How to get maximum compensation if you’re hurt in the line of duty
In 2021, there were almost 2,700,000 reported cases of nonfatal injuries and illnesses to U.S. workers on the job. There were also 5,190 work-related fatalities that same year.
Law enforcement is a dangerous job. Historically, the rate of injury and illness for law enforcement workers exceeds the rate for all categories of workers. For example, between 2003 and 2014:
- The rate of job injury for law enforcement officers was 613 per 10,000 full-time workers (6.35 percent).
- The rate of injury for all workers was only 2.1 percent.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that law enforcement is among the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the U.S.
In 2020 alone, 73,560 law enforcement employees suffered injuries and illnesses at work that resulted in days away from work.
In 2019, the rate of workplace fatalities for all categories was 3.5 per 10,000 for all workers. For the same year, the rate of fatalities in the line of duty among police officers was 11.1 per 10,000 workers.
That means police fatalities were more than 3 times higher than on-the-job fatalities among all other categories of jobs that year.
It should be noted that the reliability of data available for police officer injuries is also compromised by underreporting.
Common injuries faced by police officers
The principal reasons for the high incidence of injuries among police officers are the risk of assaults and vehicle accidents. Among the common injuries are the following:
- Gunshot wounds
- Stress-related injuries (e.g., PTSD)
- Repetitive stress injuries
- Foot/ankle injuries
- Broken bones
Workers’ compensation for officer injuries
South Carolina has a workers’ compensation law similar to that of the other 49 states.
It is a no-fault insurance system where an injured worker, to receive workers’ compensation benefits, does not have to prove that their employer is at fault for their injury or illness.
However, the employee has the burden to prove that their injury arose out of and in the course of their employment duties.
The South Carolina system is administered by the Workers’ Compensation Commission. The rules are prescribed in South Carolina Code §42-1-10 et seq.
Types of workers’ comp benefits
Workers’ compensation benefits include:
- Medical treatments, including hospital stays, doctor visits, surgeries, medications, medical equipment and rehabilitation
- Payment of a portion of lost wages while disabled (typically two-thirds of your average weekly wages)
- Death benefits to certain dependents
In South Carolina, all employers with 4 or more full-time employees are required to provide workers’ compensation benefits. Most employers cover their responsibilities with insurance. Some employers qualify to be self-insured.
Most employers and their insurance providers are inclined to contest workers’ compensation claims. For insurance companies, claims adversely affect their profitability. For employers, claims increase their premiums.
How to Appeal a Denial of Workers Comp Benefits
in South Carolina
If you were denied benefits and believe that the decision was in error, you can request a hearing before the SCWCC. Form 50, a special form that must be submitted to appeal the decision, should be completed before the hearing. Hearings are held before 1 of 7 commissioners and are much like a civil trial, but somewhat less formal. Both sides can introduce evidence which the commissioner will consider in rendering their decision.
The decision of the commissioner can be appealed to a panel of 3 commissioners on an appellate panel. The decision of the appellate panel can be appealed further to the South Carolina Court of Appeals and even the Supreme Court of South Carolina.
At any time in the appeals process, the parties can agree to participate in mediation, which is a less formal and often less costly method of resolving legal disputes. Most mediation takes place prior to a formal trial before the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Steps to filing a workers’ compensation claim
If you are hurt at work, you must steadfastly follow these steps to ensure a successful claim for benefits:
- Immediately seek medical help if needed. Except in the case of an emergency, you must have your medical treatment from an employer-approved doctor or medical professional.
- Report the accident or event that caused your injury or illness.
- You have 90 days to file a written report, but the sooner, the better.
- Your employer and/or their insurance company will investigate your case, evaluate your claim and determine your award of benefits.
- Your employer must file your claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
- If your employer fails to file your claim, you can file your own claim.
- If your claim is denied, you have the right to request a hearing before the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
- It can take 3 to 5 months for a hearing to be set.
- If the Commission denies your claim or awards less than the benefits claim, you can appeal to the state circuit court and ultimately to the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Can I sue my employer if I file a workers’ comp claim?
A workers’ compensation claim is your exclusive remedy if injured on the job. That means you are precluded from filing a conventional personal injury claim against your employer.
Workers’ compensation benefits do not include damages for pain and suffering or punitive damages that are available in personal injury lawsuits.
Can I file a personal injury lawsuit against someone other than my employer after a work injury?
Many on-the-job injuries result from the negligence or willful actions of 3rd parties. For example, manufacturers of defective equipment or vehicles can be liable for damages under the product liability law.
Injuries to or death of a police officer are sometimes caused by the negligence of other drivers. In these cases, police officers are not precluded from filing claims against such 3rd parties.
Preventing police officer injuries on the job
State troopers and local police departments strive to minimize injuries and illnesses to their officers. Their programs reduce the workers’ compensation claims and limit employee days of absence from work.
Their programs typically include:
- Training on safety protocols and procedures
- Protective gear such as body armor, helmets and more
- Regular inspection of equipment and maintenance of vehicles
- Mental health resources and counseling
Contact a South Carolina workers’ comp attorney
Police officers are underpaid for the risks they take and the sacrifices they make for our community’s protection and welfare. That makes it of the utmost importance that they don’t suffer financially when they’re injured on the job.
Finding the best workers’ compensation attorney
When you’ve been seriously injured on the job, it’s important to find the right attorney to represent you. Learn about the key factors to consider when choosing a work injury attorney, and get tips for finding the best legal representation for your needs.
Workers’ compensation insurance companies will take advantage of an injured worker’s mistakes in their claims process. Your early consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer will minimize your mistakes and enhance your chances of realizing the compensation to which you are entitled under the law.
An attorney will also file all the necessary paperwork, gather evidence, consult medical experts and negotiate with your employer and their insurance company to ensure you get the maximum benefits after an injury.
If you’re a police officer who’s been injured on the job in South Carolina, contact the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Chappell, Chappell and Newman. Our attorneys have recovered millions of dollars for injured workers across the state of South Carolina, and we’d love the opportunity to help you, too.
Contact us today for a free consultation.