Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Respondent Otis Nero filed a workers' compensation claim alleging he sustained injuries to his back and shoulder while on the job. The single commissioner found respondent suffered an injury by accident arising out of and in the course of respondent's employment, and awarded benefits. The appellate panel reversed the decision of the single commissioner, finding respondent failed to provide timely notice of the injury. On appeal from the commission's decision, the court of appeals employed the de novo standard of review applicable to jurisdictional questions, and reversed the commission. In finding the question of timely notice was a jurisdictional question subject to de novo review, the court of appeals relied on Shatto v. McLeod Regional Medical Center, 753 S.E.2d 416 (2013) and Mintz v. Fiske-Carter Construction Co., 63 S.E.2d 50 (1951). The South Carolina Supreme Court found neither Shatto nor Mintz supported the court of appeals' use of the de novo standard. Until this case, the court of appeals consistently applied the substantial evidence standard when reviewing decisions of the commission on the question of timely notice. The Supreme Court found that under well-settled law, the commission's determination of whether a claimant gave timely notice under section 42-15-20 was not a jurisdictional determination, and had to be reviewed on appeal under the substantial evidence standard. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded for a decision under the proper standard of review. View "Nero v. SCDOT" on Justia Law

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The court of appeals affirmed a jury verdict for Jacklyn Donevant in her wrongful termination action against the Town of Surfside Beach, finding her cause of action fit within the public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Donevant was fired because she carried out her mandatory responsibility under the law to enforce the provisions of the South Carolina building code. Donevant discovered unpermitted construction work she determined to be in violation of the building code, and she issued a stop work order. She was fired a few days later. The Town appealed, contending the court of appeals misinterpreted the "public policy exception." The South Carolina Supreme Court determined the Town misinterpreted the public policy exception: "Donevant was enforcing the building code and therefore enforcing a clear mandate of public policy when she issued the stop-work order. ... Under the circumstances of this case, firing Donevant for carrying out her mandatory responsibility to enforce the building code violates public policy." View "Donevant v. Town of Surfside Beach" on Justia Law

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The court of appeals affirmed a jury verdict for Jacklyn Donevant in her wrongful termination action against the Town of Surfside Beach, finding her cause of action fit within the public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Donevant was fired because she carried out her mandatory responsibility under the law to enforce the provisions of the South Carolina building code. Donevant discovered unpermitted construction work she determined to be in violation of the building code, and she issued a stop work order. She was fired a few days later. The Town appealed, contending the court of appeals misinterpreted the "public policy exception." The South Carolina Supreme Court determined the Town misinterpreted the public policy exception: "Donevant was enforcing the building code and therefore enforcing a clear mandate of public policy when she issued the stop-work order. ... Under the circumstances of this case, firing Donevant for carrying out her mandatory responsibility to enforce the building code violates public policy." View "Donevant v. Town of Surfside Beach" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Henton Clemmons, Jr. injured his back and neck while working at Lowe's Home Center and brought a claim for disability benefits under the scheduled-member statute of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act (the Act). Although all the medical evidence indicated Clemmons had lost fifty percent or more of the use of his back, the Workers' Compensation Commission awarded him permanent partial disability based upon a forty-eight percent impairment to his back. The court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed, holding the Commission's finding of only forty-eight percent loss of use was not supported by substantial evidence. View "Clemmons v. Lowe's Home Centers" on Justia Law

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Respondent Walter Smith was injured in December 2012 following a motor vehicle accident. Smith settled with respondent Corbett Mizzell for the policy limits of Mizzell's liability coverage in exchange for a covenant not to execute. Smith then sued Appellants Norman Tiffany, Individually, Brown Trucking Company and Brown Integrated Logistics, claiming Appellants' negligence was a proximate cause of the accident. The issue before the South Carolina Supreme Court stemmed from Appellants' efforts to have Mizzell added as a defendant. In the South Carolina Contribution Among Joint Tortfeasors Act (Act), the legislature abrogated pure joint and several liability for tortfeasors who were less than fifty percent at fault. The Act directed the fact-finder to apportion one-hundred percent of the fault between the plaintiff and "each defendant whose actions were the proximate cause of the indivisible injury." The trial court rejected Appellants' various arguments and, in granting Mizzell summary judgment, applied the Act as written. In affirming the trial court, the Supreme Court was “likewise constrained by the plain meaning of the unambiguous language in the Act. While we appreciate the equity-driven argument of Appellants, we must honor legislative intent as clearly expressed in the Act, lest we run afoul of separation of powers.” View "Smith v. Tiffany" on Justia Law

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Defendant Carus Corp. (Carus) was an international company that developed and sold chemical products for municipal and industrial applications. Defendant's products included a chemical called Totalox, which essentially, was designed as a deodorizer for sewer systems. The Town of Lexington (Town) used Totalox in its sewer treatment plants. In 2010, Plaintiff John Machin, a Town employee, was exposed to Totalox when a storage container valve broke during the delivery of Totalox to one of the Town's wastewater stations. Plaintiff suffered reactive airways syndrome, which was also known as chemically induced asthma or obstructive lung disease. As a result of his injuries, Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim and was awarded workers' compensation benefits. The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted four certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina: (1) Under South Carolina law, when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the jury hear an explanation of why the employer is not part of the instant action?; (2) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may a defendant argue the empty chair defense and suggest that Plaintiff's employer is the wrongdoer?; (3) In connection with Question 2, if a defendant retains the right to argue the empty chair defense against Plaintiff's employer, may a court instruct the jury that an employer's legal responsibility has been determined by another forum, specifically, the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission?; and (4) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the Court allow the jury to apportion fault against the nonparty employer by placing the name of the employer on the verdict form? The South Carolina Supreme Court answered these questions in the abstract, without any suggestion as to the resolution of the post-trial motion before the federal court: Questions 1, 2, and 3 "yes," provided a defense seeks to assign fault to the plaintiff's employer. The Court answered Question 4, "no." View "Machin v. Carus Corporation" on Justia Law

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Petitioner LeAndra Lewis sought workers' compensation benefits for injuries she suffered following a shooting in a night club operated by L.B. Dynasty. In a previous opinion, the South Carolina Supreme Court held Lewis was an employee of L.B. Dynasty, entitling her to workers' compensation benefits. The Court remanded the matter to the court of appeals to review the commission's order awarding benefits to Lewis. Ultimately, the court of appeals affirmed the commission's award of $75 per week. Lewis appealed, arguing the court of appeals erred in holding the commission's findings were supported by substantial evidence. The Supreme Court agreed, and remanded this case back to the commission for a de novo hearing to determine the amount of benefits to which Lewis is entitled. View "Lewis v. L.B. Dynasty" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Henton Clemmons, Jr. injured his back and neck while working at Lowe's Home Center in Columbia. Although all the medical evidence indicated Clemmons had lost more than fifty percent of the use of his back, the Workers' Compensation Commission awarded him only permanent partial disability. The court of appeals affirmed. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether a claimant's ability to work could affect his entitlement to disability benefits under the scheduled-member statute of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act (the Act). The Court reversed and held evidence of a claimant's ability to hold gainful employment alone cannot preclude a determination of permanent disability under the scheduled-member statute. View "Clemmons v. Lowe's Home Centers" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Nathalie Davaut appealed the denial of her claim for workers' compensation benefits for injuries she sustained attempting to leave her workplace. To reach her car, which was in a university lot provided for faculty and student parking, Petitioner was required to cross Hubbard Drive (the Street), which bisected University of South Carolina Lancaster's (USCL) campus. While crossing the Street, Petitioner was struck by a vehicle and injured. It was undisputed that the Street and the crosswalks that spanned it are not owned or controlled by the University of South Carolina (USC); rather, they were maintained and controlled by the City of Lancaster. However, it was also undisputed that both the library (where Petitioner had been working) and the parking lot (where Petitioner was headed) belonged to USC. Petitioner sought workers' compensation benefits from her employer and its insurer, State Accident Fund (collectively, Respondents). Respondents, relying on the going and coming rule, denied Petitioner's injuries were compensable, on the basis Petitioner was injured away from USC's property. Petitioner claimed that because she was injured while traveling from one portion of USC's property to another, the Panel erred in denying her relief. The court of appeals disagreed and upheld the Workers' Compensation Commission's denial of coverage. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and held that when an employee crosses from one portion of her employer's property to another over a reasonably necessary and direct route, the employee remains in the course of her employment for purposes of workers' compensation. View "Davaut v. Univ. of So. Carolina" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Thomas Hilton suffered an admittedly compensable injury as the result of an insect or spider bite. The present dispute centered on whether he required further medical treatment to reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). The single commissioner agreed with Hilton on the merits, finding he had not reached MMI, and further that any misrepresentations he had made during the life of his claim were a result of a serious cognitive deficit from a previous brain injury. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari to review an order of the Court of Appeals dismissing Hilton's appeal of an admittedly interlocutory order of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission's Appellate Panel (the Commission). Hilton argued the Commission's interlocutory order vacating and remanding the Workers' Compensation Commission's single commissioner's order was immediately appealable pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A) (Supp. 2015). The Supreme Court agreed, under these unusual facts, that review of the final agency decision would not provide Hilton with an adequate remedy, and he was therefore entitled to an immediate appeal. Determining whether review of the final agency decision would give Hilton an adequate remedy required the Court to reach the underlying merits of the Commission's order, and since it concluded that the order could not stand, the Court of Appeals' order was vacated and the case remanded back to the Commission. View "Hilton v. Flakeboard America Limited" on Justia Law