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2012-UP-154 - Collins v. SC Dept. of Education


In The Court of Appeals

Veronica Collins, Respondent,


South Carolina Department of Education-Transportation Division and State Accident Fund, Appellants.

Appeal from Charleston County
Diane Schafer Goodstein, Circuit Court Judge

Unpublished Opinion No.  2012-UP-154
Heard January 24, 2012 – Filed March 7, 2012 


Cynthia Burns Polk, of Columbia, and Margaret M. Urbanic, of Charleston, for Appellants.

Thomas M. White, of Goose Creek, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: In this Workers' Compensation case, Appellants, South Carolina Department of Education-Transportation Division (Employer) and State Accident Fund (Carrier), seek review of the circuit court's order affirming the Workers' Compensation Commission's decision regarding the provision and payment of home healthcare services for Respondent Veronica Collins. 

On appeal, Appellants argue the circuit court erred in: (1) finding Collins's refusal to enter an assisted living facility was not unreasonable; and (2) ordering Appellants to compensate Collins's friend and care-provider, Sharon Bryant, $400 per week for providing in-home services to Collins. 

1.     Refusal to Enter Assisted Living

Collins suffers from incomplete paraplegia and incontinence following work-related spinal trauma and subsequent lumbar spine surgery.  On May 25, 2006, May 22, 2007, and July 20, 2007, Dr. Joseph Nolan, Collins's primary physician, prescribed 24-hour, home-based care to provide Collins assistance with the activities of daily living.  On September 26, 2007, Appellants responded by offering to place Collins in an assisted living facility.  Collins, who is the sole caregiver for her two minor children, refused to enter the facility, testifying that moving would do "irreparable damage" to her children and would require her to place them in foster care.  Appellants contend it was "unreasonable" for Collins to refuse to move into the facility and stated it is Carrier's right to direct medical care. 

Appellants are required to provide lifetime care for Collins, who is totally and permanently disabled:

In cases in which total and permanent disability results, reasonable and necessary nursing services, medicines, prosthetic devices, sick travel, medical, hospital, and other treatment or care shall be paid during the life of the injured employee, without regard to any limitation in this title including the maximum compensation limit.

S.C. Code Ann. § 42-15-60(C) (Supp. 2011) (emphases added).  Furthermore, the Commission is authorized to determine whether "circumstances justify" the employee's refusal to submit to medical services directed by an employer.  S.C. Code Ann. § 42-15-80(A) (Supp. 2011).

We find substantial evidence supports the circuit court's finding that Collins was not unreasonable in refusing to move into an assisted living facility.  Importantly, we note that Collins's physician repeatedly prescribed in-home services, and as the circuit court noted, no doctor recommended that Collins go into an assisted living facility.  To the contrary, Dr. Nolan specifically stated, on May 22, 2007 and July 20, 2007, that Bryant should continue providing services to Collins.  Substantial evidence supports the Commission's determination that Collins "did not unreasonably refuse medical treatment in not going into an assisted living facility home."  Accordingly, the circuit court properly upheld the Commission's determination that Collins's refusal to enter an assisted living facility was not unreasonable.

2.     Payment for In-home Services

Despite Dr. Nolan's May 25, 2006 order for 24-hour, in-home services, Appellants provided no in-home assistance.  Instead, Collins's friend, Sharon Bryant, moved in with Collins and provided 24-hour assistance with driving, cooking, shopping, cleaning, bathing, lifting, taking medication, and dressing.  On May 22, 2007, Dr. Nolan wrote a letter summarizing Collins's medical status and reiterated the need for 24-hour, in-home assistance:

Ms. Collins has a significant impairment of mobility and needs a wheelchair for ambulation.  She has problems with balance and experiences regular urinary incontinence.  She has a significant history of falls.  Ms. Collins is unable to perform her activities of daily living, and requires 24 hour assistance.

Ms. Sharon Bryant has been assisting Ms. Collins and should continue to do so.  It is necessary that Ms. Collins have a caregiver at home in order to keep her from being situated in an assisted living facility.

On July 20, 2007, Dr. Nolan documented Collins's deteriorating condition and stated:

Due to her profound physical limitations, Ms. Collins requires a motorized wheelchair for mobility.  . . .  Ms. Collins also requires home health care for assistance with her personal need[s] and activities of daily living.  Ms. Sharon Bryant has been providing this care for Ms. Collins and should continue to do so.

All of the above are medically necessary for Ms. Collins's long-term care.

At the hearing before the single Commissioner on April 7, 2008, Collins testified that since her spinal fusion surgery in December 2004, no one—other than Sharon Bryant—had provided any home care services.

On appeal, Carrier contends there was no evidence before the court regarding an appropriate rate of compensation for a home healthcare worker.  The record, however, includes evidence that an assisted living facility would cost $3,100 per month.  We find Carrier's argument to be without merit, and we affirm the circuit court's order requiring Appellants to compensate Bryant, at a rate of $400 per week, for providing 24-hour, in-home care from May 25, 2006, the date Dr. Nolan first ordered such care, through June 4, 2008. 


For the foregoing reasons, the circuit court's order is