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Nicholson v. S.C. Dep't of Social Services

Supreme Court of South Carolina

January 14, 2015

Carolyn M. Nicholson, Claimant, Petitioner,
v.
S.C. Department of Social Services, Employer, and State Accident Fund, Carrier, Defendants, Respondents

Heard: September 24, 2014.

Appeal from The Workers' Compensation Commission. Appellate Case No. 2014-000329.

Kathryn Williams, of Kathryn Williams, PA, of Greenville, for Petitioner.

L. Brenn Watson and Zachary M. Smith, of Willson Jones Carter & Baxley, P.A., of Greenville, for Respondents.

JUSTICE HEARN. TOAL, C.J., BEATTY, and KITTREDGE, JJ., concur. PLEICONES, J., concurring in a separate opinion.

OPINION

Page 2

[411 S.C. 383] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

HEARN, JUSTICE:

The question in this case is whether a woman who sustains a non-idiopathic fall at her place of employment while performing her job is entitled to receive workers' compensation. Despite how straightforward this issue appears to be, both the single commissioner and the court of appeals found Carolyn Nicholson, who fell while walking down the hallway on her way to a meeting, was not entitled to recover because her fall could have occurred anywhere. We reverse.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Nicholson, a supervisor in the investigations area of child protective services for the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS), was on her way to a meeting when her foot caught on the hall carpet and she fell. She received treatment for pain to her neck, left shoulder, and left side connected with her fall. Nicholson's claim for workers' compensation was denied by the single commissioner because she failed to prove a causal connection between her fall and employment. The commissioner held there was nothing specific to the floor at DSS which contributed to Nicholson's fall and that she could have fallen anywhere.

[411 S.C. 384] A split panel of the commission reversed the single commissioner, with two members holding that Nicholson's fall was not unexplained or idiopathic,[1] but rather was a result of the friction on the carpeted area where she was required to work. The panel also noted it was irrelevant that she could have fallen in a similar way in any number of places--she fell at DSS. Accordingly, it held Nicholson's fall arose out of her employment and was therefore compensable.

The court of appeals reversed, holding that although the fall was not unexplained or idiopathic, the carpet was not a hazard or special condition peculiar to her employment that contributed to or caused Nicholson's injuries. Nicholson v. S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 405 S.C. 537, 546-48 748 S.E.2d 256, 261-62 (Ct. App. 2013). Therefore, it concluded her injuries did not arise out of her employment as a matter of law. Id. at 551, 784 S.E.2d at 264. We granted certiorari.

ISSUE PRESENTED

Does an injury arise out of a claimant's employment when she falls while carrying out a task for her employer, but there is no evidence that a specific ...


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