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Dennis Whedbee got a tattoo of his lost hand after workers’ comp offered him a prosthesis with a hook instead of the one with a hand his doctor recommended. “I got tired of people staring at it,” he said. “So I thought, you know what, I’ll just put it on and let them know what happened.” (Jeff Swensen for ProPublica)

Chappell Smith and Arden, P.A. has represented injured workers for over thirty years and we have seen first-hand what a new study has revealed this week. In a report produced by Pro Publica and NPR, investigative journalists have compiled data from across the nation to show that workers’ compensation benefits available to those injured on the job have been drastically reduced over the last decade.

“The cutbacks have been so drastic in some places that they virtually guarantee injured workers will plummet into poverty. Workers often battle insurance companies for years to get the surgeries, prescriptions and basic help their doctors recommend. “

These changes to workers’ compensation law have occurred primarily in state legislatures where major lobbying interests such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Insurance Industry spend millions to win votes.

“The changes, often passed under the banner of ‘reform,’ have been pushed by big businesses and insurance companies on the false premise that costs are out of control.”

“In fact, employers are paying the lowest rates for workers’ comp insurance since the 1970s. And in 2013, insurers had their most profitable year in over a decade, bringing in a hefty 18 percent return.”

What has resulted is a compensation program for individuals injured on the job that prohibits you from suing your employer for any of its negligence that might have hurt you, but also leaves you with woefully inadequate compensation to pay even your medical costs–much less to account for permanent disability or lost wages.

But it’s not only the injured worker that suffers under these so-called “workers’ compensation reforms.” The burden for compensating the injured worker has been shifted from the businesses and insurance companies to the American taxpayer.

“A study by J. Paul Leigh, a health economist at the University of California, Davis, estimated that workers’ comp covered less than a third of injured workers’ medical costs and lost earnings in 2007 and that government programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid had shelled out about $30 billion to fill part of the gap.”

Three Chappell Smith and Arden, P.A. attorneys–Bill Smith, Mark Arden, and Danny Vega–fight for injured workers in before the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. The firm is also actively involved in efforts to better South Carolina’s worker’s compensation laws in the General Assembly.

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