Operator fails to establish compensable physical brain injury
Case name: Sparks v. Palmetto Hardwood, Inc., No. 27229 (S.C. 05/22/13).
Ruling: The South Carolina Supreme Court held that an operator was not entitled to benefits for his alleged physical brain damage.
What it means: In South Carolina, physical brain damage that is not subject to the 500-week limitation on disability benefits must be severe and permanent as a result of a compensable injury.
Summary: A saw operator suffered two work-related injuries to his lower back. In another incident, he was struck in the head by a piece of metal that he was trying to remove from under a saw. The operator sought workers' compensation for his injuries, including a physical brain injury. The South Carolina Supreme Court held that he did not suffer physical brain damage.
A worker who suffered a physical brain damage is not subject to a 500-week limitation on total disability benefits and will receive benefits for life. Only two other conditions, paraplegia and quadriplegia, are listed as exceptions to the 500-week limitation. The court explained that both of these conditions are severe, permanent physical impairments. Therefore, the court implied that the legislature meant to require severe, permanent impairment of normal brain function in order for an injured worker to be deemed physically brain damaged.
The court also explained that restricting physical brain damage to severe permanent damage was consistent with the purpose of workers' compensation to provide minimal compensation. The court declined to impose a requirement that the damage be proved through an objective diagnostic medium, since some physical brain damage might not be revealed by diagnostic instruments that could detect only gross physical abnormalities. The court also concluded that the legislature intended physical brain damage to be permanent and continuing to have effect in the present.
Here, the operator did not sustain physical brain damage. Doctors disagreed regarding whether he suffered a physical brain injury. He did not show that he was dazed and confused after his head injury or suffered nausea, vomiting, cognitive impairments, or post-concussive headaches.
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August 26, 2013
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