COLUMBIA, S.C. - In clearing up a Workers' Compensation issue, the South Carolina Supreme Court decided one of the state's circuit courts tried to get a little too fancy with the law.
Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled an individual hoping to receive Workers' Compensation benefits must provide the Workers' Compensation Commission with notice of a civil action against a third party within 30 days of filing it.
The decision modified a ruling made by Beaufort Circuit Judge Curtis Coltrane in Christine Callahan's case. Callahan worked at Battery Creek High School and filed a claim for injuries from exposure to chemicals in Nov. 2002.
In Jan. 2003, she filed an action against a third party, Tech Clean Industries, that alleged the same injuries. However, she did not provide the Workers' Compensation Commission with notice that she had done so until July 2003.
The Commission denied her request for Workers' Comp benefits because it had not received proper notice, as is required by state law. Coltrane, though, thought he'd found an exception.
"We find the circuit court erred by excusing compliance with the statute based on the 'equitable adjustment of the rights of all the parties,'" Justice Costa Pleicones wrote in the unanimous opinion. "Even though the employer had not lost its right of subrogation against the potentially responsible third party, the statutory provision mandates notice to the employer, carrier and Commission within 30 days of filing the third-party suit.
"It was improper for the circuit court to conduct an equity analysis to carve an exception to the workers' compensation notice requirement."
Callahan decided to drop the third-party suit in order to receive Workers' Compensation benefits, then re-filed it with proper notice to the Commission.
The justices are not yet worried about the validity of the new third-party claim.
"We offer no opinion on the efficacy of this re-filing," Pleicones wrote.