Opinion from the South Carolina Court of Appeals

Court of AppealsThe South Carolina Court of Appeals published an opinion in Russell v. Wal-Mart Stores.

Paula Russell appealed  this workers’ compensation action against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and American Home Assurance arguing the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission erred in (1) requiring a change of condition to be established by objective evidence; (2) ruling substantial evidence existed to deny a change of condition; and (3) finding Russell’s statements were self-serving and conclusory.

Russell worked as an assistant store manager for Walmart when she hurt her back and pelvis lifting something in the course of her employment. Due to her pregnancy at the time, her treatment did not include diagnostic testing and her treatment was very conservative. After her pregnancy, an MRI scan wad done and  her doctor determined no surgery was required. Russell continued to work at Walmart with a lifting restriction. Medial records indicated Russell was diagnosed with back strain and had degenerative disc disease. A single commissioner awarded 7% permanent partial disability. A few months later, Russell filed a Form 50, alleging a change of  condition for her back that now required surgery. Additionally, she requested to be transferred to a Walmart closer to home because she found the hour commute drive to be too difficult. Instead of honoring her request, Walmart terminated her. The commissioner found Russell’s testimony persuasive and approved a change of condition ordering Walmart to provide medical care and temporary total disability benefits.

However, the full commission reversed the single commissioner finding Russell’s testimony to be conclusory and self-serving. The Commission found Russell was unable to establish (1) she suffered any new complaints; (2) when her condition worsened; and (3) that her need for surgery was new or occurred after the original award.

This Court reversed and remanded on the commission’s finding stating that the Commission erred in requiring Russell to establish her claim for a change of condition by objective evidence. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded to the Commission.

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