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Hartzell v. Palmetto Collision, LLC, Opinion

Supreme Court of South Carolina

April 13, 2016

Richard A. Hartzell, Employee, Petitioner,
v.
Palmetto Collision, LLC, Employer and South Carolina Worker's Compensation Uninsured Employer's Fund, Respondents

         Heard October 8, 2015.

          Appeal from The Workers' Compensation Commission. Appellate Case No. 2013-002611.

         Kerry W. Koon, of Charleston, for Petitioner.

         Kirsten Leslie Barr, of Trask & Howell, LLC, of Mount Pleasant, and Lisa C. Glover, of Columbia, both for Respondents.

         ACTING JUSTICE TOAL. PLEICONES, C.J., BEATTY, KITTREDGE and HEARN, JJ., concur.

          OPINION

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

         TOAL, ACTING JUSTICE.

         Richard Hartzell (Petitioner) appeals the court of appeals' decision reversing the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission's (the Commission) determination that he was entitled to medical benefits for a work-related back injury. See Hartzell v. Palmetto Collision, L.L.C., 406 S.C. 233, 750 S.E.2d 97 (Ct.App. 2013). We reverse and remand.

         Factual/Procedural History

         In February 2009, Petitioner, who was fifty years old at the time, worked as an auto body paint technician for Palmetto Collision, LLC (Employer). According to Petitioner, on or around February 25, 2009, he injured his back while moving tires, rims, and heavy frame equipment while cleaning Employer's shop. Petitioner testified that he began experiencing lower back pain sometime in the late afternoon after completing the work, and felt very sore in his lower back the next day.

         Petitioner testified that the day after the alleged injury, he told Employer's owner, Mike Stallings, that he was " pretty sore," and that he " must have hurt [himself]." According to Petitioner, Stallings suggested that Petitioner go to the emergency room if he was having problems. Petitioner did not seek any medical treatment at that time. Because business was slow, Petitioner ended his employment with Employer on March 20, 2009. Although Petitioner testified that he and Stallings discussed his back injury during the " last couple of weeks" during which he worked for Employer, he admitted that after ending his employment with Employer, he never further discussed his back injury or requested medical treatment from Employer.

         Petitioner filed a workers' compensation claim on May 10, 2010, alleging a partial permanent injury to his back on approximately February 25, 2009, while moving an auto frame machine. Employer denied Petitioner's workers' compensation claim, alleging, inter alia, that Petitioner failed to provide notice of his injury as required by section 42-15-20 of the South Carolina Code. See S.C. Code Ann. § 42-15-20 (2015).

         Commissioner Andrea Roche (the Single Commissioner) held a hearing on July 12, 2011. At the hearing, Stallings testified that Petitioner's Form 50 constituted the first notice he received that Petitioner was alleging a work-related injury. Stallings stated that he had no recollection of the conversation after Petitioner's alleged back injury in which Petitioner claimed that Stallings told him to go to the emergency room if he had injured his back. Stallings did not deny that the conversation occurred, only that it did not " ring a bell." Stallings also stated that Petitioner never mentioned his back injury after Petitioner stopped working for Employer.

         The Single Commissioner issued an order finding that Employer was subject to the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) and that Petitioner sustained an injury by accident to his back while cleaning Employer's shop. As to the notice issue, the Single Commissioner found that Petitioner " timely reported the injury" to Stallings. The Single Commissioner therefore found that Petitioner was entitled to " medical, surgical, and other authorized treatment[,]" and ordered a medical evaluation of Petitioner to determine: (1) whether he was at maximum medical improvement (MMI); and (2) ...


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