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24982 - Anthony Sharpe v. Case Produce, Inc. et al.

Shearouse Adv. Sh. No. 26
S.E. 2d

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA

In The Supreme Court

Anthony Sharpe, Respondent,

v.

Case Produce, Inc., d/b/a

Case Produce Co., Inc.

and S.C. Workers'

Compensation

Uninsured Employers'

Fund, Petitioners.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF

APPEALS

Appeal From Richland County

William P. Keesley, Circuit Court Judge

Opinion No. 24982

Heard June 8, 1999 - Filed August 2, 1999

REVERSED

Robert T. Williams, Sr., of Williams, Hendrix,

Steigner & Brink, P.A., of Lexington, for respondent.

Ajerenal Danley, of Columbia, and W.T. Geddings, of

Manning, for petitioners.





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Sharpe v. Case Produce, Inc. et al.





WALLER, A.J.: We granted a writ of certiorari to review the Court of

Appeals' opinion in Sharpe v. Case Produce Company, 329 S.C. 534,495 S.E.2d

790 (Ct. App. 1997). We reverse.





FACTS



Sharpe worked for Case Produce packing and delivering cases of

tomatoes. He filed a Workers' Compensation claim, alleging he had been

injured in the course and scope of his employment. According to Sharpe's

testimony, on Thursday, July 21st 1994, he was supposed to deliver 8 cases of

tomatoes, weighing 25 lbs. each. Since it was a fairly small load, he decided to

use his own car to deliver them. As he went to set the first two boxes of

tomatoes in his trunk, he "felt like electricity go through my whole body.... So,

I dropped the tomatoes and leaned up. When I leaned up my legs quit working

and I fell on the pavement, skint my leg up and I couldn't move, I couldn't feel

my legs." Sharpe testified that he had worked the three days prior to the

accident without any problems. On cross-examination, Sharpe testified he was

having some kidney pain down his left side prior to the date of the accident, for

which his employer had offered him a back brace. After the accident, he was

hospitalized for 10 days, during which he had disc surgery performed on his

back.1 When cross-examined about whether he had had a physical altercation

with his girlfriend, Shonda Goins Harper, the Saturday prior to the accident

(July 16st), Sharpe denied that Harper had pushed him against a counter, or

hurt his back in any way, and maintained she merely slapped him in the face

and pushed him lightly in the chest. He denied that he went to work on

Monday complaining of severe back pain due to the fight.





Sharpe's employer, Doc Case, presented an entirely different picture.

Case testified that on Monday, July 18th, when he arrived at work he found

Sharpe sitting on the front dock with a sore on his eye, his arms all scratched

up and complaining he'd been in a fight and could hardly stand up because his

back hurt so bad. He was leaning over the packing table or squatting down in

the morning and was hurting so bad that Case sent him home at lunchtime.

When he returned the next day, Sharpe told him his back still hurt pretty bad,

so Case gave him a back brace to use. On Wednesday, Sharpe told Case he felt

like he was a little better. According to Case, however, although Sharpe came


1 According to the hospital discharge summaries, the surgery performed

was a decompressive laminectomy of the T9, T10 and T11 discs.

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Sharpe v. Case Produce, Inc. et al.





to work Monday through Wednesday, he really was "too broke up and hurting

to do anything." On Thursday, July 21st, while most of the other employees

were on their morning break, Case heard Sharpe yell for help. He went and

found Sharpe lying at least 4-5 feet from his car, between the car and the

loading dock. Sharpe told Case he couldn't move his legs and asked him to call

an ambulance. Case did not see the alleged accident, but he testified it did not

look like the tomatoes had been dropped, as generally if the cases were dropped,

the lids would pop.





Shonda Goins Harper, the girlfriend with whom Sharpe allegedly fought

the Saturday prior to the accident, testified she and Sharpe were involved in a

physical altercation on Saturday, July 16th, during which she pushed Sharpe

pretty hard up against the sink counter and bar five or six times. The counter

was at about the same height as Sharpe's incisions from his disc surgery. When

she saw Sharpe a couple days after the fight, he told her he was still real sore

and his back had been bothering him.







The only medical evidence in the record regarding the causation of

Sharpe's back injury is 1) an undated note from Dr. Victoria Palkanis Samuels

stating the injury and surgery were a result of a work related accident, and 2)

a "History" contained in the discharge summary of Lexington Medical Center

indicating Sharpe was admitted "following a sudden loss of sensory motor

function in the lower extremities with extreme midthoracic back pain which

occurred when the patient was lifting at work." It is undisputed that Sharpe

never told Doctor Samuels about the alleged altercation with Shonda Goins

Harper.





After hearing the testimony, the Single Commissioner issued his order

finding Sharpe did not sustain an injury by accident arising out of and in the

course of his employment. The Commissioner specifically noted that he did not

find Sharpe's testimony credible, but did find Case and Harper credible

regarding their testimony that Sharpe injured his back during the confrontation

on Saturday, July 16th. The Commissioner specifically discounted the undated

report of Dr. Samuels. The Full Commission affirmed, as did the Circuit Court.

The Court of Appeals reversed. It held there was "no evidence the injury, as

Sharpe relate[d], did not happen." The Court of Appeals further found that the

Full Commission had ignored the medical evidence. The Court of Appeals went

on to hold that, even if Sharpe was injured in the altercation with Harper, he

was nonetheless entitled to compensation due to the aggravation of his pre-

existing condition.

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Sharpe v. Case Produce, Inc. et al.





ISSUES



1. Did the Court of Appeals substitute its view of the evidence for

the Commission's?

2. Did the Court of Appeals err in finding Sharpe was, in any

event, entitled to compensation for the aggravation of his pre-

existing injury?





1. SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE



As noted, the Court of Appeals found "no evidence the, injury, as

Sharpe relate[d], did not happen." This was error.





Whether there is any causal connection between employment and an

injury is a question of fact for the Commission. Rhodes v. Guignard Brick

Works, 245 S.C. 304, 140 S.E.2d 487 (1965). The Commission's decision must

be affirmed if the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the

record. Minor v. Philips Prods., 329 S.C. 321, 494 S.E.2d 819 (1997).

Substantial evidence is that evidence which, in considering the record as a

whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion the Commission

reached. McGuffin v. Schlumberger-Sangamo, 307 S.C. 184, 414 S.E.2d 162

(1992). The possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the

evidence does not prevent the Commission's finding from being supported by

substantial evidence. Hoxit v. Michelin Tire Corp., 304 S.C. 461, 405 S.E.2d

407 (1991). Where there is a conflict in the evidence, the Commission's findings

of fact are conclusive. Id. The final determination of witness credibility and the

weight to be accorded evidence is reserved to the Commission and it is not the

task of the court to weigh the evidence as found by the Commission. Rogers v.

Kunja Knitting Mills, Inc.,.312 S.C. 377, 440 S.E.2d 401 (Ct.App. 1994), cert.

dismissed as improvidently granted, 318 S.C. 187, 456 S.E.2d 918 (1995).





Contrary to the Court of Appeals' holding, there was evidence, in the form

of the testimony of Doc Case and Shonda Goins Harper, from which the

Commission could have found that the accident, as reported by Sharpe, did not

happen and that, in fact, Sharpe had "staged" the accident. It was for the

Commission to determine the credibility of the witnesses. Although there was

evidence, in the form of Sharpe's testimony, which would have supported a

contrary finding, there is ample evidence in the record supporting the

Commission's decision.

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Sharpe v. Case Produce, Inc. et al.





Moreover, the Court of Appeals erred in holding the Commission ignored

the medical evidence, i.e., the undated note of Dr. Samuels. Recently, in Tiller

v. National Health Care Center, 334 S.C. 333, ___, 513 S.E.2d 843, 846 (1999))

this Court stated, "while medical testimony is entitled to great respect, the fact

finder may disregard it if there is other competent evidence in the record. ...

Indeed, medical testimony should not be held conclusive irrespective of other

evidence. Expert medical testimony is designed to aid the Commission in

coming to the correct conclusion; therefore, the Commission determines the

weight and credit to be given to the expert testimony. Once admitted,

expert testimony is to be considered just like any other testimony." (emphasis

supplied, internal citations omitted). Accordingly, in deciding whether

substantial evidence supports a finding of causation, it is appropriate to

consider both the lay and expert evidence. Id. Moreover, in compensation

proceedings, where uncontroverted medical opinions are merely deductions

drawn from certain symptoms, the final conclusion remains with the triers of

fact.2 Anderson v. Campbell Tile Co., 202 S.C. 54, 24 S.E.2d 104 (1943).





Here, in focusing solely on an undated medical note of Dr. Samuels to the

effect that Sharpe's injury was the result of a work related accident, the Court

of Appeals simply ignored the testimony of Doc Case and Shonda Harper that

Sharpe was injured on Saturday, July 16th. It was within the Commission's

discretion, as the ultimate fact-finder, to discount this evidence.

Although there was evidence from which the Commissioner could have

gone the other way, there is also clearly evidence which would allow reasonable

minds to reach the conclusion he reached. McGuffin v. Schlumberger-Sangamo,

supra. Accordingly, we hold the Court of Appeals erred in substituting its view

of the evidence for that of the Commission.





2. AGGRAVATION OF PRE-EXISTING INJURY



The Court of Appeals also held that even if Sharpe was injured in an

altercation with Harper, he was nonetheless entitled to compensation for the

aggravation of his injury from the July 21st accident. This was error.


2 Here, as there is no actual testimony from Dr. Samuels in the record,

it is impossible to determine whether her opinion is based strictly upon medical

symptoms reported to her by Sharpe, or on some other factors. The burden was

on Sharpe to prove his injury arose out of employment. Clade v. Champion

Laboratories, 330 S.C. 8, 406 S.E.2d 856 (1998).

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Sharpe v. Case Produce, Inc. et al.





The Single Commissioner specifically held that Sharpe did not sustain an

injury by accident arising out of his employment on July 21st, 1994. Again,

although there was evidence from which the Commissioner could have found

that an accident occurred on July 21st, and from which he could have held a

prior injury was aggravated, there is ample evidence in the record from which

reasonable minds could infer that Sharpe was actually injured on July 16th that

no accident occurred on July 21st, and that, in fact, Sharpe "staged" the July 21st

accident. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals erred in finding the aggravation of

a pre-existing injury where there is substantial evidence supporting the

Commission's holding that Sharpe did not suffer an injury by accident on July

21st. The Court of Appeals'opinion is



REVERSED.

FINNEY, C.J., TOAL, MOORE, and BURNETT, JJ., concur.

p.26