In South Carolina, as in all other states, workers’ compensation is designed to serve as the “exclusive remedy” to injuries sustained in the course of employment.
Our Anderson workers’ compensation lawyers recognize this means workers can’t sue their employer for damages and also collect workers’ compensation benefits. Additionally, per the precedent established in the 2006 case of Kimmer v. Murata of Am., Inc., employers must be given notice of settlement with third parties, or else the worker is barred from seeking workers’ compensation benefits.
In the recent case of Levi v. Northern Anderson County EMS, this issue, along with a question of appropriate appealability by the employer, was raised. The South Carolina Court of Appeals ultimately reversed an earlier order dismissing her workers’ compensation claim. The lower court had held that by accepting a $550 check from a third party without notifying her employer, she had forfeited her right to collect workers’ compensation. The appellate court rejected this finding.
According to court records, the worker was employed as a paramedic for an emergency medical service. In March 2011, she suffered a back injury while she was transporting a patient.
Later that same month, she suffered another injury when, in the course of driving an ambulance, her vehicle was rear-ended by a third party.
The paramedic filed two separate workers’ compensation claims, seeking benefits and coverage of medical expenses for both injuries. Her employer initially accepted these claims, and she was awarded temporary disability benefits two months after she suffered the injuries.
Five months after the injuries, her employer filed a motion to dismiss, alleging the worker had accepted a check from the third party’s insurer three weeks after the second incident. The employer contended this was a settlement of her third-party claim, and because she failed to notify either her employer or the commission of that settlement, she was barred from collecting workers’ compensation.
The worker argued the claim was not settled against the third party, and the check merely compensated her for pain and suffering from the accident. Additionally, she insisted she had told both her employer and the workers’ compensation insurance adjuster about the offer from the third-party insurer, and both had advised her to take it.
Meanwhile, her lawsuit against the third party was still pending in the county court of common pleas.
The single commissioner overseeing the case denied the employer’s motion to dismiss, and agreed with the worker that the check was compensation for pain and suffering. The court further set a hearing to determine whether she needed more medical treatment or if she’d reached maximum medical improvement.
The employer then appealed the denial of its motion to dismiss, and the appellate panel reversed the commissioner’s findings, dismissed the worker’s claims and indicated she was barred from collecting workers’ compensation because of the check she received without properly notifying her employer. It also found her injuries were solely due to the car accident, not the first injury.
She appealed that decision on the grounds that the single commissioner’s order was not final. It did not indicate an award, but was rather a denial of a motion to dismiss. Therefore, she said, the issue of whether her acceptance of the check resulted in forfeiture of her right to workers’ compensation benefits was not ripe.
The South Carolina Court of Appeals agreed with her. In order for a decision to be immediately appealable, the judgment has to be final. In this case, the appellate court found, the decision was not final. Therefore, the appellate panel’s order was vacated, and the case remanded for dismissal of the employer’s appeal.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Levi v. Northern Anderson County EMS, June 30, 2014, South Carolina Court of Appeals
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