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Commissioner failed to justify denial of hearing loss claim

Posted On: Mar. 12, 2020 2:23 PM CST

hearing loss

A commissioner failed to explain why she denied an injured man’s workers compensation claims for hearing loss, the South Carolina Supreme Court held Wednesday.

In Crane v. Raber’s Discount Tire Rack, the court unanimously reversed and remanded a South Carolina Workers Compensation Commission decision in which the commissioner ignored the medical record and stated in her opinion that the worker was a “very poor” actor.

Danny Crane worked as a mechanic for Raber’s Discount Tire Rack in Barnwell, South Carolina. In 2014, he was checking the operability of an air-powered tired changer when it separated from its fitting, causing an explosion-like sound. Immediately after the accident, Mr. Crane said his ears were ringing and he was in pain and could not hear. His wife transported him to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with conductive hearing loss and perforation of both ear drums. He also began suffering from dizziness, headaches, and sustained a broken rib in a fall from his continued ear pain. A month later, his hearing had worsened, and a doctor said he had “profound hearing acuity loss in both ears.”

Three months after the accident, a physician concluded that Mr. Crane’s hearing loss could not be restored by natural means and said he should be considered disabled. He filed a claim for head injury and hearing loss, but his employer and the uninsured employers fund denied all of his claims. 

The South Carolina Workers Compensation Commission denied his claims, finding that he was not entitled to temporary total disability, permanent impairment, or future medical care after the commissioner who heard the case questioned his credibility. The commissioner categorized Mr. Crane’s testimony at the hearing as an “inconsistent performance” with “very poor” acting. An appellate court affirmed the commissioner’s finding as to the permanent impairment and future medical care but reversed as to temporary total disability. Mr. Crane sought review in the Supreme Court of South Carolina, which was granted.

The state Supreme Court reversed the commissioner’s decision and remanded the case for a new hearing on all three claims. The court held that even if Mr. Crane was untruthful in his testimony at the hearing, his claims for future medical care, temporary total disability and permanent impairment caused by hearing loss are “based on objective medical evidence.”

The court noted that four different physicians stated that Mr. Crane suffered from severe and profound hearing loss as a result of his accident, and that there is nothing in the record to indicate that his credibility “reasonably and meaningfully relates to whether he actually surfed hearing loss” in the workplace accident.

The court held that the commissioner failed to justify ignoring the medical evidence or how his lack of credibility related to whether he sustained hearing loss, or find any basis for the commissioner to discern that Mr. Crane “lied to make his eardrums appear ruptured.”

As a result, the court reversed the decision and remanded the case to a different commissioner to make de novo findings on Mr. Crane’s claims.