In the workers’ compensation appeal, Williams v. Stafford Drywall, the South Carolina Supreme Court addressed questionable evidence of plaintiff’s compensation rate and medical causation testimony. The entire opinion can be downloaded here, Williams v. David Stafford Drywall.
Williams worked for Stafford Drywall as a drywall finisher in the Charleston area. While on the job, she was injured when she fell off a ladder, falling 12-14 feet. In her initial Form 50, she claimed injury to her left ankle bone, pelvis, right foot, left foot, right hip, and left hip. Six months later, she amended the form 50 to claim injury to her left hip, left leg, pelvis, right leg, back, brain, head, and left foot. Eighteen months later, she claimed injury to her left hip, left leg, pelvis, right leg, back, brain, head, left foot, and her bowels and bladder.
The single workers’ compensation commissioner found that she was totally and permanently disabled and awarded her lifetime medical treatment for the injuries to her back, left leg, and pelvis. Williams appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appellate Panel. The Appellate Panel affirmed the single commissioner’s order in its entirety.
Williams then appealed to the South Carolina Court of Appeals claiming that the Appellate Panel erred in not finding a higher compensation rate, not finding that her neurogenic bladder issue related to her on the job injury, and not finding that she was not partially paraplegic.
The most interesting part of this appeal is the comp rate. Williams like many small construction business employees was not employed every day or every week. Section 42-1-40 of the South Carolina code provides:
[a]verage weekly wage’ must be calculated by taking the total wages paid for the last four quarters . . . divided by fifty-two or by the actual number of weeks for which wages were paid, whichever is less.
It appears evidence was not presented on how many weeks Williams actually worked. The evidence presented on the compensation rate was limited to the employer’s Form 20 (here’s a blank form 20) and some testimony form both sides. Plaintiff did not submit documentary evidence, e.g. pay stubs, to prove the number of weeks worked. However, there was testimony from both employer and employee that Williams did not work every week.
The statute clearly provides that the usual method for calculating the comp rate is to divide the pay for the year before the injury by the lesser of 52 or the number of weeks worked, but the workers’ compensation commissioner rather than making a best guess as to the number of weeks worked, just divided by 52. While an argument could be made that dividing by 52 would provide the more reasonable approximation of future income earning potential, that was not what was being done explicitly. The Appellate Panel let the decision on how to calculate the comp rate stand without question, and the South Carolina Court of Appeals found substantial evidence to leave it alone.
The Court of Appeals also affirmed the finding that the plaintiff’s neurogenic bladder problems were not medically caused by the accident for the purposes of workers’ compensation. The bladder issue in this case was not raised until over a year after the accident and claim were filed, but there was medical testimony that the bladder condition was caused by the accident. The Court of Appeals recited that the single commissioner and Appellate Panel have discretion in weighing the evidence, and need not abide by expert testimony when there is other competent evidence on point. Potter v. Spartanburg Sch. Dist. 7, 395 S.C. 17, 23, 716 S.E.2d 123, 126 (Ct. App. 2011). This is another example of the wide latitude the Workers’ Compensation Commission has in deciding cases and the relative lack of court oversight.
If you, or someone you know has been involved in an accident on the job, contact the offices of Reeves, Aiken, and Hightower, LLP to have your South Carolina claim evaluated. With over 23 years experiences, Mr. Reeves has been exposed to numerous work-related cases in which Worker’s Compensation was to be applied and is competent to handle your case. Call today at 803-548-4444 or toll free at 877-374-5999by