A worker who was injured when he tried to stop his runaway work truck can’t collect permanent disability benefits since he could resume normal job duties after returning to work, an appeals court recently found.
The South Carolina Court of Appeals found the worker performed the same job duties as before with no restrictions for nine months after he was injured, so he was unable to collect permanent disability benefits.
Dragged 30 feet
Freddie Tarver worked in water maintenance for Beech Island Rural Community in Aiken County, South Carolina from 1986 until his retirement in March 2015.
On April 15, 2014, Tarver parked his company truck and got out to read a meter. The truck began to roll down a hill and Tarver attempted to stop it. He was dragged about 30 feet and sustained injuries to his back, pelvis and teeth. He couldn’t get up off the ground, was in extreme pain and was bleeding. An ambulance transported him to a local hospital, which transferred him to another hospital for specialized trauma care.
Tarver was diagnosed with various fractures in his pelvis and spine, along with anemia from blood loss. Doctors initially thought Tarver would require surgery, but they later determined it was unnecessary and discharged him three days after the incident.
Retired with no reason given
For the next two months, Tarver had physical therapy and received temporary total disability benefits. He returned to work on July 10, 2014, but was exhausted and in pain after returning home from working his shifts.
Tarver continued to work in the same capacity as he did before he was injured and without any medical restrictions, although he reported to his doctors that he was regularly in pain by the end of his shift.
On March 27, 2015, Tarver retired with no reason given to Beech Island. He continued to suffer from back and other pain and saw a number of different doctors for treatment. The doctors and two vocational rehabilitation specialists couldn’t agree on whether Tarver was permanently and totally disabled.
He never asked for light-duty work
Tarver filed for permanent total disability on Dec. 31, 2015. The state’s Workers’ Compensation Appellate Panel granted additional benefits, but not permanent total disability benefits. The panel noted both:
- Tarver’s admission that he had no physician’s excuse writing him out of work, and
- the testimony of Tarver’s immediate supervisor who testified that he’d have given Tarver a light-duty job if he’d have asked.
The panel also found that Tarver returned to full-time regular duty employment on July 10, 2014, and continued working in that capacity until he voluntarily retired in March 2015. The conflicting vocational assessments occurred after he’d been back at work for almost a year and almost two years after he was injured.
Substantial evidence he wasn’t permanently disabled
On appeal with the South Carolina Court of Appeals, Tarver argued the panel erred in denying his claim for permanent total disability because his injuries rendered him unable to work at the full-time heavy labor he performed his entire career.
The appeals court upheld the panel’s decision, finding there was substantial evidence proving Tarver wasn’t permanently and totally disabled as a result of his injuries. In its decision, the appeals court pointed out that:
- Tarver returned to work two months after his incident and worked for nine months with the same job duties, crew and supervisor he’d had before he was injured
- although he experienced pain at the end of his shift, Tarver admitted it was only at the end of the work day
- Tarver didn’t give any reasons for retiring when he turned in his retirement notice, and
- no doctor gave Tarver work restrictions, other than during the two-month period when he was out of work completely.