South Carolina Supreme Court Revises SC Workers Comp Coverage, Rules Slip and Fall A Work Related Accident
In January this year, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decisions regarding two slip and fall SC workers comp claims, ruling that employees are in fact entitled to workers compensation coverage in South Carolina if they trip and fall at work.
The first case involved a workers comp claim for plaintiff Judy Barnes, an administrative assistant for a realtor. While walking down the hallway at work, she tripped and fell, breaking her left femur, left humerus, and tearing her rotator cuff. Because the accident happened at work, Barnes filed a workers comp claim for her medical treatment; however, her claim was denied because her fall was not the fault of her employer. There were no specific hazards in the hallway.
However, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that simply being injured while performing work tasks is enough to receive SC workers comp coverage.
“Those facts alone clearly establish a causal connection between her employment and the injuries she sustained,” reads the 4-1 decision. Justice Costa Pleicones dissented.
“Although she fell previously in a grocery store parking lot, that fall was also apparently due to her tripping, not a personal health defect,” wrote the high court in its decision Wednesday.
“We find no legal authority indicating clumsiness is an exception to workers’ compensation.”
The second workers comp case involved a similar trip and fall injury. Carolyn Nicholson was a supervisor for child protective services in the Department of Social Services. She was walking to a meeting when her foot got caught in the hall carpet and she fell, injuring her left side, left shoulder, and her neck. Because she was on her way to a work meeting when the accident occurred, she applied for workers compensation. Like Barnes, however, a SC workers comp commissioner denied her claim, because her fall could have occurred anywhere, and there was nothing specific in the hallway that would have caused her accident and could be blamed on her employer.
Again, the Supreme Court ruled that, because Nicholson was involved in work activities when her injury occurred, she should receive SC workers compensation benefits.
“The circumstances of her employment required her to walk down the hallway to perform her responsibilities and in the course of those duties she sustained an injury,” wrote the court.
“We hold these facts establish a causal connection between her employment and her injuries—the law requires nothing more.”
These two rulings revise a common interpretation of South Carolina’s workers comp law, which says that an accident’s cause “must be peculiar to work” in order for the claimant to file for workers compensation. Generally, this has been interpreted to mean that the accident is directly caused by negligence on the employer’s part, or due to the specific nature of the job. However, the Supreme Court stated that that interpretation is faulty.
“In other words, but for the claimant being at work, the injury would not have occurred,” the ruling reads. “It does not require claimant to prove her injury is entirely unique to her employment, for any other interpretation would seriously undermine the law of workers’ compensation.”
The Strom Law Firm Understands Worker’s Comp Legislation
The South Carolina workers compensation lawyers at The Strom Law Firm, LLC proudly seek justice on behalf of employees injured or killed on the job who work for private companies, as well as employees working for county, city, and state government. We are licensed to practice throughout South Carolina, as well as Georgia and New York. If you have been injured on the job, give us a call. We offer a free consultation to discuss the facts of your case. 803.252.4800.