MOORE, J.: . .. Respondent (Claimant) was awarded workers’ compensation benefits for disability…

MOORE, J.: . .. Respondent (Claimant) was awarded workers' compensation benefits for disability from carpal tunnel syndrome resulting from repetitive trauma to both wrists. Petitioners (Employer) appealed. The circuit court and the Court of appeals affirmed. The only issue is whether a repetitive trauma injury is compensable under the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act. We find it is and affirm. Claimant worked for Employer in various capacities beginning in 1987. Each of her jobs involved the repetitive use of her hands. In the spring of 1995 she began experiencing tingling and numbness in both hands. On April 25, 1995, she was diagnosed with moderately severe carpal tunnel syndrome caused by compression of the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist. The evidence is un contradicted that claimant's injury is work-related. After surgery in June 1995, Claimant's left wrist d temporarily but her symptoms returned With Six months. Claimant's treating doctor removed her from work beginning April 20, 1996. By May 1996, she had severe carpal tunnel syndrome in her right . wrist. Surgery was recommended for her right m October 1996 with no guarantee of relief from her symptoms. Meanwhile, on July 21, 1996, Claimant filed this action claiming benefits for an on-the-job injury. Claimant was awarded temporary total benefits continuing until she reaches maximum medical improvement. The circuit court and the Court of Appeals held a repetitive trauma injury is compensable as an “injury by accident” as provided in the Workers' Compensation Act. Employer contends a repetitive trauma injury does not qualify as an “injury by accident” because the cause of the injury is not unexpected and the injury lacks definiteness of time.

1. Unexpectedness Employer contends the repetitive event which causes a repetitive trauma injury is not unexpected but is part of the worker's normal work activity. Because the event causing the injury is not unexpected, Employer argues repetitive trauma injury cannot be compensable as an injury by accident. Under the Act, a claimant is entitled to an “injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment.” In Layton v. Hammond-Brown-Jennings Co., we interpreted for the first time the meaning of “injury by accident” under the newly enacted Workman's Compensation Act. We noted that two lines of cases had evolved in other jurisdictions: some jurisdictions, including North Carolina upon which our Act is modeled, held there must be some unusual or unlooked-for mishap resulting in injury to constitute an accident; other jurisdictions held no mishap was required for an accident as long as there was an unexpected injury occurring while the employee was performing his usual duties in his customary manner. We chose the latter definition, focusing on the unexpected nature of the injury rather than requiring that the event causing the injury be unexpected. This definition of accident as an unexpected injury has been reiterated in a long line of cases. As we : e recently stated, “in  whether constitutes an injury by accident   focus IS not on some specific event, but rather on the Jury Itself.” Further, . an injury is unexpected if the worker did not  It or expect it would result from what he was . Therefore, if an injury is   . from the worker's point of view, it qualifies as by accident. Here, there is no evidence Claimant needed or expected to be injured as a result of her repetitive work activity. Employer's contention that the cause of the injury must be unexpected is incorrect. Under South Carolina law, if . the injury itself is unexpected, it is compensable as an  by accident.

2. Definiteness of Time Employer contends the injury resulting from repetitive trauma has no definite time of occurrence and therefore it is not compensable as an injury by accident. Definiteness of time, while relevant to proving causation, is not required to prove an injury qualifies as an injury by accident. For instance, in . Ballenger Corp., we found the claimant's emphysema, which developed gradually, was caused by repeated exposure to high humidity and dust on the job and was therefore compensable as an injury by accident. Similarly, in Stokes v. First Nat'! Bank, we found a psychological disorder which developed over a period of months compensable as an injury by accident. Further, under the Worker's Compensation Act, a disease, which typically has a gradual onset, is compensable as an injury by accident “when it results naturally and unavoidably from the accident.” This provision indicates the legislature intended an accident to be compensable under the Act, even where the effects of the accident develop gradually. The fact that a repetitive trauma injury is disease-like in its gradual onset does not preclude it from coverage as an injury by accident. Here is it uncontested that Claimant's carpal tunnel sydrome was caused by her work activities. The lack of a definite time of injury is therefore not dispositive. Affirmed.

Case Question

1. Why does the employer contend that the injury was not accidental?

2. What is the court's test for whether an injury is accidental?

3. Did the injury arise “out of and in the course of employment”? Explain.

 

Review Questions and Problems

 

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