South Carolina Appeals Court Sides with Employer in Workers’ Compensation Case in Which Prior Injury Was an Issue – Turner v. SAIIA Construction

Most workers in South Carolina are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured in an accident arising out of and in the course of their employment. These benefits include not only necessary medical treatment but also partial reimbursement for lost wages while a worker is temporarily unable to work and compensation for permanent disability or disfigurement.

Although it is generally easier for a worker to recover benefits through the current workers’ compensation system than under the negligence system that preceded it, the burden of proof is still on the employee to show that he or she was hurt on the job and is entitled to payments for a temporary or permanent disability.

If an employee is unable to show that he is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, his claim will be denied by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Facts of the Case

In the recent case of Turner v. SAIIA Construction, the plaintiff was employed by the defendant as a heavy equipment operator. In 2012, the plaintiff’s co-workers found him lying on his back next to his dump truck. Neither the co-workers nor the plaintiff knew what caused the apparent accident. As a result of the fall, the plaintiff was diagnosed with a small subdural hemorrhage, an intraparenchymal contusion in his left lobe, and an endplate compression deformity of T3 and T4. The plaintiff’s follow-up appointment noted that he had a history of back pain and that he was taking Ultram prior to his fall.

Notably, the plaintiff apparently injured his back several weeks before the alleged work accident while lifting logs. That injury was not related to his work. He sought medical treatment for his lower back at least twice prior to his fall at work, and, just two days before the work incident, he obtained medical care for complaints of vomiting, diarrhea, and suspicions of dehydration.

About a year and a half after the fall at work, the plaintiff submitted a Form 50, alleging that  he suffered a compensable, work-related injury to his back, head, and thoracic spine. The employer denied that the plaintiff’s injuries resulted from an accident that arose out of and in the course and scope of his employment. A single commissioner found that the plaintiff had failed to carry his burden of proof and accordingly denied him any benefits or medical treatment associated with his alleged accident. The full commission agreed, and the employee appealed.

Decision of the South Carolina Court of Appeals

The appellate court affirmed the commission’s denial of workers’ compensation benefits to the employee, holding that, even if the court extended the presumption of a work-related injury (which it was not inclined to do), the employer had still presented sufficient evidence that the employee had very recent, non-work-related, pre-existing back conditions such that the presumption was rebutted. Accordingly, the court agreed with the defendant – and the commission – that the plaintiff had failed to meet his burden of proving that he had suffered an injury in the course and scope of his employment.

Talk to a South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorney

As this case illustrates, prior injuries can complicate a workers’ compensation claim. It pays to talk to an attorney soon after an injury to get reliable advice about how to deal with issues such as pre-existing conditions, aggravation, and so forth. To schedule a consultation with a knowledgeable South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your work injury, call the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices at (864) 582-5118. We handle cases in Spartanburg, Greenville, and the surrounding area.

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