No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Injured Volunteer Firefighters Limited Under South Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation System

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By Davis Rice

Every day, thousands of volunteer firefighters and rescue squad volunteers dedicate their spare time to protecting the communities in which they live. These selfless servants often put their own lives in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of individuals they have never met. Given the dangerous nature of the duties they undertake, volunteer firefighters and rescue squad members can be seriously injured during the performance of their duties, which may keep them out of work from their regular, full-time jobs.

Unfortunately, the South Carolina workers’ compensation system significantly limits the benefits that an injured volunteer firefighter or rescue squad member can receive. Under South Carolina law, an injured worker’s compensation rate for weekly benefits generally equals two thirds of his or her average weekly wage from all sources of earnings. However, the average weekly wage for volunteer firemen and rescue squad members is statutorily set at 37.5% of the average weekly wage in the State for the proceeding fiscal year, which ultimately results in a compensation rate of about $185.00 for injuries occurring after January 1, 2013. This means that if you were seriously injured while responding to a fire as a volunteer, and you are unable to work, your disability benefits are limited under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation system to about $185.00 per week. This is because South Carolina law prevents volunteer firemen and rescue squad members from using their earnings from their outside employment for purposes of determining their compensation rate.

Quite frankly, this is an unfair system for injured volunteers who put themselves in harm’s way for the protection of others. The current workers’ compensation system actually deters people from volunteer their time and talents for these much needed causes. However, if you have been injured performing your duties as a volunteer fireman or rescue squad worker, there may be other benefits available, such as a third party action or social security disability benefits, in addition to the limited workers’ compensation benefits available to you.

If you or a loved one has been injured while performing duties as a volunteer firefighter or rescue squad volunteer and you want to know your rights, please contact the Joye Law Firm at (888) 324-3100 for a free consultation.