The Appellate Panel of the Workers’ Compensation Commission mischaracterized the medical evidence of causation and ignored other evidence that the smoke-inhalation injury, which the decedent-deputy suffered during three 12-hour shifts at a massive fire, was a proximate cause of his death.
We reverse the Appellate Panel’s decision, which overturned the single commissioner’s award of death benefits.
The Appellate Panel read equivocal testimony from the deputy’s treating physician to mean that it would be speculative to conclude that smoke inhalation was the proximate cause of his death. The Appellate Panel mischaracterized the treating physician’s testimony. Other physicians then relied on his mischaracterization in responding to questions during their own depositions.
In addition to dismissing certain circumstantial evidence as “speculative” or categorizing it as “no evidence,” the Appellate Panel failed to recognize that circumstantial evidence may be used to prove causation.
The Appellate Panel did not lack a causation opinion. Despite this, it reached its own proximate cause conclusion based on an erroneous mischaracterization of the medical and circumstantial evidence.
The State of South Carolina, Horry County, and national law enforcement organizations recognized the deputy as having died in the line of duty. Horry County Coroner Robert Edge, Jr., testified he amended the deputy’s death certificate to change the manner of death from “natural” to “accidental” after reviewing Dr. William Largen’s Medical University of South Carolina death summary noting the deputy ‘s “smoke inhalation injury.” No physician has requested that Coroner Edge correct the death certificate as to the deputy’s manner of death.
Finally, Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson testified before the single commissioner that he met with the deputy at the start of his first shift working the Carolina Forest fire perimeter, and the deputy “seemed fine, seemed well,” with no coughing, sneezing, or redness in his eyes.
The deference required by our standard of review does not require us to ignore the Appellate Panel’s mischaracterization of the medical evidence. Our review of the Appellate Panel’s order—in conjunction with the medical records, deposition transcripts, live testimony, and submitted expert opinions—convinces us that substantial evidence does not support the Appellate Panel’s findings, most notably, its statement that “[n]o opinion of any doctor who actually treated [the deputy] supports a finding that [the deputy] sustained any injury due to his alleged smoke exposure.”
Causey v. Horry County (Lawyers Weekly No. 012-008-22, 12 pp.) (Stephanie McDonald, J.) (Thomas Huff, J., concurring in result only without separate opinion) Substituted opinion. Appealed from the Workers’ Compensation Commission. Francis Humphries, William Henry Monckton and Allison Paige Sullivan for appellant; Roy Allen Howell and Kirsten Leslie Barr for respondents. S.C. App. Unpub.