks South Carolina 10th highest among all states in alcohol-related deaths, which is unusually high for its population.  In 2019, this state had 276 traffic deaths involving alcohol, and that number jumped to 315 in 2020.  Drinking increased during the Covid pandemic, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving attributes the rise in fatalities to more people being on the road since restrictions relaxed.

Speed is certainly a factor in summer traffic crashes.  People are in a hurry to get where they’re going, and summer trips are no exception.  They want to get out of town and start their vacations as soon as possible.  Many drivers push beyond speed limits, which leads to senseless crashes and injuries.  And one of the biggest factors is distracted driving.  Cell phones are one of the worst distractions for any driver, and glancing at a phone screen for just a second can lead to a fatal accident.

So, what can you do to help make road travel safer in the summer?  We can all slow down and obey posted speed limits—on interstates, smaller highways, and on streets in any town.  Combining drinking and driving is always a bad idea, so make sure there are designated drivers in every group.  Wearing a motorcycle helmet can reduce your chance of injury by 37%.  Most importantly, put down the phone while driving, so you can pay full attention to the road in front of you and the other drivers around you.

If you’re in a wreck, call the police—and get medical treatment if you are injured. Make a video recording of the other driver and get them to provide an account of what happened. If they won’t do that, at least call 911 to have the local authorities or SC Highway Patrol make an official record of the collision. Keep in mind, if it ain’t documented the at fault insurance company will say it didn’t happen. If you’re an accident victim, don’t hesitate to call Trammell & Mills at (864) 485-8585 to get the medical and financial compensation you deserve.  Be careful out there, and have a safe summer on the road!

 

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