Change in condition claim by Charleston County School District employee remanded

By Dawn Geske | Apr 4, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Legal Newsline) - The decision barring a change in condition claim in a case of a school employee injured during a student fight has been reversed and remanded by the South Carolina Court of Appeals.

Sara Wilson filed a claim for disability with the Charleston County School District, where she was employed as a data entry clerk. On May 6, 2006, she was a bystander in a fight that occurred between two students at the school. During the altercation, she was pinned against a marble counter and suffered an injury to her neck and back.

On Aug. 9, 2006, Wilson filed a claim for disability stating she was permanently disabled. On Nov. 29, 2007, the single commissioner ruled she had a “45 percent disability to her back due to cervical and lumbar injuries,” according to court documents. The last payment for compensation occurred on Jan. 25, 2008.

On Jan. 6, 2009, Wilson claimed a change of condition as she was allegedly suffering from depression as a result of her back injury. She filed another claim requesting a hearing on the change of condition on March 29, 2011.

According to court documents, Wilson claimed during the hearing that she was in so much pain, “she did not want to get up in the morning.” She also claimed this affected her social life and that she was taking anxiety medication, which began after her husband’s death. Wilson stated her depression has gotten progressively worse after her back injury, requiring her to seek care from Dr. Samuel H. Rosen, a psychiatrist.

In the appeal, it was noted that Rosen testified that while Wilson suffered from anxiety and depression for several years, she did not present to have endogenous depression until after her injury which “either exacerbated or cause a new episode to begin.” According to Rosen, endogenous depression is characterized by a lack of sleep, loss of appetite, low energy and trouble concentrating, as well as other symptoms.

The single commission found Wilson had proven her change in condition due to the incident, to which the school district quickly appealed. The appellate panel of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission reserved, stating Wilson had not satisfactorily proven her change in condition. The panel maintained in court documents that “the doctrine of res judicata barred Wilson from asserting her psychological claim.”

Wilson appealed the panel’s decision, arguing it erred in its ruling of res judicata because she did not previously suffer from endogenous depression until after she was injured at work. She also argued the panel was wrong in its finding that her depression had to have gotten worse between January 2008 and January 2009 to be considered.

The Appeals Court of South Carolina ruled the panel did indeed err in its ruling, noting that it failed to take into account Wilson’s depression claim as part of her change of condition. The appeals court remanded the case to the panel for further consideration regarding the change in Wilson’s condition.

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