Steinberg v. S. Dak. Dept. of Military, No. 21101.

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtGILBERTSON, Justice
Citation2000 SD 36,607 N.W.2d 596
Docket NumberNo. 21101.
Decision Date15 March 2000
PartiesEdna K. STEINBERG, Claimant and Appellant, v. SOUTH DAKOTA DEPARTMENT OF MILITARY AND VETERANS AFFAIRS, Employer, Insurer and Appellee.

607 N.W.2d 596
2000 SD 36

Edna K. STEINBERG, Claimant and Appellant,
v.
SOUTH DAKOTA DEPARTMENT OF MILITARY AND VETERANS AFFAIRS, Employer, Insurer and Appellee

No. 21101.

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

Considered on Briefs January 10, 2000.

Decided March 15, 2000.


607 N.W.2d 597
Patricia A. Meyers and Donald A. Porter of Costello, Porter, Hill, Heisterkamp and Bushnell, Rapid City, for claimant and appellant

Timothy M. Engel of May, Adam, Gerdes and Thompson, Pierre, for employer, insurer and appellee.

607 N.W.2d 598
GILBERTSON, Justice

[¶ 1.] Edna K. Steinberg (Steinberg) appeals the circuit court's order dismissing her claim for workers' compensation benefits pursuant to SDCL 62-1-1(7). We reverse.

FACTS AND PROCEDURE

[¶ 2.] The material facts of this case are undisputed. At the time of Steinberg's injury, she was employed at Camp Rapid in Rapid City, South Dakota. Camp Rapid is administered by the Department of Military and Veteran's Affairs of the State of South Dakota (DMVA). She had fixed hours of employment from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with an unpaid lunch break from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. On March 3, 1997, shortly after 12:00 p.m., Steinberg left her office during her lunch period. She was free to leave the base as there was nothing about her duties that required her to stay over the lunch hour. She planned to walk to where her car was parked between Buildings 703 and 704 of the camp, and then drive over to her husband's workplace, also at Camp Rapid. Steinberg's office was located in Building 603 of the camp, and as she stepped onto the road between Building 603 and Building 703, she slipped and fell on some "black" ice.

[¶ 3.] It had begun snowing at approximately 9:00 a.m. that morning. Snowplows had cleared the street in front of Building 603 approximately one hour before Steinberg's accident. However, the road was neither sanded nor salted. The roads contained within the confines of Camp Rapid are generally open to the public and were so on the day of the injury.

[¶ 4.] When Steinberg fell to the ground, her head hit the asphalt, and she was knocked unconscious for approximately one minute. Within ten minutes of the fall, Steinberg began to feel dizzy, experience lower back pain and pain around her neck and shoulders. She immediately sought medical attention. On March 4, 1997 Steinberg timely informed her supervisor of her injury. Steinberg subsequently sought treatment through physical therapy; however, it did not seem to help her shoulder and neck pain. She was then referred to Dr. Seljeskog, who had MRI's taken and discovered two discs in her neck were out of alignment. Steinberg underwent surgery to have the two discs removed.

[¶ 5.] DMVA denied liability for Steinberg's injury. Steinberg brought a claim for workers' compensation benefits before the Department of Labor (Department). The Department entered its decision and an order and findings of fact and conclusions of law on June 2, 1998, finding Steinberg as a matter of law, had sustained a compensable injury arising out of and in the course of her employment with DMVA. DMVA subsequently appealed to the Hughes County Circuit Court. The circuit court ruled the Department had applied the incorrect test for the "arising out of" element of SDCL 62-1-1(7), and that the 1995 amendment to the statute required an injury arise out of the employment by a "major contributing cause." Thus, the circuit court remanded the case back to the Department. The Department applied the circuit court's standard and found Steinberg's injury arose out of her employment under this standard as well. Upon DMVA's second appeal to circuit court, the court reversed the Department's ruling dismissing Steinberg's claim in its entirety. Steinberg appeals, raising the following issues for our consideration:

1. Whether SDCL 62-1-1(7) requires a workers' compensation claimant to prove, by a standard of "major contributing cause," that an injury arose out of employment.

2. Whether Steinberg's injury arose out of her employment as a matter of law.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 6.] In this case we are presented with the statutory interpretation of the

607 N.W.2d 599
1995 amendments to SDCL 62-1-1(7). It is well settled that "[s]tatutory interpretation presents a question of law reviewable de novo." Zoss v. Schaefers, 1999 SD 105, ¶ 6, 598 N.W.2d 550, 552 (citing Satellite Cable Srvs. v. Northern Electric, 1998 SD 67, ¶ 5, 581 N.W.2d 478, 480). When reviewing the construction of a statute, "we interpret statutes in accord with legislative intent." Welsh v. Centerville Township, 1999 SD 73, ¶ 7, 595 N.W.2d 622, 624 (quoting McIntyre v. Wick, 1996 SD 147, ¶ 51, 558 N.W.2d 347, 362 (citing Fall River County v. South Dakota Dept. of Revenue, 1996 SD 106, ¶ 13, 552 N.W.2d 620, 624))

ANALYSIS AND DECISION

[¶ 7.] 1. Whether SDCL 62-1-1(7) requires a workers' compensation claimant to prove, by a standard of "major contributing cause," that an injury arose out of employment.

[¶ 8.] Steinberg argues the circuit court erroneously interpreted the definition of "injury" contained in SDCL 62-1-1(7) as amended in 1995. The circuit court construed SDCL 62-1-1(7)(a) in such a way that the term "major contributing cause" modifies the phrase "injury arising out of" the employment. The circuit court stated in its oral bench ruling, incorporated by reference in the circuit court's conclusions of law "it's my judgment that the major contributing cause language was intended by the Legislature to substantially increase the causal connection that is required to be proven under the `arising out of' test imposed by the statute." The circuit court also found the "major contributing cause" language poses an even stricter standard than the tort-based concept of proximate cause in proving the employment caused the employee's injury. Steinberg argues the circuit court erred in its interpretation in that SDCL 62-1-1(7)(a) only applies to the degree of medical proof required to show the employment-related injury produced a "condition." Steinberg claims the circuit court treated the word "condition" as synonymous with the word "injury." We find the circuit court erred in its interpretation of this statute and we do not agree that the "major contributing cause" language in the statute was meant to raise a claimant's standard of proof of a work-related injury similar to or above the fault-based tort concept of proximate cause.

[¶ 9.] In addressing this issue, we strive to delineate the scope of legislative intent in amending SDCL 62-1-1(7). Prior to its amendment in 1995, SDCL 62-1-1(7) provided the definition for "injury" or "personal injury" as "only injury arising out of and in the course of the employment, and shall not include a disease in any form except as it shall result from the injury." Brady Memorial Home v. Hantke, 1999 SD 77, ¶ 11, 597 N.W.2d 677, 680 n. 7. In 1995, the legislature twice amended the workers' compensation law to add the relevant language of "major contributing cause." The result of those amendments is codified in SDCL 62-1-1(7)(a), (b) and (c). SDCL 62-1-1(7) provides:

(7) "Injury" or "personal injury," only injury arising out of and in the course of the employment, and does not include a disease in any form except as it results from the injury. An injury is compensable only if it is established by medical evidence, subject to the following conditions:
(a) No injury is compensable unless the employment or employment related activities are a major contributing cause of the condition complained of; or
(b) If the injury combines with a preexisting disease or condition to cause or prolong disability, impairment, or need for treatment, the condition complained of is compensable if the employment or employment related injury is and remains a major contributing cause of the disability, impairment, or need for treatment; and
607 N.W.2d 600
(c) If the injury combines with a preexisting work related compensable injury, disability, or impairment, the subsequent injury is compensable if the subsequent employment or subsequent employment related activities contributed independently to the disability, impairment, or need for treatment. (emphasis added).

DMVA contends the amendments were intended to narrow the scope of compensable injuries, and require a significant causal link between an employee's actual work function and the injury, i.e., the "employment" or "employment related activities" must be a "major contributing cause" of the injury.

[¶ 10.] We do not agree with DMVA. First, inherent in DMVA's argument is that the employment or employment-related activities must be a major contributing cause of the employee's "injury;" here, Steinberg's fall. However, the legislature did not use the word "injury" in this specific provision of the 1995 amendments to subsection (a); instead, it used the words "condition complained of." We interpret that phrase to mean the resulting condition; i.e., the medical condition that resulted from the employment incident. Subsection (a) begins "[n]o injury is compensable..." Surely if the legislature had wanted to insert the word "injury" after "major contributing cause," it would have done so. Instead, it chose to use the words "condition complained of." We do not assume the legislature intended to use "condition" synonymous with the word "injury" in the same sentence. In arriving at the intention of the legislature it is presumed that the words of the statute have been used to convey their ordinary, popular meaning. National Farmers v. Universal, 534 N.W.2d 63, 65 (S.D.1995) (citing Oahe Conservancy Subdistrict v. Janklow, 308 N.W.2d 559, 561 (S.D.1981)). Indeed, "`injury' is the ... act or omission which caused the loss." Rosnick v. Marks, 218 Neb. 499, 357 N.W.2d 186, 190 (1984). "Condition," in contrast, is the loss produced by some injury; i.e., it is the result rather than the cause. The word "condition" means "state of being." Doyle v....

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38 practice notes
  • Benson v. State, No. 23492.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • January 24, 2006
    ...to be reviewed de novo. Block v. Drake, 2004 SD 72, ¶ 8, 681 N.W.2d 460, 463 (citing Steinberg v. South Dakota Dept. of Military Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 6, 607 N.W.2d 596, 599). An appeal asserting an infringement of a constitutional right is also an issue of law to be reviewed under the de ......
  • Fetzer v. N.D. Workforce Safety & Ins., No. 20110251.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • May 3, 2012
    ...App.3d 247, 623 N.E.2d 700 (1993); Turner v. B Sew Inn, 18 P.3d 1070 (Okla.2000); Steinberg v. S.D. Dep't of Military & Veterans Affairs, 607 N.W.2d 596 (S.D.2000); Clodgo v. Rentavision, Inc., 166 Vt. 548, 701 A.2d 1044 (1997); Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Hernandez, 252 Wis.2d 155, 642 N.W.......
  • Wise v. Brooks Const. Services, No. 23938.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 23, 2006
    ...treatment and surgery. Thus, Employer's liability was established. Steinberg v. South Dakota Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 29, 607 N.W.2d 596, 606. The Department's decision is Denial of Permanent and Total Disability Benefits Pursuant to the Odd-Lot Doctrine. [......
  • State v. Wilson, No. 22655.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • March 10, 2004
    ...interpretation is also a question of law reviewed under the de novo standard. Steinberg v. State Dept. of Military & Veterans Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 6, 607 N.W.2d 596, 599 (citing Zoss v. Schaefers, 1999 SD 105, ¶ 6, 598 N.W.2d 550, 552 (citation omitted)). In construing a statute, we presu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
38 cases
  • Benson v. State, No. 23492.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • January 24, 2006
    ...to be reviewed de novo. Block v. Drake, 2004 SD 72, ¶ 8, 681 N.W.2d 460, 463 (citing Steinberg v. South Dakota Dept. of Military Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 6, 607 N.W.2d 596, 599). An appeal asserting an infringement of a constitutional right is also an issue of law to be reviewed under the de ......
  • Fetzer v. N.D. Workforce Safety & Ins., No. 20110251.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • May 3, 2012
    ...App.3d 247, 623 N.E.2d 700 (1993); Turner v. B Sew Inn, 18 P.3d 1070 (Okla.2000); Steinberg v. S.D. Dep't of Military & Veterans Affairs, 607 N.W.2d 596 (S.D.2000); Clodgo v. Rentavision, Inc., 166 Vt. 548, 701 A.2d 1044 (1997); Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Hernandez, 252 Wis.2d 155, 642 N.W.......
  • Wise v. Brooks Const. Services, No. 23938.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 23, 2006
    ...treatment and surgery. Thus, Employer's liability was established. Steinberg v. South Dakota Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 29, 607 N.W.2d 596, 606. The Department's decision is Denial of Permanent and Total Disability Benefits Pursuant to the Odd-Lot Doctrine. [......
  • State v. Wilson, No. 22655.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • March 10, 2004
    ...interpretation is also a question of law reviewed under the de novo standard. Steinberg v. State Dept. of Military & Veterans Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 6, 607 N.W.2d 596, 599 (citing Zoss v. Schaefers, 1999 SD 105, ¶ 6, 598 N.W.2d 550, 552 (citation omitted)). In construing a statute, we presu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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