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2008-UP-006 - Pellitteri v. Pellitteri Tile

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE, IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 239(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Carmen Pellitteri, Employee, Respondent,

v.

Pellitteri Tile, Employer, and South Carolina Property and Casualty Guaranty Company, Carrier, Defendants,

Of whom South Carolina Property and Casualty Guaranty Company is Appellant.


Appeal from Charleston County
 Mikell R. Scarborough, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2008-UP-006
Submitted December 1, 2007 – Filed January 2, 2008   


AFFIRMED


F. Reid Warder, Jr. and Jason A. Williams, both of Charleston, for Appellant

Malcolm M. Crosland, Jr., of Charleston, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: In this workers’ compensation case, South Carolina Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association appeals the award of temporary total disability benefits and reimbursement for prior medical expenses to Carmen Pellitteri.  We affirm. [1]

FACTS

On January 26, 2002, Pellitteri sustained an injury to his left leg arising out of his employment as a tile installer for Pellitteri Tile.  As a result of his injury, Pelliteri underwent surgery on March 8, 2002.  During his recovery, Pelliteri was unable to install tile; but he was able to evaluate potential jobs and provide estimates.  Pellitteri injured his right leg on April 1, 2002, while providing an estimate.  Pellitteri sought medical benefits and reimbursement for past due medical expenses relating to his right leg injury.  South Carolina Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association (Guaranty Association) denied Pelliteri’s claim, arguing the claim was barred by an agreement and release entered into between Pellitteri, Pellitteri Tile, and Legion Insurance Company on February 14, 2003.  

After a hearing on November 3, 2004, the single commissioner issued an order finding Pellitteri sustained a compensable injury to his right leg.  The commissioner further found the release did not bar Pellitteri’s claim involving his right leg.[2]  The commissioner concluded the release “covered only those injuries related to the Claimant’s left leg injury which occurred on January 26, 2002.”  Guaranty Association appealed to the appellate panel. The appellate panel affirmed the single commissioner’s findings.  Guaranty Association then sought judicial review in the circuit court.  The circuit court affirmed the order of the full commission in its entirety.  Guaranty Association appeals.

LAW/ANALYSIS

Guaranty Association asserts the release barred Pellitteri from receiving benefits under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act for his right knee injury.  We disagree.

The release provides Pellitteri sustained injuries on January 26, 2002, and would receive compensation in the amount of $50,000.00.  The agreement further provides the sum is:

 [I]n full and final settlement and satisfaction for any and all claims for further compensation and medical [sic] due as the result of any injury or injuries, reported or unreported, known or unknown, while an employee of the employer, including, but not limited to all claims for permanent and temporary, total and partial disability, functional and specific loss, disfigurement, change of condition, death and funeral benefits, loss of function or impairment of any scheduled or non-scheduled members of the body, any claims of psychological or emotional injury or impairment, and past or future medical expenses as the result of the injury described herein . . . .

A release is a contract and rules of contract should be used to determine what the parties intended.  Ecclesiastes Production Ministries v. Outparcel Associates, LLC, 374 S.C. 483, 497, 649 S.E.2d 494, 501 (Ct. App. 2007).  The construction of a contract is a question of law for the court.  Auten v. Snipes, 370 S.C. 664, 669-70, 636 S.E.2d 644, 647 (Ct. App. 2006).  In construing a contract, the courts function is to interpret the contracts lawful meaning, discover the intention of the parties as provided within the contract, and give effect to the parties’ intention.  Id.  When a contract is clear and unequivocal, its meaning must be determined by its content alone.  State v. Cochran, 358 S.C. 24, 27, 594 S.E.2d 844, 845 (2004).

Here, the meaning of the release is plain.  The release provides that it is a “full and final settlement” of all claims “as the result of the injury described herein.”  The only injury described within the release relates to Pellitteri’s left leg.  Page one of the release describes Pellitteri’s injury as having occurred on January 26, 2002.  In addition, the Workers’ Compensation file number listed in the release is 0201583, the file number assigned to Pellitteri’s claim for his left leg injury.  Furthermore, the third page of the release provides that the “combined effect of [Pellitteri’s] prior impairment and the injury or injuries described herein was such to produce Eighteen percent (18%) permanent functional impairment of [Pellitteri’s] left leg. . . .” (emphasis added).  The language of the release does not mention an injury to Pellitteri’s right leg, the file number assigned to the claim for Pellitteri’s right leg injury, or the date the right leg injury took place.  The parties clearly could have included language in the release barring claims for Pellitteri’s right leg injury had that been their intent as the release was dated after Pellitteri injured his right leg.  

Guaranty Association argues broad language in the release stating the release is final settlement “for any and all claims for further compensation and medical [sic] due as the result of any injury or injuries, reported or unreported, known or unknown, while an employee of the employer” bars Pellitteri from recovery for all injuries prior to the date of approval of the release.  The release, however, also includes specific language limiting its effect to “the injury or injuries described herein.”  Reading the release as a whole, it is clearly limited to claims relating to Pellitteri’s left leg injury.  See Campbell v. Bi-Lo, Inc., 301 S.C. 448, 452, 392 S.E.2d 477, 480 (Ct. App. 1990) (stating a release must be read as a whole); Thomas-McCain, Inc. v. Siter, 268 S.C. 193, 197, 232 S.E.2d 728, 729 (1977) (“Where the agreement in question is a written contract, the parties’ intention must be gathered from the contents of the entire agreement and not from any particular clause thereof.”).   

Guaranty Association asserts that even if the release is limited to Pellitteri’s left leg injury, Pellitteri’s right leg injury is barred because it resulted from the left leg injury.  The commissioner, however, found Pellitteri’s right leg injury resulted from his work as a tile installer that required Pellitteri to perform significant bending, stooping, and kneeling.  Substantial evidence supports the commissioner’s finding.  By letter of September 18, 2002, Pellitteri’s physician opined “I do not believe Mr. Pellitteri’s right knee meniscus tear is a result of overuse due to his left knee injury but more the overuse due to his occupation, which requires a significant amount of bending, stooping and kneeling . . . .”  We therefore affirm the commissioner’s finding.  See Howell v. Pacific Columbia Mills, 291 S.C. 469, 471, 354 S.E.2d 384, 385 (1987) (“A decision of the Worker's Compensation Commission will not be overturned by a reviewing court unless it is clearly unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.”).

CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated above, we hold Pellitteri sustained a compensable injury to his right leg, and such injury is not barred by the release.

AFFIRMED.

HUFF AND PIEPER, JJ. and GOOLSBY, A.J., concur. 


[1]  We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.

[2] The commissioner made several additional findings of fact.  One such finding, regarding Pellitteri’s average weekly wage, was appealed by both parties to the appellate panel.  The issue, however, is not pertinent to this appeal.