A developing area of South Carolina workers’ compensation law concerns “repetitive trauma” injuries. Repetitive trauma injuries are injuries that develop over an extended period of time because of the repetitive nature of the job. For example, a typical repetitive trauma injury is carpal tunnel syndrome developing over time from repetitive motion of the hands and wrists. Repetitive trauma injuries are distinguished from injuries “by accident”, in which the claimant suffers an injury on a specific day and time. For example, an injury by accident happens when someone falls, gets hit, or gets cut on the job.
Repetitive trauma injuries have been compensable under the South Carolina workers compensation system for a long time. However, in 2007 the South Carolina legislature enacted a new statute that governs these types of injuries, and several key points have been unclear since then. One of the most contentious issues has been when should an injured worker know that their pain may be work-related, giving rise to the requirement to put their employer on notice of a potential workers’ compensation claim.
In a recent case, the South Carolina Court of Appeals shed some light on this issue. Murphy v. Owens Corning, No. 4807 (March 9, 2011). In this case, the claimant Murphy worked in a factory for around 11 years at a position where she continually had to stoop over and look up over her head. She first reported back pain to her family doctor in 2004. When in 2007 her doctor suggested that the condition may be work related, she told her employer the same day. The Court of Appeals held that despite the employer’s assertion that they should have been given notice of the claimant’s condition back in 2004, the claimant complied with the notice statute because she could not have known that her condition may be a workers’ compensation claim until the day of that 2007 doctor visit.