A New Bill Proposes Changes to Workers Comp Laws to Help Law Enforcement and Emergency Workers
In the last week of February, the SC House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that aims to better protect public safety workers – police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians – by changing some workers comp standards.
Generally, when an employee files for workers comp in the state of South Carolina, the injury must be considered “extraordinary and unusual.” This applies to both mental and physical injuries caused by job-related problems.
However, public safety workers often suffer from mental anguish and post-traumatic stress disorder from experiences that are, according to South Carolina workers comp courts, normal parts of their job.
Take, for example, the story of Brandon Bentley. He was a police officer who shot a man threatening to kill him in 2009. Since the shooting, Bentley has been unable to return to work, and has tried to kill himself twice. He currently collects police disability retirement pay, but his workers comp claim was denied because, according to the state of South Carolina, shooting suspects was a routine part of a police officer’s job.
“For some reason, even though I know this guy is dead, I feel as though he is going to kill me. I can’t explain that,” Bentley said, according to a transcript of his workers compensation hearing.
“Killing people is the last thing we want to do. And it is always the last resort,” said Jeff Moore, executive director of the S.C. Sheriff’s Association. Moore added that, if killing suspects is a normal part of law enforcement, then “no law enforcement officer in South Carolina will ever be eligible for workers comp.”
Local Governments Argue Against Change to Workers Comp
Although the bill has bipartisan support at the state level, local and county governments oppose the changes to workers comp. They argue that if requirements for workers comp claims are relaxed, then the draw would burden local governments and courts with expensive claims. They cite statewide budget cuts as the root of their concerns.
They also cite California’s example. When that state relaxed its workers comp laws, they were overrun with mental injury claims. California has also faced problems with professional sports players making large workers comp claims from out of state.
According to the Municipal Association of South Carolina, nearly 60% of workers comp claims throughout the state are already from police officers and firefighters.
Local governments argue that public safety workers already have other ways of receiving compensation for physical and mental injuries. Attorney Bill Shaughnessy said that many of these employees have specific retirement disability plans that “in many circumstances is 50 to 60 percent of their pay.”
“So the public is paying, then, 112 percent of what they would make if they were working,” Shaughnessy said, adding police and fire disability benefits are the only benefits that he knows of that are not offset by workers comp payments. “These police and fire(fighters) are going to be double-dipping, in essence.”
South Carolina state lawmakers, however, clearly disagree as they push the bill forward.
The Strom Law Firm Can Help with Workers Comp Claims
The workers comp lawyers at The Strom Law Firm, LLC proudly seek justice on behalf of employees injured or killed on the job who work for private companies, as well as employees working for local county, city, and state government. We understand the impact that a work-related injury or death has upon you and your loved ones. The most important thing you need to focus on is a speedy recovery. You need an advocate who will seek justice on your behalf. The Strom Law Firm offers free, confidential consultations to discuss the facts of your workers comp claim. Contact us today. 803.252.4800.