SC Court Rules Employee Repetitive Injury Claim Timely Filed

South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

Earlier this week, the South Carolina Court of Appeals issued a decision in King v. International Knife and Saw, ruling that an employee who suffers a repetitive work injury is entitled to benefits under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act if the employee files a worker’s compensation claim within ninety days of the day that the employee first seeks medical treatment for the injury or is forced to miss work, even if the employee has known that there was a problem for years.

Under the South Carolina Workers Compensation laws, the standard rule is that an employee suffering from a repetitive injury must notify his employer within ninety days of the date the employee discovered, or could have discovered by exercising reasonable diligence, that his condition entitles him or her to benefits under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act (subject to certain exceptions). If an employee does not file his or her claim within this time period, and the reason for the delay does not fall within an exception, the employee will not receive any benefits.

The employee friendly decision clarified when the 90 day notice period begins to run, noting that, “a work-related repetitive trauma injury does not become compensable, and the ninety-day reporting clock does not start, until the injured employee discovers or should discovery he qualifies to receive benefits for medical care, treatment, or disability due to his condition.” Under this analysis, the employee’s claim does not arise when he or she first experiences pain, but rather when the employee starts missing work and/or needs to seek medical attention for the injury, which may occur months or even years later.

When Does a Reptitive Injury Occur for the Purpose of Filing a SC Workers’ Comp Claim?

For approximately 13 years claimant, Ralph King Jr., used six-, eight-, and ten-pound hammers on a daily basis to hammer saw blades to customer specifications. On April 17, 2008, the hammer King was using shattered, and King felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. King openly admitted that his arm had been tired, sore, and achy for a couple of years. King continued working for nearly a month before he informed his supervisor about his injury and sought medical treatment. King stopped working on May 15, 2008.

A few months later on August 7, 2008, King filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. King’s employer, International Knife and Saw, denied his workers’ comp claim assering that his injuries were not work-related and he that failed to give timely notice of a repetitive trauma injury. King later amended his claim to include carpal tunnel syndrome in his right arm, hand, and fingers. Both the original and the amended claim stated King was seeking benefits for “injury” as well as “repetitive trauma.”

King’s medical records showed that, from May to September 2008, he sought medical treatment for pain on his right side, from his neck to his hand, and numbness in his right hand. He physician prescribed pain medications, and they explored possible causes in his rotator cuff, cervical spine, nervous system, and carpal tunnel.

An MRI taken revealed a mild nerve impingement in his right shoulder. Electrodiagnostic studies further established that King suffered from moderate carpal tunnel syndrome on his right side. He underwent ETPS as well as physical therapy.

Under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation laws, the single commissioner found King’s report to his employer was timely and awarded him benefits for total disability and medical treatment. King’s employer appealed and the Appellate Panel reversed both the finding of timeliness and the award of benefits, denying King’s claim for workmans’ compensation benefits.

King appealed, and our South Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that he is entitled to benefits under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Justices stated they found substantial evidence that did not support the Appellate Panel’s findings which characterized King’s long-term arm ache as an “injury,” leading them to determine King discovered or could have discovered “a couple of years ago” that he had a compensable condition, a finding which precluded King from receiving benefits for failing to satisfy the notice requirement. Instead the South Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that King did not have any reason to know that his injury was compensable before April 2008 entitling him to benefits under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act.

If you are dealing with a repetitive work injury, contact the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at the Strom Law Firm, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your legal rights. 803.252.4800