When an employee dies as a result of a work-related injury, his or her dependents are entitled to receive compensation in most cases. However, if an employee who is injured on the job dies from unrelated causes while his or her case is pending, the situation can be much more complex.
A South Carolina appellate court was recently asked to review the issues in such a case, the employee having died from causes unrelated to a very serious on-the-job injury he had suffered prior to his death.
Facts of the Case
In the case of McMahan v. S.C. Department of Education-Transportation, the worker was a bus mechanic employed by the defendant governmental entity. In June 2011, the worker was injured when a bus that he was repairing fell on top of him and crushed his spine. After undergoing two back surgeries and other medical treatment, he moved out of the state with his wife, planning to help care for his elderly parents. He died in October 2012 from a heart condition not related to his work injury.
The worker’s estate filed a Form 50 in May 2013, alleging that the worker had injured his head, brain, back, internal organs, teeth, legs, mouth, and ribs in the course and scope of his employment. The employer admitted that the worker had injured his back but denied the remaining claims. The case proceeded to a hearing, and a single commissioner found that the worker had reached the point of maximum medical improvement (MMI) prior to his death and concluded that the estate was entitled to total disability benefits, based upon a 50% or greater loss of use to the worker’s back.
The appellate panel of the workers’ compensation commission reversed the single commissioner’s decision, holding that the worker had not reached MMI prior to his death and that his estate was thus not entitled to permanent total disability benefits. The parties filed cross appeals.
On Appeal to the South Carolina Court of Appeals
The court of appeals reversed the commission’s decision, holding that the worker’s estate was entitled to permanent total disability benefits. Although a finding of MMI often coincides with an award of permanent disability benefits, the court found that an individual could be permanently disabled and still not be at a point of MMI. Thus, regardless of whether the worker had reached MMI prior to his death, he could still be held permanently and totally disabled for the purposes of S.C. Code §§ 42-9-30 and 42-9-280.
In so holding, the court noted that, even if the estate’s entitlement to the worker’s benefits had hinged on his reaching MMI prior to his death, the worker’s doctor had twice stated that the worker had reached MMI. The fact that the doctor had recommended further pain management did not negate his finding of MMI.
If You Have a Workers’ Compensation Claim
Workers’ compensation claims can be much more complicated than they appear on the surface. A multitude of issues can arise over the course of litigation, and it pays to have an experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney by your side. To get help with your case, call the Law Offices of Patrick E. Knie at (864) 582-5118 today. Our offices are conveniently located in Spartanburg and Greenville.
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