South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission Erred in Requiring Injured Worker to Establish Change of Condition by Objective Evidence – Russell v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Medical doctor pointing to an x-ray image

Although there are limitations and certain disadvantages to a workers’ compensation case as opposed to a more traditional negligence lawsuit, there are some pluses. Among these is the opportunity to reopen one’s case if there is a change in one’s physical condition.

In other injury cases, such as those arising from motor vehicle accidents and product liability claims, this is not possible. Once a jury determines the amount of damages to which an injured person is entitled, and a judge enters judgment upon the verdict, the case is over (except, of course, in cases of an appeal, but even then a change in condition is not likely to result in any increase in the amount of damages for the plaintiff).

In workers’ compensation cases, however, increased benefits are a possibility in some situations.

Facts of the Case

In the recent case of Russell v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the South Carolina Court of Appeals reviewed a decision of the Workers’ Compensation Commission in a case arising from a Wal-Mart employee’s back injury. The plaintiff had worked for the company for some 10 years at the time she hurt her back and pelvis while lifting an object in 2009. The plaintiff was pregnant at the time of the injury and was thus treated very conservatively.

In February 2011, the plaintiff was found to have reached maximum medical improvement and was awarded 7% permanent partial disability. In December 2011, she filed a Form 50, alleging that her condition had changed for the worse and that she had been required to undergo surgery to her back as a result. A single commissioner agreed with the plaintiff and ordered Wal-Mart to provide temporary total disability benefits and medical care to the plaintiff. The full commission reversed the single commissioner, finding that the plaintiff had failed to establish that she had suffered any new complaints, the time when her condition worsened, or that her need for surgery occurred after the original award.

The Opinion of the Court of Appeals

The woman sought further review of her workers’ compensation case. After considering the issues, the appellate court reversed and remanded, holding that there was no requirement that the commission rely solely on objective evidence. The court did not reach the remaining issues regarding whether the plaintiff suffered a change of condition and whether her statements were conclusory in nature, as well as self-serving.

The case was remanded for additional proceedings consistent with the court’s opinion.

For Help with a Work-Related Injury Claim in South Carolina

If you have been hurt on the job, you have the option to speak to an attorney about your case. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney, call the Law Offices of Patrick E. Knie at 864-582-5118. We have been helping injured people throughout South Carolina, including in Greenville, Spartanburg, and the surrounding areas, for over three decades, and we look forward to serving your family’s legal needs.

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