South Carolina Appellate Court Finds Statute of Limitations Had Not Run on Work-Related Back Injury Claim – Rhame v. Charleston County School District

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Personal injury lawsuits and workers’ compensation claims must be timely filed, or else they will be dismissed unless they meet the very narrow criteria of an exception to the general rule.

The statutes of limitations that control the filing deadlines for injury and wrongful death lawsuits exist to encourage plaintiffs to pursue valid claims with reasonable diligence and to protect defendants against stale claims that might be difficult to defend due to the spoliation of evidence.

Of course, determining exactly when a claim accrued – and whether it qualifies as an exception to the general time limitations for a particular type of lawsuit – tends to be a difficult and highly contentious matter.

Facts of the Case

In the recent case of Rhame v. Charleston County School District, the plaintiff was a man who worked for the defendant as a heating and air conditioning technician from 1987 to 2009. His job involved frequent lifting of equipment that could weigh as much as 100 pounds.

In 2009, the plaintiff filed a Form 50 with the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission, alleging that he had sustained a back injury from the repetitive lifting required by his job. Notably, the plaintiff had experienced “off-and-on back pain” as far back as the 1990s and had a cervical fusion surgery on his neck in 2006.

A single commissioner ruled that the plaintiff’s claim was not barred by the statute of limitations and awarded him benefits for temporary total disability and medical treatment. Later, the appellate panel of the commission reversed, finding that the plaintiff’s claim was untimely. The plaintiff attempted to appeal the commission’s decision, but this, too, was fraught with issues concerning timeliness (regarding the appeal, rather than the injury). Ultimately, the matter made it to the state’s highest court, which remanded the case to the court of appeals for a consideration on the merits.

The Decision of the South Carolina Court of Appeals

After finally getting to hear the issues in the case, the court reversed, holding that the plaintiff’s case was not barred by the statute of limitations. According to the court, the appellate panel had erred in characterizing the plaintiff’s first experience of back pain as an “injury.” This was found to be inconsistent with the gradual nature of a repetitive trauma and not supported by the evidence in the record.

The court went on to find that the plaintiff had filed his claim within two years of the time that he knew or should have known that his claim was compensable as a work-related injury. Thus, he had complied with the statute of limitations, and his case should not have been dismissed as time-barred.

For Help with a South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Case

The plaintiff in this case had to fight all the way to the court of appeals, but eventually the court system agreed with him that his workers’ compensation claim was not time-barred. It bears mentioning that the appellate court’s decision was based on the facts of this particular case, and most cases that are not filed within the prescribed limitations period are dismissed. If you’ve been hurt, don’t sit on your rights and risk dismissal of your case. Call the law offices of Patrick E Knie at (864) 582-5118 to discuss your injury with an experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney. We serve all of South Carolina, including Spartanburg and Greenville.

Related Blog Posts

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South Carolina Worker’s Appeal Within 30 Days of Denial of Rehearing by Appellate Panel of the Workers’ Compensation Commission Was Timely – Rhame v. Charleston County School District