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Foran v. Murphy USA

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

June 14, 2017

Jenna Foran, Employee, Appellant,
Murphy USA, Employer, and Liberty Insurance Corporation, Carrier, Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2015-001606

          Heard February 8, 2017

         Appeal From The Workers' Compensation Commission

          C. Scott Masel, of Newby Sartip Masel & Casper, LLC, of Myrtle Beach, for Appellant.

          Anne Veatch Noonan, of Willson Jones Carter & Baxley, P.A., of Mount Pleasant, and John Gabriel Coggiola, of Willson Jones Carter & Baxley, P.A., of Columbia, both for Respondents.

          MCDONALD, J.

         This is a workers' compensation case arising from injuries Jenna Foran suffered while stocking cigarettes at a convenience store. Foran appeals the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission's denial of compensation, arguing the Commission erred in finding her injury was an idiopathic fall not compensable as an "injury by accident arising out of and in the course of [her] employment." S.C. Code Ann. § 42-1-160(A) (2015). We reverse and remand.


         Foran began working as a cashier for Murphy Oil in December 2013. She alleges that on April 29, 2014, she stood up after kneeling down to stock cigarettes and misstepped on the edge of a floor mat behind the cash register. Foran claims her left ankle rolled on the uneven surface, causing her to suffer torn ligaments and requiring surgery.

         At a hearing before the single commissioner, Respondents argued Foran suffered an idiopathic injury due to a pre-existing instability of her left ankle. Foran admitted she had surgery on her left ankle in 2004[1] but claimed that after the surgery, her left ankle healed and she had no physical limitations. She testified that following her surgery, she worked as a cashier and lifeguard and also played volleyball and softball. Foran denied complaining about left ankle pain prior to her injury and recalled describing the injury to her supervisor, who stated she would need to inform the store manager, Randolph Stokes Rogers. Rogers testified that before her injury, Foran walked with a noticeable limp and complained multiple times about having a "bad ankle." However, he admitted no physical limitations precluded Foran from performing any of her job duties. Rogers claimed he did not hear about a mat causing Foran's injury until a few weeks before trial and said Foran told him "she was stocking cigarettes and when she went to get up her ankle kind of gave way."

         Medical records from the day of Foran's injury documented that it occurred "when she stood up and may have caught on a mat twisting her left ankle-since then it is painful to bear weight on it." Dr. John Daly, at Doctors Care, noted Foran's x-rays indicated "[t]here may have been prior internal fixation, [but] no acute fracture [was] evident." After the Murphy Oil injury, Foran required work restrictions "due to an acute injury."

         The notes of Dr. Ross Taylor at Coastal Orthopedics reflect Foran "admit[ted] to having complete loss of sensation distal to the mid cap area since her previous surgery" and "this [was] not related to her most recent injury." Dr. Taylor concluded Foran's "left ankle [was] grossly unstable and the previous repair ruptured at the time of her most recent injury in all likelihood." Dr. Taylor's report further indicated Foran's pain "began when she was at work after slipping and falling." After reviewing the store surveillance video from the time of her injury and inspecting the mat, the single commissioner determined Foran's injury was idiopathic and not caused or aggravated by her work or any special risk posed by her employment. The single commissioner concluded the video showed Foran standing at the register with both feet forward when her left ankle rolled and noted (1) Foran's description of the accident differed from what the video depicted; (2) Rogers testified Foran never told him the mat caused her fall and he only learned this two weeks before the hearing date; (3) Rogers testified Foran walked with a "significant and noticeable limp on the left side prior to April 29, 2014"; and (4) a medical report indicated Foran reported her left ankle pain began after she slipped and fell but did not describe slipping on a mat.

         The Appellate Panel affirmed the single commissioner's order based on Foran's chronic left ankle instability, the surveillance video, Foran's testimony, and Rogers's testimony.


         "[W]orkers' compensation [statutes are] to be liberally construed in favor of coverage in order to serve the beneficent purpose of the [Workers' Compensation] Act; only exceptions and restrictions on coverage are to be strictly construed." James v. Anne's Inc., 390 S.C. 188, 198, 701 S.E.2d 730, 735 (2010). "An appellate court can reverse or modify the [Appellate Panel]'s decision if it is affected by an error of law or is clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence in the whole record." Pierre v. Seaside Farms, Inc., 386 S.C. 534, 540, 689 S.E.2d 615, 618 (2010). "Substantial evidence is 'not a mere scintilla of evidence nor the evidence viewed blindly from one side of the case, but is evidence which, considering the record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion that [the commission] reached or must have reached' to ...

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