South Carolina Appeals Court Affirms Construction Worker Injury Benefits Denial

In an appellate case before the South Carolina Court of Appeals, a construction worker fought against the workers’ compensation commission’s ruling to deny him benefits after he was injured at work. Unfortunately, the appellate court affirmed that ruling. The court found the commission did not err in finding that the plaintiff failed to apply the presumption the injury in question arose out of and occurred in the course of employment and that the worker didn’t establish a cause for the injury. truck wheel

According to court records, the plaintiff began working for the defendant construction company in 2007 as an operator of heavy equipment. The accident happened five years later, in the spring. His co-workers discovered him lying motionless on his back next to his dump truck. He would later testify he had no knowledge of what happened or how he came to be on the ground. Two co-workers testified they didn’t see him in or near the truck prior to the fall, but he insisted that he was up in the truck at some point before he fell and that he was seen by at least two of his co-workers.

One co-worker testified the plaintiff washed his truck with a pressure washer and then went into an adjacent building to retrieve his backpack and cooler. It was shortly after this time the plaintiff was discovered supine on the ground. It was unclear for exactly how long he was there, although one co-worker testified it couldn’t have been more than four minutes. His backpack and cooler were found on the seat of the truck with the door still open.

The plaintiff was taken immediately to a local emergency room, where he was admitted and treated for a subdural hemorrhage and compression fractures to his upper back. He reportedly had a history of back pain prior to the fall. In fact, he was taking medication for this pain. Two days prior to the incident, the plaintiff was seen at a local emergency room for vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. He admitted he hadn’t been feeling well as of late, and the doctor recommended he take a few days off from work.

After the fall, the plaintiff sought workers’ compensation benefits for injuries to his head, back, and spine. The defendants denied the claim, arguing there was no evidence the incident occurred in the course and scope of employment. A single commissioner reviewing the case concluded that since the fall wasn’t witnessed, and the plaintiff didn’t remember anything about it, the plaintiff failed to meet his burden showing he had suffered a compensable injury.

This was affirmed by the full commission, upon reviewing the 11 points he raised in his appeal. The commission held that since the plaintiff was found on the ground and couldn’t remember or testify as to what happened, and there were no witnesses, it could not be presumed that the accident arose out of his employment. The appeals court also affirmed, despite the plaintiff’s raising of the unexplained death presumption, first established in the 1965 case of Douglas v. Spartan Mills, Startex Div., which holds that there is a natural presumption that if one is charged with performing a duty and is injured or found injured where one’s duty required one to be that one was injured in the course of and as a consequence of performing the duty. The reason the court disagreed with this assertion was that the case does not apply in cases in which a worker is injured but survives, yet has no memory of the events leading to the injury. The court noted that other states – including North Carolina – have limited the presumption to cases in which the employee is deceased.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Turner v. SAII Construction, Dec. 7, 2017, South Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Report: Construction Workers at High Risk of Sprains and Strains, Jan. 27, 2017, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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