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Can Inmates Get Workers' Compensation in SC?

Can inmates get workers' compensation if they are injured while on the job in a SC prison? What if they are on work release when they are hurt?

If an inmate is hurt while working can they sue the prison? What if prison officials knew that there was a dangerous condition and refused to correct it? Can an inmate sue for negligence? What about a civil rights lawsuit for violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment?

Your SC workers' compensation attorney on the Axelrod team can help you with the complex issues that arise when you are injured on the job and your employer or their insurance company refuses to pay - even if you were incarcerated when the injury happened.

Call or email Axelrod and Associates now to talk with an experienced Myrtle Beach workers' compensation attorney about your situation and find out how we can help.

Can Inmates Get Workers' Compensation in SC?

You may be asking yourself, why does it matter if a convicted criminal gets hurt on the job? They are in prison and the prison provides medical care, right? It's their own fault they are in there, right?

Many people don't know the long history of abuse and forced labor in SC and other Southern prisons that spun out of control after the end of the Civil War and slavery. Southern states began to lease prisoners, mostly African Americans, to private industries who forced them to work in often dangerous conditions:

Prisoners were often leased out to private entrepreneurs who worked them unmercifully, sometimes to death, in mining, agriculture, road works and in other jobs. Even when the prison officials retained managerial control, there were outrageous abuses. That the prisoners oppressed by this penal slavery were almost all black reinforces . . . anxiety about current calls to reintroduce hard labor...

In South Carolina, "the death rate of convicts leased to the railroads was 45% in 1877 to 1899...

It matters.

When Can Inmates Get Workers' Compensation in SC?

One of the many reforms that have come about in the last century is workers' compensation coverage for inmates. Inmates who are injured on the job while incarcerated are entitled to workers' compensation benefits but are not allowed to receive the benefits until after they are released from prison.

SC Code Section 42-1-480 authorizes compensation upon release for an inmate who was injured while working:

  • In connection with the maintenance of the facility;
  • In a department vocational training program;
  • In any "industry maintained therein;" or
  • On any highway or public works activity outside of the facility.

Although delayed until the inmate's release, the compensation awarded should be the same as it would have been if the inmate were injured on the job while not incarcerated:

Any inmate of the State Department of Corrections, as defined in this section, in the performance of his work in connection with the maintenance of the institution, any department vocational training program, or with any industry maintained therein, or with any highway or public works activity outside the institution, who suffers an injury for which compensation is specifically prescribed in this title, may, upon being released from such institution either upon parole or upon final discharge, be awarded and paid compensation under the provisions of this title.

To be eligible, the inmate's injuries must be reported before they are released from the institution.

Does Workers' Compensation Pay Death Benefits for an Inmate Who is Killed on the Job?

An inmate's family is entitled to workers' compensation death benefits if the inmate is killed on the job.

Who Pays an Inmate's Workers' Compensation Claim?

SC Code Section 42-1-490 provides that "[p]ayments for injuries as authorized in Section 42-1-480 shall be paid from the State Accident Fund from appropriations thereto in the manner claims are paid to state employees."

Can a Former Inmate Receive a Lump-Sum Settlement?

Section 42-1-490 also prohibits inmates from receiving lump-sum settlements - instead, any settlement proceeds must be divided into monthly payments:

Payments for injuries as authorized in Section 42-1-480 shall be paid from the State Accident Fund from appropriations thereto in the manner claims are paid to state employees.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Inmate Workers' Compensation Claims?

The time limit for filing a workers' compensation claim if you are an inmate is one year from either:

  • The date of the inmate's death;
  • The date of the inmate's release on parole; or
  • The date of the inmate's final release.

What if the Inmate is in a County or City Jail?

SC Code Section 42-1-500 says that county or municipal authorities are not required to cover inmates with workers' compensation benefits, but they can if they choose:

A county or municipality, by resolution of its governing body, may elect to cover prisoners in the custody of the county or municipality with workers' compensation benefits in accordance with the provisions of Sections 42-1-480 and 42-1-490. As used in this section, prisoners in the custody of the county include prisoners in the custody of the county sheriff. The appropriate officials shall make arrangements and necessary adjustments in their contributions or premiums to the State Accident Fund or other insurers as the fund or insurers determine necessary to provide compensation for county or municipal prisoners in appropriate cases. The provisions of this section permit workers' compensation coverage only to county or municipal prisoners performing work assigned by officials of the county or municipality or engaged in a vocational training program and, further, apply to these prisoners regardless of the length of the sentence to be served.

If a county or city chooses to provide workers' compensation coverage for inmates, it must also include:

  • Inmates sentenced to the Department of Corrections who have been assigned to the county or city jail; and
  • Inmates sentenced to the Department of Corrections who are being used for public service works by the county or city.

Can an Inmate Sue for Negligence that Results in an Injury While Working?

Just as with an ordinary employer, an inmate cannot sue the prison for negligence that results in an injury while working - workers' compensation benefits are their sole remedy. SC Code Section 42-1-540 says:

The rights and remedies granted by this title to an employee when he and his employer have accepted the provisions of this title, respectively, to pay and accept compensation on account of personal injury or death by accident, shall exclude all other rights and remedies of such employee, his personal representative, parents, dependents or next of kin as against his employer, at common law or otherwise, on account of such injury, loss of service or death. Provided, however, this limitation of actions shall not apply to injuries resulting from acts of a subcontractor of the employer or his employees or bar actions by an employee of one subcontractor against another subcontractor or his employees when both subcontractors are hired by a common employer.

In Arnold v. SC Dept. of Corr., the SC Supreme Court found that, where an inmate was severely burned by an overturned cooking pot that spilled boiling water on him, it did not matter that prison officials were aware of the danger and refused to correct it - the inmate was limited to workers' compensation benefits.

The Court questioned whether an Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim could ever be valid for a work-related injury because work is not intended as punishment. However, in the context of the Arnold case, the prison's conduct consisted of simple negligence which is compensable only by workers' compensation benefits because he was on the job when the injury happened.

If the inmate's injuries were caused by the negligence of a third party, like a contractor, vendor, or manufacturer of a defective product, then the inmate might have a cause of action against the third party.

Got Axelrod?

Your Myrtle Beach workers' compensation attorney on the Axelrod team has the experience needed to handle complex workers' compensation questions, help you to make your claim, and help you to recover the maximum benefits under SC workers' compensation laws.

Call Axelrod and Associates now at (843) 916-9300 or send us an email to set up a free consultation and review of your case.

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