Self-Inflicted Work Injuries Not Compensable Under South Carolina Law

For the most part, if you suffer a work-related injury in South Carolina or some illness that arises out of the course of your duties, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
However, there are a few exceptions. One of those would be cases in which the injury was intentionally self-inflicted. That is, if you deliberately do harm to yourself while at work, your company may not have to pay you workers’ compensation benefits.

It’s important to note, though, that it is possible for an injury to be self-inflicted, but not intentional – and therefore compensable. In these cases, it all comes down to proving intent, and that can make the procedures a bit more complicated and bit more subjective than in other situations. This is where having an experienced Anderson workers’ compensation lawyer can make a difference.

This issue recently arose in the case of Smith v. Tippah Electric Power Association, which was reviewed by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Here, lower courts had rejected the worker’s claim for compensation on the basis that he had intentionally harmed himself. The state supreme court reversed and remanded, finding the facts did not support that conclusion.

According to court records, the claimant was a lineman who on that day was working to install electrical service to a residential trailer. He was the “bucket man” in a crew that included three others.

Part of his duties included disconnecting the clamp on the “hot” electrical line. He did this and then was waiting up in the bucket for the rest of the crew to finish their work so he could continue.

Those working with him testified that he was “quieter than usual” that morning. As he waited in the bucket, another worker arrived to inform him that he needed to come down and report to the office. The other worker told him to come down, though the worker denies he heard this. It is undisputed that even if the worker heard the order to come down, he had no idea he was going to be asked to take a drug test. A few seconds after turning away, a worker on the ground reported hearing the bucket move, along with a buzzing sound and then turned to see the worker lying on the power lines.

None of the other crew members there that morning actually saw what happened, though they all testified they heard the distinct sound made when an electrical line discharges current.

The worker himself wasn’t entirely sure what happened, but he indicated that he had dropped something in the bucket and when he bent down to pick it up, he came in contact with the “hot” wire as he stood back up.

The worker survived, but both of his arms had to be amputated below the elbow.

After the incident, the company launched an internal investigation, which ended by denying workers’ compensation on the grounds that the worker had injured himself. The theory was that the worker, who was under a criminal investigation at the time, was depressed and he panicked when his co-worker asked him to come down. The company contended that he intentionally grabbed the hot wire in an attempt to commit suicide. The company found the worker’s version of events wasn’t credible because he couldn’t remember what happened.

In its review, the state supreme court rejected the notion that the finding of intentional self-inflicted injury by the lower courts was based upon substantial evidence. Rather, the court found, the conclusion was based on assumptions and speculation. Those assumptions included the assertion that the worker was depressed and suicidal or that he believed the other worker had come to inform him of more possible trouble.

The court ruled it would have been on the company to prove that the worker injured himself, and the company failed. Therefore, the initial findings were reversed and the case remanded for further determination as to the extent of his benefits.

If you have been injured at work in Anderson, SC, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Smith v. Tippah Electric Power Association, April 2014, Mississippi Suprem Court

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