Dozier v. American Red Cross – SC Supreme Court Weighs Workers’ Compensation Appeal

The South Carolina Supreme Court recently weighed the appeal of a plaintiff in a workers’ compensation case who alleged lower courts had erred in failing to find her permanently totally disabled, due to her 5-pound weight lifting restriction imposed after a work-related injury.
In Dozier v. American Red Cross, the high court affirmed the determination of lower courts, finding job opportunities were available to her in this weight-lifting restriction range, and she failed to properly preserve her claim on the major underlying condition, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a progressive ailment of the nervous system.

Our Rock Hill work injury attorneys know cases like this, where injuries or ailments may be obscure or ambiguous, are difficult to prove. It’s imperative to work with an experienced lawyer, or else the claim may have little chance of succeeding.

In Dozier, a phlebotomist for a non-profit health center sustained an admitted injury by accident. She filed a form indicating the injury had caused damage to both arms. She further contended the repetitive heavy lifting for work had resulted in her development of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. She and her employer agreed to forgo a hearing in exchange for a consent order, in which the company stipulated worker sustained a compensable left wrist injury. The company would pay for treatment of her left wrist, as well as medical determination of her right wrist pain and work status.

The following summer, worker filed another claim alleging both arms were injured, as well as her neck, back and mental health. She also contended she’d been diagnosed with related CRPS/RSD. The non-profit conceded the injury to her left wrist, but denied the rest of her injuries were work-related. Further, the employer contended worker achieved maximum medical improvement around the same time she filed for additional compensation, which was when the employer-approved physician gave her this label. Employer claimed the only remaining issue was the extent of worker’s permanent disability.

A single commissioner determined worker had injured both arms during her employment, and as such should receive temporary total disability and coverage of continuing medical treatment for both arms. The order made no mention of the worker’s back, neck arms or CRPS/RSD claims.

For that reason, worker appealed, arguing the commissioner erred in failing to order employer to pay past related medical treatment, failing to compel employer to pay a 25 percent penalty for improper termination of benefits, failing to find injury to her neck and back and allowing employer to designate a physician when it had already compelled her to submit to five independent medical exams. The last allegation was dropped when employer allowed her to choose her own doctor.

The appellate panel affirmed, except it did modify that employer should pay all causally-related medical treatments prior to the commissioner’s ruling. The panel did not address the issues of her back or neck injuries, or her contention that her complex pain syndrome was related to work. Neither side appealed this order.

Worker continued to receive treatment for the next several years, undergoing carpal tunnel release surgery. Her doctor placed her at 5 percent impairment to both hands, 12 percent impairment to her central nervous system (due to CRPS) and issued a permanent 5-pound lifting restriction.

In 2011, employer sought to terminate compensation, with a final determination on permanent benefits. Worker argued she was totally and permanently disabled due to the five-pound lift restriction. Employer and its designated physicians disagreed, adding the CRPS claim couldn’t be relitigated by worker because she hadn’t raised it upon appeal. The court agreed, indicating that even if she could, the greater weight of evidence failed to prove the condition was a result of a work-related injury.

The court also heavily weighted the opinion of a vocational expert testifying for employer who indicated there were a number of jobs she could still do with a 5-pound weight lift restriction, including greeter, collection clerk, EKG technician or customer service representative.

If you have suffered a work injury in Rock Hill, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Dozier v. American Red Cross, Sept. 17, 2014, South Carolina Suprem Court

More Blog Entries
North Carolina Industrial Commission Targets Companies Lacking Workers’ Compensation Insurance, Sept. 11, 2014, Rock Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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