S.C. Appeals Court: School Employee Change in Condition Claim Remanded

A former data entry clerk for a South Carolina school district will have another opportunity to have her “change in condition” claim weighed. The original workers’ compensation claim stemmed from a May 2006 fistfight between two male students in which the plaintiff was pinned against a counter and sustained serious injuries to her neck and back. sad

Later that summer, the plaintiff filed for disability, alleging she was permanently disabled. A commissioner overseeing her case ruled she suffered 45 percent disability to her back as a result of the incident. However, her last payment of benefits was issued in January 2008.

Then, a year later, the plaintiff filed a claim for change of condition, asserting she was suffering from depression as a result of her back injury. She requested a change of condition hearing in March 2011.

According to court records from the South Carolina Court of Appeals, the plaintiff stated at the hearing she was in such extreme pain that she couldn’t pull herself out of bed each morning. This affected her social life. Although she’d already been taking anti-anxiety medications following the death of her husband, to whom she’d been married for 39 years, she had “returned to her normal self” within a few months. But after the incident, her depression came back with a vengeance. With no history of drug or alcohol abuse or other psychiatric disorders, she sought care from a local psychiatrist.

That psychiatrist testified that although the plaintiff had suffered from depression and anxiety for years, she wasn’t suffering from “endogenous depression” until after the injury. This type of depression is recognized as one that affects a person’s ability to sleep, eat, have energy, or concentrate.

The commission ruled the plaintiff had proven her change in condition, and she was entitled to additional workers’ compensation benefits.

The school district, however, appealed, arguing the plaintiff hadn’t proven she suffered a change in condition, and the doctrine of res judicata prevented her from asserting the psychological claim. The state workers’ compensation commission agreed. (Res judicata is a doctrine that prohibits subsequent actions by the same parties when claims arise out of the same transaction or occurrence as a prior claim.)

However, the plaintiff appealed that decision, arguing this was not a case wherein res judicata applied because she had never before asserted this claim of depression until after she was hurt at work. Furthermore, she argued the panel erred in ruling that in order for her depression to be considered part of her ongoing work-related injuries, it had to have worsened between 2008 and 2009.

The appellate panel agreed with her. The justices ruled the state workers’ compensation commission was wrong for not taking into account the plaintiff’s claim of depression as part of her purported change in condition. Just because she had experienced situational depression and anxiety in the past did not mean her endogenous depression couldn’t be related to her work injury. In fact, much of the evidence presented in this case indicated that it was.

Our experienced injury lawyers know cases like these can be difficult to bring because of the fact that with depression, unlike a physical injury, it may be tougher to establish causation. But this case shows it can be done.

Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Wilson v. Charleston County School District, March 22, 2017, South Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

NC Appeals Court Rules on Employer Lien of Third-Party Damages, March 21, 2017, Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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