In Battle Between Workers’ Compensation Carriers, South Carolina Appeals Court Says First Carrier Is Responsible for Alleged Second Injury

South Carolina workers’ compensation cases can sometimes drag on for years, especially if the injured worker allegedly suffers subsequent injuries to the same part of the body. Not all such litigation is pursued by the injured worker against his or her employer, however.

Sometimes, multiple insurance companies seek the courts’ direction as to which is responsible for payment of a workers’ claims. This can happen when the injuries happen at times in which a single employer had different workers’ compensation carriers or if the worker changes jobs and his or her employers are insured by different companies.

Facts of the Case

In a case appealed from the Richland County Circuit Court, the claimant was a man who allegedly hurt his back while working for a particular employer in 2002. The plaintiff was a workers’ compensation insurance company that paid benefits owed to the claimant as a result of this injury. The claimant reached maximum medical improvement in the summer of 2003 and, thereafter, began working for a different employer insured by the defendant workers’ compensation carrier.

After going to work for the second company, the claimant complained of additional back problems. He saw the physician authorized by the plaintiff, and the plaintiff paid the claimant benefits until 2005. The plaintiff sought to stop paying benefits to the claimant on the basis that he had reinjured his back while working for the second employer. That litigation resulted in an appellate court order vacating the finding of the workers’ compensation commission lacked subject matter jurisdiction to fashion an equitable apportionment of benefits between workers’ compensation insurance carriers.

The plaintiff then brought a second suit in circuit court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the defendant was responsible for the claimant’s benefits for the alleged 2003 injury. The plaintiff also sought reimbursement of monies it had paid the claimant for that injury, asserting the legal theories of quantum meruit and equitable indemnity. The trial court entered judgment for the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.

Decision of the Court

The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed. Pointing out that “Odysseus’ voyage home took just 10 years” but the dispute between the parties here was well into its second decade, the court of appeals acknowledged that both sides “no doubt crave finality.” The court went on to observe that its previous ruling vacated the commission’s order – which might have otherwise established that the 2003 injury to the claimant was a new injury. Insomuch as the claimant never sought benefits from the defendant and, in fact, stated that his 2003 back injury was merely a continuation of the old one, the plaintiff’s quantum meruit claim failed, as did its equitable indemnity argument against the defendant.

Get Help with Your South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Case

Being injured on the job can put a worker in a very difficult situation. Many people are hesitant to assert their legal rights because they need their job and fear retaliation for filing a claim. Unfortunately, not filing a worker’s compensation claim does not insure continued employment, and failure to file a timely claim can be a valid defense to an otherwise valid claim for benefits such as medical care or temporary total disability payments. For a free consultation to learn more from an experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney, call the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices at 864-582-5118 today.

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