It is to be expected in filing Anderson workers’ compensation claims that there is a high likelihood the company will challenge the assertion that the injuries involved are compensable.
In South Carolina, in order for a claim to be compensable, the worker must have suffered a personal injury or death by an accident that arose out of and in the course of his or her employment.
Basing an argument on this definition, many workers’ compensation defendants will attempt to assert that the injuries were the result of a pre-existing condition – not a work-related accident. You should know, however, that even those with pre-existing medical conditions can still receive workers’ compensation, so long as you can show that work complicated or worsened their condition.
The defendants in the recent workers’ compensation case of Vawter v. United Parcel Service, Inc. attempted to argue no responsibility for compensating the plaintiff for his injuries because the injuries were due to a pre-existing condition, not a work injury. The Idaho Supreme Court disagreed, affirming an earlier appellate court ruling.
Here, the worker had been employed by a parcel service for decades prior to the injury. In the last 12 years, he had worked loading his truck with package deliveries each day and then distributing those packages to various locations. His job description included frequently lifting heavy packages, which did put a strain on his back.
On the morning in question, he was waiting for his vehicle to warm up (it was approximately 20 degrees below zero outside), and he bent down to tie his boot laces when he heard a “pop” and felt a sudden, gripping pain in his lower back.
He was diagnosed with a herniated disc and early the early stages of cauda equina syndrome, which is when the nerve roots at the base of the spine are compressed. If not immediately treated, it can cause permanent paralysis, bladder and bowel damage. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the condition can be caused by a ruptured disc, tumor, infection, fracture or narrowing of the spinal canal.
The worker underwent two immediate surgeries.
Soon after, he filed a workers’ compensation claim with the state industrial commission, alleging he suffered a lower back injury in the course of his employment. His employer, however, countered that the injury wasn’t compensable because it resulted from a pre-existing condition.
The company argued that the disability occurred while the worker was tying his shoes – an activity that he was not required by the company to engage in. However, the commission pointed out that, “No rational person would disagree” that any worker required to carry boxes all day should keep his shoes tied. Further, the company policy did in fact require workers to keep their shoes tied.
The commission determined that the worker’s injury was compensable, he was temporarily totally disabled, entitled to medical expense coverage totaling $150,000, but not an award for attorney’s fees.
When the employer appealed, it was determined that not only was the injury compensable, but he was permanently and totally disabled. The court found he did have a pre-existing condition that amounted to a 7 percent disability from an older injury, but this did not free the employer from liability.
Upon a motion to reconsider, the court affirmed, although it expanded the coverage time frame, meaning the worker was entitled to collect an additional $25,000 in medical expense compensation.
If you have been injured at work in South Carolina, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Vawter v. United Parcel Service, Inc., Feb. 7, 2014, Idaho Suprem Court
More Blog Entries
Workers’ Compensation Benefits After Maximum Medical Improvement Finding, Feb. 15, 2014, Anderson Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog