Shatto v. McLeod Regional – “Independent” Contractor Hospital Worker Makes Successful Claim

The South Carolina Court of Appeals has finally granted workers’ compensation to an “independent contractor” nurse who fell in the operating room in 2007, and has been fighting for benefits since then – even having her case taken all the way to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
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The appellate court recently reviewed the case of Shatto v. McLeod Regional Medical Center et al. on remand from the state supreme court, which determined that despite claims from the hospital she wasn’t an “employee,” the facts appeared to indicate otherwise.

In granting the worker “employee” status, the supreme court paved the way for her to then pursue workers’ compensation benefits for her injuries. And finally, the appellate court green-lighted them for her.

Our Rock Hill workers’ compensation attorneys want to stress that most claims will not take anywhere near this long to process. This case was convoluted by the fact that the company was not just denying the injury was compensable, but rather was denying the woman was even an employee at all. Proving otherwise means it taking the time to assert the amount of control the company has over employment, the type of employment contract that existed, what pay structure was in place, etc.

This is an important determination because the state of South Carolina does not allow for the award of workers’ compensation benefits to independent contractors.

In this situation, the plaintiff was a certified registered nurse anesthetist who was placed to work for the hospital with a temporary medical service staffing agency. In late 2007, she fell on the operating room floor while helping to place a patient under anesthesia.

Her injuries from the fall were severe enough that she had to be taken to the emergency room of the hospital, where she was diagnosed with contusion to the right eye.

Less than a week later, she was terminated from her assignment.

A few months later, she filed a Form 50 against the hospital and a single commissioner determined she was in fact an employee of the facility and her injury occurred in the course of her employment. The appellate panel affirmed this decision. However, the state court of appeals reversed it, finding the nurse was not an employee, but declining to rule on the issue of compensability as it related to the fall.

The state court of appeals, as we mentioned earlier, did not hold that the facts were entirely one-sided in favor of the plaintiff, but said the evidence tended to favor the employment relationship.

Upon remand, the supreme court instructed the appellate court determine the limited issue of compensability.

The defendant argued the nurse’s fall was idiopathic, or in other words caused by some unknown medical condition that had not been thoroughly explained. If that stance had been proven, the injury wouldn’t be compensable because the harm is personal, and the employment doesn’t significantly add to the risk. The 1955 decision of Bagwell v. Ernest Burwell held that an injury resulted from an idiopathic fall isn’t generally considered ripe for compensation unless the work either caused it or had some effect on it.

That does not appear to be the case here. Several witnesses testified to the fact that the worker was walking around the patient’s bed when her foot became caught on something on or near the floor and she fell. The exact item over which she tripped was not clear, though there was some speculation that it was an electrical cord.

Based on this, the court determined the workers’ injury did make her eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

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

Additional Resources:
Shatto v. McLeod Regional Medical Center et al., June 11, 2014, South Carolina Court of Appeals (On remand from the South Carolina Supreme Court)

More Blog Entries:
Conley v. Alaska Communications – Third Party Lawsuits Following Work Injuries, May 24, 2014, Rock Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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