North Carolina and South Carolina Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

Broken carYear-end federal statistics show a decline in motor vehicle accident fatalities from 2012 to 2013, including an 11 percent drop in South Carolina. Even so, more than 1,000 S.C. drivers were involved in fatal accidents in 2013 and more than 600 drivers, passengers, pedestrians, or cyclists died in those accidents.

In its latest safety report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that fatalities on U.S. roadways were lower in 2013 than in 2012. The nation lost 32,719 people in crashes on roadways during 2013, down 3 percent from 33,782 in 2012. Traffic fatalities have been trending downward since 2006, except for a slight rise in 2012.

According to the NHTSA report, South Carolina had 767 fatal crashes in 2013. Those crashes resulted in the deaths of 488 people in passenger cars, 100 pedestrians, and 15 bicyclists or other cyclists. Those wrecks included 335 that involved alcohol impaired driving, down 3.8 percent from 2012 and 306 speeding related fatalities, down 4.9 percent from 2012.

The 2013 report showed a small increase in motorcycle accident fatalities in South Carolina in 2013, rising from 146 in 2012 to 149. The report also recorded a similar increase in motorcyclists dying while not wearing helmets, with those numbers rising from 102 to 106. Fourteen of those motorcycle accident deaths (seven each) were in Anderson and Spartanburg counties.

Sixty-five traffic fatalities in S.C. in 2013 involved large commercial trucks, the NHTSA says.

Anderson and Spartanburg counties each had 33 motor vehicle fatalities in 2013, which put them at No. 7 among the state’s top 10 counties for fatalities (Greenville County was No. 1 with 71 traffic deaths). The Anderson and Spartanburg figures for 2013 represent 31 and 34 percent declines, respectively, from 2012.

Over the five-year span from 2009 to 2013, Anderson County averaged 39.4 motor vehicle fatalities a year, and Spartanburg saw an average of 41 each year. That’s more than three highway deaths in each county every month.

Thirteen traffic accident deaths in Anderson County in 2013 and 11 in Spartanburg were alcohol related. Ten fatal crashes in each county involved a driver who was speeding.

The NHTSA reports only provide the type of hard numbers we’ve highlighted here. They don’t go into depth about the cause of fatal car accidents, other than noting alcohol and speeding involvement. But in our experience at Grimes Teich investigating accidents, we know that most car accidents are caused by driver error brought on by carelessness or recklessness.

The bottom line is that most car accidents can be prevented and when negligent drivers do not take care to avoid an accident, the injured parties, or surviving family members in a fatality, deserve compensation for their loss. That’s where the attorneys of Grimes Teich Anderson can stand up for the people of the Upstate of South Carolina.

ClocksSuppose your valid Social Security Disability claim is denied today, and you appeal that denial.  How long will it be before your hearing is held in Upstate South Carolina?  The wait could be up to 16 months! That is nearly a year and a half – on average – that you’ll have to wait before your appeal is heard, regardless of the validity of your need.

That bracing statistic is accurate as of December 2014 and can be found in the Social Security Administration’s online Public Data Files.  The Average Wait Time Until Hearing Held Report presents the average number of months from the hearing request date until a hearing is held for claims pending in local hearing offices across the country.

The 16-month wait is for the Greenville, South Carolina office, which is where your hearing would be held if you reside in Spartanburg or Anderson County, S.C. The 16-month wait is the sixth longest nationwide and is shared by 16 other offices. The longest average wait as of December was 22 months for the Fort Myers, Florida office.

Another public report says the Greenville office had 9,202 cases pending as of December 26 with an average processing time of 530 days, which is explained elsewhere as the average number of days until final disposition of the hearing request. Here again, the Greenville office is among the worst performers in terms of time spent on an appeal; it ranks 14th from the bottom among 163 offices.

These reports illustrate why you will benefit from experienced and knowledgeable assistance if you have a Social Security Disability claim.

It is not unusual for a valid SSD claim to be denied initially. Often it is because of a technical issue. For instance, required forms may be missing, or records in the application may have conflicting information. Sometimes a claims reviewer simply decides you do not qualify. There is no way to know ahead of time whether your claim for Social Security Disability benefits will be approved.

How To Get Help With Your Claim

The Grimes Teich Anderson legal team can review your claim package before it is submitted or before a hearing to make sure it is complete and accurate. We can help you obtain missing information, including your medical reports, which are necessary to prove you have an impairment the SSA considers severe enough to prevent you from doing any gainful activity. We can accompany you to a hearing and advocate for you.

If you are like most people seeking SSD benefits, being disabled is a whole new world to you. In addition to meeting your medical needs, suddenly you must learn the ins and outs of the Social Security Administration, one of the largest bureaucracies in the world.

Mother with her baby girlMany women who initially choose to breastfeed their child do not continue to do so after six months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 70 percent of mothers start breastfeeding immediately after birth, but less than 20 percent of those mothers are breastfeeding exclusively six months later. This can be attributed in part to difficulties with breastfeeding in public due to the lack of private areas and disapproving looks and comments. Many women may also find it difficult to breastfeed after returning to work. Unfortunately, many nursing mothers do not have supportive employers.

Federal Legal Protections for Breastfeeding Mothers

Federal laws are in place to make it easier for many women who want to continue breastfeeding to take lactation breaks at work. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) contained an important provision for nursing mothers, which took effect when the ACA was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. Section 4207 of the ACA, known as The Nursing Mother Amendment, amends Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require some employers to provide lactation breaks and facilities for employees who are breastfeeding. Continue Reading

Soldier Holding CrutchMost veterans usually start pursuing disability benefits in the presence of strong economic incentives, such as recently losing a job, when retirement does not pay as much as expected, or when healthcare expenses become too burdensome. The danger in waiting to pursue VA Disability Benefits until it is needed is that you will not start receiving your benefits until it is already too late. The two questions most asked by veterans are:
1. How long will it take to start receiving my benefits?
2. How much back pay will I receive?

This article will attempt to answer this second question for the majority of case types.

In General
The amount of back pay or retroactive benefits, awarded to a veteran is dependent upon that particular veteran’s “effective date.” Generally the effective date is either the date that entitlement to the benefit arose, the date the claim was filed or the date a re-open claim was filed, whichever is later. This is true for most new claims and for claims to increase the rating of an already existing service-connected disability. Continue Reading

Pet Therapy Corkboard Word ConceptAccording to the Humane Society of the United States, pet ownership in the United
States has more than tripled since the 1970’s with about 62% of American households said to have at least one pet in 2012 and 47% of households owning at least one dog. Many of us experience first- hand the joys and benefits of pet ownership. But for those suffering from a mental or physical illness, animals and pets can provide much needed healing and therapeutic benefits.

There are two basic categories of animals that assist the disabled – service animals and therapy animals.

The American Disability Act provides a very specific definition of a “service animal” and as of March 15, 2011 only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA and are defined by the Act as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Service animals are not considered pets and are specifically trained to assist a disabled individual with things such as pushing a wheelchair, alerting one to the sounds of smoke alarms, timers, and telephones; or picking up and carrying
items for an individual. While many therapy animals are specifically trained to provide therapeutic benefits to the disabled, they are not service animals and do not have the same rights to public buildings as service animals. They do, however, provide many healing benefits to the disabled and their families and have been found to significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue for people suffering from mental and physical disabilities. Continue Reading

Social Security Benefit Claim REJECTEDIf you are like most people applying for social security disability, you would much rather be working.  But, because of your medical condition you are simply unable to hold down a full-time job anymore.  As such, waiting for the Social Security Administration to decide your case can seem painfully long. Extended wait times often create additional financial and emotional stress on a family. But, unfortunately, the majority of applicants can expect to wait for almost two years before receiving a final decision on their claim.
Typically, an application for SSDI or SSI benefits begins at your local Social Security Administration field office. You can also apply online at www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/. Your local office will assist you in completing the initial application and will gather the necessary information about your work history and medical conditions to make an initial decision. One can expect an initial decision on their disability application to take approximately 2-3 months. Statistically, the majority of claims are denied at this initial level. In South Carolina, approximately 69% of all applicants are denied at the initial level.

What if I Am Denied?

If denied at the first level, the applicant has sixty days to begin the appeal process. There are four stages of the appeals process. The first step is a request for reconsideration. At this level, an applicant has the opportunity to submit additional evidence about their case and the file is reviewed by a different DDS (disability determination services) examiner. The denial rate at this level is even greater than that at the initial level with approximately 13% of all cases in South Carolina approved at this level. If denied at this first level of appeal, an applicant is given 60 more days to appeal the decision and request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). At this third level, your case is assigned to an ALJ at the Office of Disability and Adjudication Review (ODAR).

Due in large part to the high volume of cases being referred to ALJs, the wait time for a hearing before an ALJ can be a year or more.  According to recent statistics provided by the Social Security Administration, the wait time for hearings in the Greenville South Carolina ODAR office was 16 months. While there are ways to speed up a hearing date such as writing a dire need letter or requesting an on-the-record review, the majority of applicants can expect to wait anywhere from 12-16 months for a hearing. During this time, it is important to continue all necessary medical treatment with your doctors as you are allowed the opportunity to submit new and additional medical records and other evidence to support your claim.

At the hearing, you will have the opportunity to tell the ALJ about your medical conditions and symptoms. The ALJ will review your medical records, work history, and the reasons why your application for disability was initially denied. Generally speaking, a decision from the ALJ takes approximately 60-90 days. If denied at the hearing level, an applicant has the right to appeal their case further to the Social Security Administration Appeals Council. The Appeals Council can uphold the ALJ’s decision, or it can reverse or modify the decision. The Appeals Council may also decide to send the case back to the ALJ for a new hearing. Finally, if an applicant still disagrees with the decision, the case can be appealed to the federal district court.

While there are many factors that affect the timing of a disability decision, good legal advice can help an individual be well prepared for the application process.

work injuryA benefit provided by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation system is out of work pay when an individual is unable to work due to their work injury. This benefit is known as Temporary Total Disability benefits or TTD. You become entitled to this benefit while treating for your work injury when your doctor either writes you out of work completely or more commonly, places restrictions on you that your employer cannot accommodate.  Many times an injured worker needs to consider hiring an experienced workers compensation attorney because because the insurance company has not started their checks, is threatening to cut off their checks, or has cut off their checks. This creates a tremendous burden on the worker because, even though the checks have stopped, the bills have not.  Sometimes, an insurance company will use other tactics to try and limit your benefits, by paying you less each week than the law says you are entitled. So what are you entitled to receive each week?

How is The Pay Owed Calculated?

Generally, an injured worker is entitled to 2/3 of their Average Weekly wage from the year prior to the accident. For example, let’s say you were injured on July 1, 2014. The insurance company is required to submit what is known as a South Carolina Form 20 to the Workers Compensation Commission that documents your wages before taxes from July 31, 2013 to July 31, 2014. These gross wages are divided by 52 weeks, and your Average Weekly Wage is determined. Your Compensation Rate is the amount you should receive each week from the insurance company and is 2/3 of your Average Weekly Wage.

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Military gravesPresident Obama is set to sign into law the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act that is intended to broaden mental health and suicide prevention services for veterans.

The Act, also known as the Clay Hunt SAV Act, is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and later committed suicide.

What Does the Clay Hunt Act Do for Veterans?

The act is intended to address the growing trend of veteran suicides by:

1. Establishing an independent third-party evaluation of VA mental health services and suicide prevention;
2. Establishing a single centralized website providing veterans information regarding all of the VA’s mental health services;
3. Repaying education loans for individuals promising to serve the VA in the field of psychiatric medicine;
4. Establishing Veterans Integrated Service Networks (“VISN”);
5. Authorizing collaboration with nonprofit mental health organizations; and
6. Extending certain combat veterans’ eligibility for VA hospital care.

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Man with crutch.If you have applied for Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), here are some things you need to know.

1. GET TREATMENT FOR YOUR MEDICAL CONDITIONS: Even if you are diagnosed with a serious, disabling condition, and there is no way to fix your problem, you need to see you doctor regularly to document how your condition is progressing, and if your condition is getting worse. Most diseases or conditions have progressive stages. For example, congestive heart failure (CHF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have stages to describe their severity. You need to continue seeing your doctor in order to document the stage or progress of the disease. Even if you don’t have health insurance or money for treatment, if your symptoms get worse, or flare up, you can seek treatment at the hospital emergency department or the local health department.

2. FOLLOW YOUR DOCTOR’S RECOMMENDATIONS: Some disabling conditions are manageable. If the records show that you are not taking your medications or following your doctor’s instructions, it can affect your case. For example, if you have diabetes, but you don’t take your medicine, or you don’t follow diet restrictions, it can hurt you and your case. If you have COPD, and you continue to smoke, your doctor’s records may sound like you aren’t doing what the doctor says. Quitting smoking, losing weight, or making other changes can be difficult. If you are trying to make changes that your doctor recommends, be sure to tell your doctor, and tell them why you are having trouble. Your efforts, even if not completely successful yet, need to be in the records. Also, if you haven’t taken medicine, or gotten a test, because you can’t afford it, be sure to tell your doctor. There may be less expensive comparable medications, your doctor may be able to give you samples, or your doctor may be able to get you financial assistance with your medications or treatment.
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It’s widely understood that a serious car accident can instantly change your life. But very few motorists understand the true financial costs of a car wreck. In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the costs at tens of thousands of dollars.Two cars crashed

On average, according to the CDC report, going to the emergency room after a car crash will cost the victim about $3,300. If a crash victim is hospitalized, the cost of the wreck rises to about $57,000 over his or her lifetime. More than 75 percent of those costs will be incurred within 18 months of the car accident.

More than 5.6 million car accidents were reported to police in 2012, according to the latest study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. More than 33,500 people died in those crashes. Continue Reading

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