Worker Was Entitled to Presumption of Total Disability, According to South Carolina Supreme Court

A difference of just 2% might not sound like much, but it can make a huge difference in deciding how much an injured worker will receive under South Carolina’s scheduled-member workers’ compensation statute.

This is because a worker who has suffered 50% of more loss of use of his or her back due to an on-the-job injury is presumed to be totally disabled, while a worker with only 48% loss of use of his or her back is presumed to be only partially disabled.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appellate case, the plaintiff was a man who fell during the course and scope of his employment, severely injuring his back. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff underwent surgery to remove a herniated disc from his back and fuse his C5 and C7  vertebrae. He sought workers’ compensation benefits from the defendants (his employer and its claims management service) under the scheduled-member statute of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act. The defendants admitted that the plaintiff’s injury was compensable, but they denied that the plaintiff was totally disabled.

The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission agreed and awarded the plaintiff permanent partial disability based on a finding of 48% permanent impairment to his back. The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed, and the plaintiff appealed.

Holding of the Court

The Supreme Court of South Carolina reversed and remanded. In reviewing the medical evidence, the court found that the various medical providers who had seen the plaintiff had assigned him ratings of 71%, 91%, and 99% regional impairment to the spine. Although the defendants relied upon a particular doctor’s 25% whole-person impairment rating and release of the plaintiff to return to work, the court found that the single commissioner (along with the full commission and the court of appeals) had erred in finding that the plaintiff had sustained only a 48% injury to his back, thereby limiting him to an award of permanent partial disability under the scheduled-member statute.

Although the findings of an administrative agency are presumed correct under South Carolina law, such findings may be set aside by a reviewing court if they are unsupported by substantial evidence. Because the court agreed with the plaintiff that “all of the medical evidence in the record” showed that he had suffered at least a 50% loss of use to his back, the court found that the plaintiff was entitled to a presumption of permanent total disability under the scheduled-member statute.

(It should be noted that this decision did not automatically result in an award of permanent total disability to the plaintiff, as the court remanded the case to the commission for a new hearing to determine whether the presumption of permanent and total disability had been rebutted.)

Talk to a Knowledgeable Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

If you have been hurt at work, it is important that you speak to an attorney as soon as possible. It takes an aggressive approach to pursue fair compensation in most workers’ compensation cases, and those who do not have an advocate to fight for them often end up receiving less than they deserve. Call the experienced Spartanburg work injury legal team at the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices at 864-582-5118 to schedule a free consultation regarding your case. We also have offices in Greenville.

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