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2011-UP-413 - McKenzie v. Mittal Steel

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE. IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Steven D. McKenzie, Appellant,

v.

Mittal Steel USA Georgetown, Employer, and Insurance Company of the State of PA, Carrier, Respondents.


Appeal from the Appellate Panel


Unpublished Opinion No.  2011-UP-413 
Submitted August 15, 2011 – Filed August 31, 2011


AFFIRMED


Raymond Carl Fischer and William Stuart Duncan, both of Georgetown, for Appellant.

Stephen L. Brown, Catherine H. Chase, and Wallace G. Holland, all of Charleston, for Respondents.

PER CURIAM: The Appellate Panel of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission (the Appellate Panel) denied Steven D. McKenzie's claim for workers' compensation benefits for an injury he sustained when he twisted his back while climbing the steps to get on a crane (the Incident) at Mittal Steel USA.  The Appellate Panel found McKenzie's claim was not compensable because the Incident was an idiopathic fall caused by a recurrence and continuation of an injury sustained at work in 2002 (First Injury).[1]   On appeal, McKenzie argues the Appellate Panel erred in finding: (1) the Incident did not aggravate or exacerbate McKenzie's pre-existing conditions; (2) the injury was not compensable because it did not arise out of his employment; and (3) the Incident constituted an idiopathic fall.  We affirm.[2]

An employee may receive an award for workers' compensation benefits if the employee proves by a preponderance of the evidence that a subsequent injury aggravated a preexisting condition.  S.C. Code Ann. § 42-9-35(A) (1) (Supp. 2010).  "When a pre-existing condition or disease is accelerated or aggravated by injury or accident 'arising out of and in the course of the employment,' the resulting disability is a compensable injury."  Hargrove v. Titan Textile Co., 360 S.C. 276, 295, 599 S.E.2d 604, 614 (Ct. App. 2004).  However, an exception exists prohibiting compensation if the injury is "due solely to the natural progression of a pre-existing condition."  Id.  "The right of a claimant to compensation for aggravation of a pre-existing condition arises only where there is a dormant condition which has produced no disability but which becomes disabling by reason of the aggravating injury." Id.   

We hold[3] the Appellate Panel did not err in finding the Incident did not aggravate or exacerbate McKenzie's pre-existing conditions. In making its decision, the Appellate Panel found,

[McKenzie's] problems on February 6, 2008, as well as at the time of the hearing on August 12, 2008, were as a result of a continuing failed back and radicular leg symptoms and left foot drop, which date back to the original injury in 2002, and were not aggravated or made worse by any incident on February 6, 2008, but rather were natural progression and recurrence of such problems.

Here, substantial evidence exists in the record to support the Appellate Panel's finding that McKenzie's leg and back injuries were a result of the natural progression of these problems.  See S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(5)(e) (Supp. 2010) (providing this court must affirm a decision of the Appellate Panel if it is supported by substantial evidence).  Specifically, the medical evidence established McKenzie's condition was never dormant.  Both McKenzie and Dr. Triana, an orthopedic doctor, agreed McKenzie never fully recovered from his First Injury, continued to have pain and mobility issues in his left leg, and would eventually need back surgery.  Furthermore, McKenzie has taken pain medication on a regular basis since 2002 to manage the symptoms associated with these injuries.  Additionally, the medical evidence indicated that these symptoms are a part of the natural progression of his back and leg injuries.  Accordingly, we affirm because substantial evidence supports the Appellate Panel's factual findings that McKenzie's issues were a natural progression of his back and leg injuries.

AFFIRMED.

HUFF, PIEPER, and LOCKEMY, JJ., concur.


[1]In 2002, McKenzie sustained back and leg injuries that exacerbated his degenerative disc disease while working as a brakeman at the Georgetown Steel Mill.  As a result, McKenzie and Georgetown Steel Mill signed an agreement to settle his workers' compensation claim in which the owners of the Steel Mill agreed to provide McKenzie with ongoing medical treatment for his leg and back injuries and a settlement fee.

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

[3] Because the issue of whether McKenzie's back and leg issues were a result of the natural progression of his First Injury is dispositive, we need not address the remaining two issues.  See Futch v. McAllister Towing of Georgetown, Inc., 335 S.C. 598, 613, 518 S.E.2d 591, 598 (1999) (noting an appellate court need not address appellant's remaining issues when its determination of a prior issue is dispositive).