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Harrison v. Owen Steel Co., Inc.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

January 10, 2018

Robert L. Harrison, Employee, Appellant,
v.
Owen Steel Company, Inc., Employer, and Old Republic Insurance Company c/o Gallagher Bassett Services, Inc., Carrier, Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2015-002093

          Heard October 3, 2017

         Appeal From The Workers' Compensation Commission

          Frank Anthony Barton, of West Columbia, for Appellant.

          Jason Wendell Lockhart, of McAngus, Goudelock & Courie, LLC, of Columbia, and Helen F. Hiser, of McAngus, Goudelock & Courie, LLC, of Mount Pleasant, for Respondents.

          OPINION

          GEATHERS, J.

         Robert Harrison, an employee of Owen Steel Company, appeals the decision of the Appellate Panel of the Workers' Compensation Commission (Appellate Panel) denying his claim for compensation for injuries sustained from an admitted workplace accident occurring on September 17, 2008. Harrison argues the Appellate Panel erred in finding his claim was barred by the doctrine of laches and the occurrence of intervening accidents. We affirm.

         FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In September 2008, Harrison suffered an admitted workplace injury to his neck while working for Owen Steel Company as a gantry welder. Harrison indicated he had neck pain that radiated behind his left shoulder blade down his left arm to his elbow. Owen Steel provided medical treatment through Dr. Thomas Holbrook, who performed a cervical-spine fusion at C5-C6 in November 2009. After the surgery, Harrison returned to work on light duty.

         Harrison was then involved in a motorcycle accident in April 2010. As a result of the accident, Harrison suffered a left clavicle fracture and abrasions to the left side of his head, right arm and palm, and both knees. However, the emergency room doctor's notes indicate Harrison denied having pain in his head or neck.

         In July 2010, Dr. Holbrook released Harrison at Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) with a fifty-pound lifting restriction and "a 25% impairment to the whole person." Dr. Holbrook's notes indicate Harrison was doing well and had no radicular arm pain but, going forth, might occasionally experience some discomfort that could be relieved with aspirin. Harrison returned to work full time as a welder.

         Dr. Donald Johnson performed an independent medical evaluation of Harrison in September 2010. Dr. Johnson noted Harrison had returned to work as a welder and observed Harrison had degenerative changes to his spine above the cervical fusion, specifically C3-C4 and C4-C5. On September 29, similar to Dr. Holbrook, Dr. Johnson believed Harrison had reached MMI and assigned him a 25% impairment rating to the whole person.

         In early October 2010, Harrison reinjured his neck at work. The doctor's notes from the emergency room visit state that Harrison lifted a fifty-pound roll of wire and felt a sharp pain in his neck that "radiated down to his upper back and down his left arm." Dr. Raymond Sweet examined Harrison a month after Harrison's second workplace injury. Dr. Sweet knew of Harrison's previous surgery by Dr. Holbrook. Dr. Sweet noted Harrison stated he had never completely recovered and still had pain in his left arm that was getting worse. At a follow-up visit two weeks later, Dr. Sweet reevaluated Harrison and recommended against a posterior fusion, further noting that Harrison was experiencing reduced neck pain and no arm pain. Dr. Sweet released Harrison at MMI with a 15% whole-person impairment and allowed Harrison to return to work with a restriction not to lift more than thirty pounds.

         Harrison returned to work on light duty, working in the tool room for the entirety of 2011. During that time, Harrison filed a workers' compensation claim for his 2010 workplace injury. Owen Steel settled the claim in August 2011 for $42, 193.63. Sometime near the end of 2011, Harrison transitioned back to work as a welder.

         In February 2012, Harrison suffered another injury while picking up his young daughter, who had fallen off of a porch. As a result of the injury, Harrison went to Doctors Express. The records from that visit indicate Harrison's chief complaint was neck pain. Harrison had a follow-up visit with Dr. Holbrook a month later. Dr. Holbrook's notes indicate Harrison complained of pain in his neck and right arm that ...


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