“Fault” Has No Place: South Carolina Workers Compensation Act

The South Carolina Supreme Court has recently held in two very important opinions that “fault” has no place in the South Carolina Workers Compensation Act. The two cases are Barnes v. Charter 1 Realty, and in the case of Nicholson v. S.C. Department of Social Services. In the Barnes case, the employer and their insurance carrier argued that claimant had suffered an “idiopathic” fall and therefore was bound from workers compensation coverage. The Court noted in their opinion that “as an exception to the workers compensation coverage idiopathic doctrine should be strictly construed”. Idiopathic falls that cause injury have been defined by the court as being something that occurs internally to the injured worker and is a condition particular to that employee that could’ve manifested itself anywhere. There have been prior case law that had found where a worker was walking and some internal issue occurred inside their knee causing them to fall to the ground and that injury was caused by the “idiopathic fall” and therefore was not compensable under the Act.

The Court found that in the Barnes case that the facts were different and that there was no evidence that the claimant had any type of internal issue that caused her injury. The Court went on to find that a fall is not idiopathic simply because the claimant is not able to point to a specific cause of the fall. Importantly, the court noted that the claimant in the Barnes case was performing a work task “she was going to check the email of a coworker that had been requested by the coworker” when she tripped and fell causing injury to herself. The Court noted that on those facts alone the claimant had a compensable injury. Given that the claimant had clearly established that she was performing a job function whenever she suffered her accidental injury at work the Court found that her injuries arose out of her employment as a matter of law and found that her case was compensable. The Court reversed the finding of the Court of Appeals which had found that the case was not compensable and remanded a case to the South Carolina Workers Compensation Commission Appellate Panel to make a determination of what the proper award would be for the claimant for her work related injuries.

In the Nicholson case, the Court the employer and their insurance carrier told the physician that the claimant did not have any particular hazard that was related to work over employment that caused her injuries. The claimant in this case was on her way to a meeting while working for the South Carolina Department of Social Services when her foot got caught on some carpet and she fell to the ground causing injuries to her neck and left shoulder. The employer and their insurance carrier tried to argue that it was nothing about the carpet at work that was different than anywhere else and therefore was not a particular hazard to her work and therefore her claim should be barred.   The Court dismissed this argument and stated very clearly that “acquired an employee to prove a fall was to “fault” of the employer in creating a danger or hazard is unfaithful to the principles underlined a creation of the worker’s compensation and turns the entire system on its head. For an accidental injury to be compensable under the worker’s compensation scheme there must be a causable connection between the employment and the injury: that is the test and the claimant need prove nothing more.”

The court went on to note that because the claimant in Nicholson was at work and that her job required her to walk down the hallway as part of her job duties and that given the claimant was injured while walking down the hall performing those job duties that she has a compensable case under the South Carolina Workers Compensation Act. The Court noted that the Act requires nothing more and that Claimant established a causal connection between her employment and her injuries and found that the claimant clearly established this and met herburden with the facts of her case.

If you have questions about whether or not you have a compensable injury or accident at work, call one of our experienced South Carolina workers compensation lawyers now. Initial consultation is free and we’re available to talk to you 24/7.

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