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2008-UP-241 - Reep v. Sonco Technology

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

David P. Reep, Respondent,

v.

Sonco Technology, Employer, and Cypress Insurance Company, Carrier, Appellants.


Appeal From Marlboro County
 J. Michael Baxley, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2008-UP-241
Submitted April 1, 2008 – Filed April 18, 2008   


AFFIRMED


Adrianne L. Turner, of Columbia, for Appellants.

William P. Hatfield, of Florence, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: In this workers’ compensation case, Sonco Technology and Cyprus Insurance Company (collectively “Appellants”) appeal the circuit court order affirming the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission’s finding that David Reep did not experience a change of condition for the better.  Appellants also argue the circuit court erred in holding Reep suffered from trigger finger as a result of the accident and trigger finger is compensable under Reep’s claim.  We affirm.[1]

FACTS

Reep worked at Sonco Technology as a welder/machinist.  His job involved cutting, fitting, fabricating, and tacking weld devices.  The work required him to use both hands and often involved heavy lifting of metal plates, welding supplies, and torches.

Reep left his job in November of 1999 because of chronic pain, swelling, and loss of stregnth in both of hands.  Reep’s physician, Dr. Rush, diagnosed Reep with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and performed open carpal tunnel releases on Reep’s hands.  Reep slowly recovered from the surgeries and began suffering from trigger finger.  Dr. Rush opined Reep sustained a 7.5 percent impairment to each hand. 

Reep filed a workers’ compensation action against Appellants on October 16, 2000.  The latter denied Reep’s claim, arguing his injuries were limited to his wrists.  After a hearing, the single commissioner awarded Reep permanent disability benefits and medical expenses. 

On November 9, 2004, Appellants filed a request to stop compensation payments.  Appellants argued Reep experienced a change of condition for the better.  They relied upon video surveillance taken of Reep using a chainsaw to cut a fallen tree.

A hearing was held before the single commissioner on March 17, 2005.  Reep testified he used the chainsaw to cut down a dead tree for safety reasons.  He stated that Dr. Rush encouraged him to remain active to avoid the loss of use of his hands.  Reep also requested additional medical treatment to correct his trigger finger.  Dr. Rush recommended A-1 pulley release surgery for the triggering.

The single commissioner held evidence did not support a finding that Reep experienced a change of condition for the better.  The single commissioner also found the videotape surveillance did not convince him that Reep could return to work or work outside of his restrictions.  The single commissioner further held Reep was entitled to additional medical treatment as recommended by Dr. Rush.

Appellants appealed to the appellate panel. The appellate panel affirmed the single commissioner’s findings.  It specifically found Reep was entitled to treatment for his trigger finger as related to his original injury.     

Appellants then sought judicial review in the circuit court.  The circuit court affirmed the order of the appellate panel on all issues.  Appellants appeal.

LAW / ANALYSIS

I.  Change of Condition for the Better

Appellants first argue the circuit court erred in finding substantial evidence supported the appellate panel’s finding that Reep did not experience a change of condition for the better and could not return to work or perform work outside of his medical restrictions.  We disagree.

“The Workers’ Compensation Act provides a mechanism for reopening an award if there has been a change in condition.”  Clark v. Aiken County Government, 366 S.C. 102, 108, 620 S.E.2d 99, 102 (Ct. App. 2005); see S.C.Code Ann. § 42-17-90 (Supp. 2006).  The purpose of this section is to enable the commission to change the amount of compensation, including diminishing compensation when circumstances indicate a change of condition for the better. Cromer v. Newberry Cotton Mills, 201 S.C. 349, 354-55, 23 S.E.2d 19, 21 (1942).   The determination of whether a claimant has experienced a change of condition is a question for the fact finder.  Gattis v. Murrells Inlet VFW, 353 S.C. 100, 576 S.E.2d 191 (Ct. App. 2003).  An appellate court will not disturb the findings of the workers’ compensation commission if its findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole.  Lark v. Bi-Lo, Inc., 276 S.C. 130, 276 S.E.2d 304 (1981).

Here, substantial evidence supports the commission’s finding that Reep did not experience a change of condition for the better.  The only evidence Appellants submitted to support a change of condition was the videotape of Reep using a chainsaw and one report from a non-treating physician who viewed the videotape.  Reep testified he used the chainsaw, but the chainsaw was only six pounds and was not as difficult to maneuver as the machines he used as a welder/machinist.  In addition, Reep testified Dr. Rush encouraged him to keep his hands active to avoid the loss of use of his hands.  Reep also stated he has trouble making a fist with his hands, buttoning his clothing, zipping a zipper, squeezing toothpaste, tying his shoes, and shaving.  Further, Dr. Rush’s medical evaluations indicate Reep continues to suffer pain in his hands and fingers.

II.  Trigger Finger

Appellants next argue the circuit court erred in finding Reep suffered from trigger finger as a result of the accident and trigger finger is compensable under Reep’s claim.  Specifically, Appellants argue Reep’s trigger finger is not causally related to the accident or Reep’s carpal tunnel syndrome.  

We are bound, of course, to uphold the commission’s decision unless its factual determination is not supported by substantial evidence. Jones v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 355 S.C. 413, 417-18, 586 S.E.2d 111, 113-14 (2003); S.C.Code Ann. § 1-23-386(A)(6) (Supp. 2006) (“[T]he court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of evidence on the questions of fact.”).

While Dr. Rush never specifically opined that Reep’s trigger finger condition is causally related to the accident or Reep’s carpal tunnel syndrome, Dr. Rush noted that Reep experienced triggering within a month after his second carpal tunnel release surgery.  He recommended surgery on Reep’s affected fingers as the appropriate treatment.  We therefore hold substantial evidence was presented upon which the commission could conclude Reep suffered from trigger finger as a result of the accident.

AFFIRMED.

HEARN, C.J., PIEPER, JJ., and GOOLSBY, A.J., concur.


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