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Clemmons v. Lowe's Home Ctrs., Inc.-Harbison

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

April 1, 2015

Henton T. Clemmons, Jr., Employee, Appellant,
v.
Lowe's Home Centers, Inc.-Harbison, Employer, and Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc., Carrier, Respondents

Heard November 5, 2014.

Page 518

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 519

Appeal From The Workers' Compensation Commission. Appellate Case No. 2013-001668.

Preston F. McDaniel, of McDaniel Law Firm, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Weston Adams, III, Kelly Fitzharris Morrow, and Helen Faith Hiser, all of McAngus Goudelock & Courie, LLC, of Columbia and Mount Pleasant, respectively; and M. McMullen Taylor, of Mullen Taylor, LLC, of Columbia, for Respondents.

OPINION

Page 520

[412 S.C. 372] LOCKEMY, J.

In this appeal from the Appellate Panel of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission, Henton Clemmons contends the Appellate Panel erred in (1) proceeding with a hearing to determine his permanent disability award over his objection, (2) not finding him permanently and totally disabled due to a compensable work-related back injury, (3) not making a separate award for myelopathy as a neurological injury, (4) not making a separate award for a low back injury, and (5) assigning great weight to the medical opinion of his authorized treating physician. We affirm.

FACTS

Clemmons works for Lowe's Home Centers as a cashier. On September 12, 2010, he entered a trailer at the store where he worked and slipped on wet straw, landing on his back, neck, and head. Clemmons was originally treated bye Doctor's Care after he complained of low back pain radiating to his legs. Initial medical examinations diagnosed him with back strain, radiculopathy,[1] and

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right knee strain. After Clemmons's condition deteriorated, he was referred to Dr. Thomas Armsey of Midlands Orthopedics for further evaluation and treatment.

On November 1, 2010, Dr. Armsey's examination revealed acute ataxia.[2] In his report, Dr. Armsey recorded:

Clemmons and his mother report that he was a perfectly functional 38-year-old male until his work-related accident. Since that time his gait has been severely ataxic, he cannot [412 S.C. 373] dress because of poor balance, [and] has been bed ridden because of his inability to ambulate. He has had multiple falls because of his poor balance which is all reported as beginning September 12, 2010. He has had ventricular shunts[3] placed as a child. . . .
I am concerned about a brainstem or cerebellar lesion, possibly complications from his intraventricular shunts with his recent trauma. I am certain that his ataxia is not coming from his lumbar spine and his right knee has no mechanical abnormalities on clinical exam and therefore his sensation of instability is likely neurologic at the knee as well. I would recommend an immediate neurology or neurosurgery referral. He is essentially wheelchair bound [] and will not return to work until cleared by a neurosurgeon/neurologist.

Dr. Armsey referred Clemmons to Dr. Randall Drye, a neurosurgeon. A neurologic examination revealed Clemmons had normal strength and reflexes, but an MRI showed spinal cord compression from disk herniation. Dr. Drye diagnosed Clemmons with " herniated nucleus pulposus [(herniated disc)] with cord compression and severe myelopathy,[4] C5 and C7."

On November 9, 2010, Clemmons underwent an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion of C5 and C7. After the surgery, Clemmons returned to the hospital complaining of poor sensation and control of his legs, and he was transferred to HealthSouth rehabilitation facility. By November 24, 2010, Clemmons had recovered 90% of normal sensation in his legs with only mild spasticity and reported no issues with pain. In a November 30, 2010 report, Dr. Drye stated:

When we met in the office initially and we garnered his history he clearly reported no prior history of significant neck or neurologic problems prior to a fall at work. This occurred, according to the patient, on 9/12/10 when he slipped on some straw in a trailer and impacted on his back [412 S.C. 374] and the back of his head. This mechanism of injury is completely consistent as the force and flexion of the head and neck can result in a tear in the vulnerable disc and subsequent herniation. . . . Clemmons'[s] condition was perhaps worsened by the fact that he has congenital stenosis of the spine but again by history, he reports no prior symptoms of radicular nature or spinal cord dysfunction. For that reason, I believe that within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, his disc herniations, spinal cord impingement and subsequent myelopathy as well as the intervening surgery were a direct result of his fall at work.

Following his inpatient rehabilitation, Clemmons continued with outpatient physical therapy. After completing physical therapy, Clemmons had " regained relatively normal function in the upper extremities with no major complaints of numbness, tingling or weakness" ; however, mild residual spasticity affected his gait and balance.

On November 30, 2010, Clemmons filed a Form 50, alleging he sustained an injury to his " head, back[,] and legs" as a result of the work-related accident. Lowe's admitted Clemmons sustained a work-related injury to his low back and right knee and agreed to pay Clemmons temporary total disability benefits from the date of the accident until properly terminated. Lowe's, however, denied

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Clemmons suffered an injury to his head or left lower extremity and further denied the extent of Clemmons's injuries.

On February 2, 2011, the parties entered a consent order in which Lowe's agreed to accept the back, neck, and right knee as compensable injuries. Lowe's also agreed to pay Clemmons temporary total disability benefits from the date of the accident until properly terminated due to a finding of maximum medical improvement (MMI), a return to work, or agreement of the parties.

On June 7, 2011, Dr. Drye concluded Clemmons had reached MMI, assigning a 25% whole person impairment " based on [his] injury to the cervical spine including a subsequent fusion and mild myelopathic residual symptoms." Thereafter, Lowe's asked Clemmons to provide a settlement demand pertaining to permanent disability. On September 22, 2011, Clemmons signed a Form 17, indicating he had [412 S.C. 375] returned to work with restrictions but at a salary not less than before the injury. He ...


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