How to get maximum compensation if you’re hurt in the line of duty
Firefighters are among the first responders who provide assistance at the scene of emergencies. Saving lives and performing heroic feats is part of their job.
An average day at work can require lifting, bending, climbing, sprinting and facing all sorts of elements while wearing a protective uniform and carrying heavy equipment.
Because firefighters are people, too, it should come as no surprise that they sometimes get injured on the job.
Workers’ compensation for injured firefighters
South Carolina firefighters who are injured in the course of their employment may file a claim to receive workers’ compensation.
In South Carolina, most employers with 4 or more employees are required to carry workers’ comp insurance. This insurance provides a streamlined process by which workers may receive certain benefits if they’re injured at work.
Common firefighter injuries
Due to the extreme nature of the work first responders are often called to do, firefighters face a greater risk of sustaining a severe injury compared to the average worker.
- Climbing ladders and running up sets of stairs increases the risk of falling and injuring soft tissue or fracturing a bone.
- During a fire rescue, emergency personnel may get burned or require medical treatment for smoke inhalation.
- The buildings from which firefighters rescue people are sometimes unstable. Therefore, a building’s roof for interior beams may collapse and strike a firefighter causing a head injury, or bone fracture.
- Some buildings may have toxic chemicals that become volatile when exposed to fire. Meth labs can also emit toxic chemicals that cause an explosion or injure the lungs of anyone who gets too close without the proper protective gear.
- Firefighters are also more likely to experience overexertion due to their physically-demanding jobs.
- PTSD also occurs among first responders who are exposed to traumatic emergencies.
Covid-19 and first responders
Most firefighters are employed by a city or county government. As such, any workers’ compensation claim would be filed under the jurisdiction of the workers’ compensation law of the state in which they work.
What workers’ compensation benefits are available for injured firefighters?
Whether injured during an emergency call, training or while maintaining equipment, firefighters are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits as long as the injury occurred during the course of their work.
Under South Carolina’s workers’ comp law, injured firefighters may receive compensation for:
- Medical expenses. This includes doctor appointments, surgeries, medication, rehabilitation and medical devices.
- Lost wages. Injured workers can receive benefits to cover a portion of their lost wages (typically two-thirds of their average weekly wage) while they’re recovering from an injury. The length of time they can receive this benefit varies according to the type and severity of their injury.
- Death benefits. Death benefits are available to certain dependents in the event that a firefighter dies from an injury. Benefits include wage replacement and funeral expenses.
South Carolina’s governor has also set aside a fund to provide mental stress management benefits to support firefighters who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Firefighters who experience anxiety, depression, substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive symptoms or who otherwise do not feel like themselves should notify their employer.
First responders who do not feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their employer should contact a workers’ compensation attorney to receive a confidential case evaluation. A South Carolina workers’ comp lawyer can discuss the workers’ comp process and other separate resources that are available to help first responders recover from the mental stressors they encounter while on the job.
Although the workers’ comp program prevents injured firefighters from filing a lawsuit against their employers, there are some cases in which an injured firefighter may file a claim against a 3rd party. A South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney can determine whether there is potential for a 3rd-party lawsuit.
Click here to learn more about the types of workers’ compensation benefits.
In the news:
New law allows injured federal firefighters to remain on enhanced retirement
In 2022, the Senate passed a bill that now allows federal firefighters who are injured or disabled to receive their full enhanced retirement benefits even if they are under 57 or have not completed the required 20 years of service. Federal first responders also qualify for a higher annuity rate on their retirement benefits due to the high-risk nature of their job.
The bill, called First Responder Fair RETIRE Act, was officially signed into law on December 9, 2022.
Filing a workers’ comp claim
If a firefighter is injured on the job, they should take the following steps to obtain workers’ compensation benefits:
- Seek medical care. You should always seek medical attention immediately after any injury. Doing so prevents the injury from getting worse and also provides documentation that will help prove the injury is work-related.
- Report the accident to your employer. The next step is to report the accident directly to your employer. You should ideally report the injury or illness as soon as it happens; however, the workers’ comp law requires notification to be made within 90 days of the accident. If you report the injury more than 90 days after the accident happened, you may be barred from filing a workers’ comp claim and collecting benefits.
- Employer files a claim. Next, the employer should file a claim with its insurance company. The insurance company will require you to be examined by one of the employer’s certified doctors.
After the examination, the worker must follow the doctor’s advice regarding medication, rest and rehabilitation. Workers’ comp is generally efficient in terms of resolving claims without subjecting workers to a time-consuming process of determining who is at fault for the accident that caused the worker’s injury.
If your employer refuses to file a claim, you can file a claim yourself by submitting Form 50 to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission, but it’s highly recommended that you contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to help you with the process.
Possible challenges to a firefighter’s workers’ comp claim
There are some cases in which a worker is unaware of their injury until more than 90 days after the accident that caused the injury took place.
In other cases, a worker may receive workers’ comp benefits, but the employer’s approved doctor may send the employee back to work prematurely.
Injured workers may appeal workers’ comp decisions by filing Form 50 to request a review. The South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission will assign a Commissioner and set a hearing date. At the hearing, the worker will be permitted to present their case.
We recommend enlisting the help of a workers’ compensation lawyer who understands the review process. An attorney can help the worker present their case in a manner that is professional and persuasive.
Consult an experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorney
Workers’ compensation cases can be complicated, especially for firefighters who want to file a claim for mental health issues like PTSD. It’s vital that you understand your rights and follow all necessary procedures to ensure you get maximum compensation. Even small mistakes early on in the process can greatly impact your claim.
An attorney can file all the necessary paperwork, gather evidence, consult medical experts and negotiate with your employer and their insurance company to ensure you get the full benefits to which you’re entitled.
If you’ve 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.