South Carolina Supreme Court Finds that Employee’s Testimony that He Gave Timely Notice of Injury Was Supported by Substantial Evidence – Hartzell v. Palmetto Collision

Mechanic fixing a car in garage

South Carolina law limits both the time that an injured worker has to give notice of a work-related injury and the time for filing a claim with the workers’ compensation commission, seeking to enforce his or her right to medical care, temporary or permanent disability benefits, and other related matters.

Pursuant to S.C. Code § 42-15-20(a), the employee is to give notice “immediately… or as soon thereafter as practicable.” S.C. Code § 42-15-20(b) goes on to state that no compensation is payable to the employee unless notice is given within 90 days, except when the employee had a reasonable excuse and the employer was not prejudiced by the delay.

Although the rules are fairly straightforward, disputes still may arise. Recently, the state’s highest court examined a case in which an employee insisted that he had given notice, but a witness for the employer claimed that the employee’s version of events did not “ring a bell.”

Facts of the Case

In the case of Hartzell v. Palmetto Collision, the plaintiff was a 50-year-old man who injured his back while working as an auto body paint technician in February 2009. He did not seek medical treatment at that time, although he allegedly informed his employer that he was having back problems after moving some heavy equipment in the shop. In May 2010, the plaintiff filed a claim for workers’ compensation, but the employer denied the claim on the basis of the employee’s alleged failure to provide notice.

In 2011, a single commissioner found that the plaintiff had timely reported the injury and was entitled to medical treatment and, possibly, other benefits under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation laws. The employer appealed the single commissioner’s order to the full commission, which affirmed the determination in the plaintiff’s favor. On further appeal to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, the court reversed, holding that the commission’s determination that there was adequate notice was not supported by the evidence.

South Carolina Supreme Court

On further appeal, the state supreme court reversed and remanded, first noting that the commission is the ultimate fact finder and that its factual findings are not to be disturbed if they are supported by substantial evidence. In reviewing the commission’s determination that the plaintiff’s testimony that he informed the employer of his injury on the same day that he was hurt was more credible than the employer’s evidence on the issue, the court found that the finding was supported by substantial evidence and thus should not be disturbed on appeal.

If You Have Been Hurt and Need to Talk to an Attorney

Those who are injured on the job have legal rights, including the right to pursue maximum compensation from their employer or their employer’s insurance company. If you have questions about a possible workers’ compensation case, the Law Offices of Patrick E. Knie can help. To schedule an appointment with a knowledgeable and dedicated South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney, call 864-582-5118 today. There is no charge for the initial consultation, and most cases are accepted on a contingency fee basis.

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