Where the claimant presented medical evidence establishing a causal connection between his injuries and the “condition under which the work is performed,” as required by S.C. Code Ann. § 42-1-172(D), the Workers’ Compensation Commission erred by adding a new requirement “that the Commission find by a preponderance of the evidence that the claimant’s specific job activities are repetitive.”
We reverse the Commission’s denial of benefits and remand for calculation of benefits.
The claimant worked driving a “switcher truck,” moving trailers to various locations. The job required climbing, stooping, bending and twisting to switch 45 to 60 trailers each 12-hour shift, sometimes getting in and out of the truck 225 times. He developed pain in his back and legs and was diagnosed with right lower extremity radiculopathy secondary to an L4-L5 lumbar disk protrusion.
His doctor said “yes” when asked (1) whether the repetitive activities of the claimant’s job most probably caused low back pain with right leg radiculopathy and (2) whether the work injuries from repeated work activities caused an L4-5 protrusion.
The employer presented an ergonomics report that opined the claimant’s job duties entailed no enhanced risk of injury to his back. The Commission relied on this report to deny benefits.
The single commissioner applied Murphy v. Owens Corning, 393 S.C. 77, 710 S.E.2d 454 (Ct. App. 2011), and awarded benefits. In reversing the single commissioner’s award, the Full Commission found that § 42-1-172 requires “a two-part analysis a claimant must meet in order to meet his burden of proving a compensable repetitive trauma injury.”
The Commission went on to describe the two-part test: “First, there must be medical evidence establishing a causal connection between the ‘condition under which the work is performed and the injury.’ § 42-1-172(D). Additionally, there is an independent requirement that the Commissioner find by a preponderance of evidence that the claimant’s specific job activities are repetitive. § 42-1-172(B).”
The two-part test announced by the Full Commission is unfaithful to Murphy and misreads § 42–1–172.
In drafting § 42-1-172, the General Assembly understood that medical doctors are capable of diagnosing the cause of an injury. Doctors do not require, any more than the statute does, an ergonomics report to diagnose the cause of a repetitive trauma injury. The Full Commission therefore committed an error of law in adding an improper, redundant condition to § 42-1-172.
The Full Commission also committed a clear error in finding the ergonomics report concluded the claimant’s job duties were not repetitive. The report makes no such statement and does not even use the word “repetitive.”
A fair reading of the report reveals it merely opined Brooks’ duties did not, in general, expose him to an enhanced risk of injury to his back or legs. Recovery under § 42-1-172 is not limited to work injuries that an ergonomics report deems statistically likely.
It is obvious the Full Commission substituted the opinion of the ergonomics report for the considered medical opinion, made to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, of Dr. Eric Loudermilk. This was reversible error.
While the Commission may refuse to accept even uncontradicted medical evidence, it must base its refusal on a valid reason supported by competent evidence in the record. Otherwise, the refusal is arbitrary and capricious and warrants reversal.
The ergonomic report was not competent evidence of causation in this § 42-1-172 case. Therefore, because all of the competent evidence supports the claimant’s claim, the claimant is entitled to compensation as a matter of law.
Reversed and remanded.
Brooks v. Benore Logistics System, Inc. (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-006-22, 8 pp.) (Garrison Hill, J.) Appealed from the Workers’ Compensation Commission. Robert Usry for appellant; Daniel Barry Eller and William Franklin Childers for respondents. S.C. App.