Hartzell v. Palmetto Collision LLC – SC Supreme Court Revives Work Injury Claim

Work-related back injury claims are some of the most common for workers’ compensation. gavel21

That was the underlying reason plaintiff sought benefits in Hartzell v. Palmetto Collision LLC, recently before the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Plaintiff appealed the decision by the appeals court to reverse his medical benefits claim stemming from a work-related back injury. He argued there was substantial evidence to support the original ruling of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission to award him workers’ compensation for his back injury. He insisted the injury was reported within the required timeline and therefore the appeals court made a mistake in reversing his award of benefits.

The South Carolina Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded. 

According to court records, plaintiff was a 50-year-old auto body paint technician for his employer in February 2009, when the work injury occurred. He reportedly suffered a back injury while he was moving tires, rims and heavy frame equipment as he was cleaning the shop. He alleged he started to experience lower back pain in the late afternoon after he was finished with his work and his back felt very sore the next day.

The day after his alleged injury, he informed his employer that he was “pretty sore” and that he “must have hurt [himself].” Supervisor suggested plaintiff go to the emergency room if he was having problems, but plaintiff did not do this. In fact, he did not receive any medical attention.

In general, business was slow at the shop so plaintiff left the company the following month. He insisted, though, that he and his supervisor discussed his back injury on several occasions during his last few weeks of work. He did concede, though, that after he left the company, he didn’t discuss his back injury with his former employer or request medical treatment from employer.

But the following year, he filed a claim for workers’ compensation, citing the back injury from February 2009. The employer denied the claim, however, arguing worker failed to provide notice as required per S.C. Code Ann 42-15-20.

A commissioner held a hearing in July 2011, in which the supervisor contended the first time he received notice of the work-related injury was when the plaintiff filed his Form 50 a year after the alleged injury. He didn’t deny that the conversation employee alleged had occurred, but said it “did not ring a bell.”

The single commissioner determined petitioner had sustained an injury and the report of that injury to his supervisor was timely and the worker was therefore entitled to medical, surgical and other authorized treatment. She ordered an evaluation to determine whether he as at maximum medical improvement and whether he required additional medical treatment.

Employer appealed, but the commission affirmed, finding petitioner had timely reported his injury. They cited the fact that while supervisor didn’t remember the conversation with petitioner, he didn’t deny it had occurred, and the commission found plaintiff more credible.

The appeals court reversed, finding employee’s notice of injury was not adequately supported by the record.

However, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed that decision, finding there was sufficient notice provided under statute. Substantial evidence by law is not a small sliver of evidence or evidence that is viewed in blindness to the other side, but which, considering the record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the same conclusion. Here, although the notice wasn’t documented, the commission had found plaintiff to be the more credible of the two witnesses and therefore found adequate oral notice was given. This was sufficient for the state supreme court.

Of course, written notice in these situations is preferable, but as this case shows, lack of it can still be overcome.

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

Additional Resources:

Hartzell v. Palmetto Collision LLC, April 13, 2016, South Carolina Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Report: Work Injury Risk Increased With Sleep Breathing Trouble, April 7, 2016, Spartanburg Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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