Workers’ compensation laws in South Carolina are supposed to cover all employees. Unfortunately, the laws do not take into account the special nature of the jobs that police officers and firefighters perform within the community. As a result, those working in these demanding and heroic jobs may not have the workers’ compensation coverage they need.
According to The State, Lawmakers in South Carolina are now aiming to expand workers’ compensation to provide additional coverage for mental injuries that law enforcement may face. Our South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers are firmly in support of efforts to broaden the coverage for those workers in the most emotionally demanding jobs in the state.
Workers’ Comp Claims for Mental Injuries
While workers’ compensation is supposed to cover all injuries that arise as a direct result of work duties, there are limits on when mental injuries are covered. If you are facing only mental damage and not physical damage, the standard is that you can obtain workers’ compensation benefits only if your mental stress is caused by extraordinary or unusual job conditions.
In October of 2009, a Spartanburg County sheriff’s deputy shot a man who was threatening to kill him. Unfortunately, the sheriff’s deputy is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident. The deputy has tried to kill himself twice since the shooting, and he has not been able to work since it occurred.
The deputy is currently collecting police disability retirement pay. However, he attempted to make a workers’ compensation claim and was denied benefits. The Supreme Court in the state ruled that law enforcement can expect they may need to use lethal force over the course of their work and that the event that caused the deputy’s post-traumatic stress disorder was thus not “extraordinary and unusual.”
This raises many concerns. First, the goal is never for law enforcement to kill someone, so it is questionable to argue whether the shooting truly was not “extraordinary and unusual.” The more pressing issue, however, is that this definition and standard for workers’ compensation benefits may be hard to meet and may prevent a first responder from getting benefits to which he truly should be entitled.
Police, firefighters and other first responders are exposed to many upsetting or traumatic things over the course of their job that could be considered an “ordinary” part of performing their work. Even “ordinary” exposure to violence, murder or death could, however, cause an officer or first responder to experience PTSD or other mental issues. If and when these issues can be directly tied to their job, denying them workers’ compensation undermines the purpose of workers’ compensation claims.
Lawmakers recognize this and are now trying to change the rules. The House Judiciary Committee offered a bill towards the end of February 2013 that would exempt public safety workers including firefighters, EMS workers, police and corrections officers from the “extraordinary and unusual” standard. If the bill becomes law, workers’ will have a broader ability to obtain compensation for their work injuries that occur on the job.
If you have been injured at work in South Carolina, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
North Carolina Workplace Violence a Serious Concern for All, Feb. 23, 2013, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog