Imagine this: One of your employees complains that a customer’s perfume made her so sick that she needs permanent and total disability benefits. We’re not making this up: It actually happened.
Carol Ervin was an administrative professional at Richland Memorial Hospital in South Carolina. Part of her job was to greet hospital visitors and new patients.
One day she was exposed to perfume worn by a hospital visitor. Ervin claimed that exposure aggravated and exacerbated a preexisting condition (asthma) to such a degree that she became permanently and totally disabled.
The hospital argued this wasn’t a case for workers’ comp benefits because Ervin’s exposure in the workplace was no more than what she experienced in the general environment.
A workers’ comp commissioner who heard her case said Ervin had suffered a compensable injury by an accident arising out of and in the course and scope of her employment because her preexisting condition was aggravated and exacerbated by her job. She was found to be permanently and totally disabled, and her employer was ordered to pay a lump sum award and for related medical treatment for the rest of her life.
However, a workers’ comp Appellate Panel reversed that ruling, which has now been upheld by a trial court and an appeals court.
In the most recent decision by the appeals court, it noted that the South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that for an injury to have arisen out of employment, the hazard has to be unique to the workplace and not common to the general environment.
Since Ervin testified that she had or could have had reactions to perfume at church, the grocery store, a restaurant and department stores, the hazard was exceedingly common, and the injury didn’t arise out of her employment.
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Ervin v. Richland Memorial Hospital, Court of Appeals of SC, No. 4636, 12/8/09.