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    First responders play a critical role in South Carolina’s emergency services and safety forces. They are the first on the scene of a traffic accident, crime, or natural disaster. First responders such as firefighters, law enforcement officers, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians often find themselves in dangerous situations and may sustain serious injuries while performing their jobs.

    First responders may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits for physical injuries sustained in the line of duty. These benefits also extend to auxiliary police officers and volunteer firefighters and rescue squad members.

    If you are a first responder who has been injured on the job and you are having difficulty obtaining workers’ comp benefits, contact Joye Law Firm for help.

    Common Emergency Responder Injuries Suffered on the Job

    First responders have some of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. Their work exposes them to many hazards including fires and explosions, collapsed buildings, being struck by vehicles, natural disasters, flooding, hazardous chemicals, violent assaults, electrical shock, and terrorist incidents.

    The injuries commonly suffered by first responders include:

    • Concussions – A concussion is a type of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can occur when a first responder suffers a blow to the head. While concussions may cause a brief loss of consciousness, they are typically not life-threatening. Concussion symptoms may not appear right away; therefore, first responders may not realize they have a head injury initially. Symptoms include difficulty maintaining balance, impaired coordination, slurred speech, inability to concentrate, memory problems, and seizures.
    • Broken bones – Broken bones, or fractures, are some of the most common types of work injuries. You can suffer a broken bone in many types of emergency work. Some first responders, such as law enforcement officers and ambulance personnel, spend many hours on the road and are at increased risk of traffic collisions both in and out of the vehicle when responding to calls. Fractures sustained in motor vehicle accidents are a common type of injury sustained by law enforcement officers in the line of duty.
    • Internal organ damage – Any kind of trauma can lead to severe injuries to internal organs. Common trauma-related internal organ damage includes:
      • Punctured lung caused by broken ribs
      • Kidney damage
      • Ruptured spleen
      • Liver or bowel damage
    • Burn injuries – Firefighters are frequently exposed to flames and smoke, and are especially susceptible to burn injuries while performing their jobs. A burn injury may cause deep tissue damage that results in extensive scarring and requires a lengthy recovery. Types of burn injuries include:
      • Thermal burns (fires, hot metal)
      • Chemical burns
      • Electrical burns
      • Explosions
    • Lacerations – Lacerations are deep cuts or tears in the flesh. These injuries can occur in virtually any industry but are common in first responders due to the dangerous nature of their work. Lacerations may occur in a traffic accident or when a first responder doesn’t have the proper safety gear.
    • Torn ligaments – Police officers may hurt their knees, legs, or feet when chasing a suspect. Torn ACLs and Achilles tendons are some of the most common ligament injuries.
    • Overexertion – Overexertion occurs when a first responder strains or sprains a muscle or ligament, or slips a disc from lifting, pulling, pushing, or turning an item. Overexertion can happen when a firefighter is pulling a fire hose or when an EMT is carrying someone on a stretcher.

    What Issues Does South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Cover for First Responders?

    If the accident occurred on the job and during the course of their employment, first responders should be covered by South Carolina workers’ compensation laws.

    Workers’ compensation will pay for:

    • Medical care
    • A portion of lost wages (typically two-thirds of the injured worker’s weekly pre-tax earnings)
    • Permanent disability
    • Physical impairment, disfigurement, and loss of limbs
    • Reimbursement for mileage costs to see a physician or pick up medications
    • Death and burial benefits

    Does Workers’ Compensation Pay for Emotional/Mental Distress Incurred on the Job?

    First responders are at higher risk of developing numerous medical and mental health issues due to the stressful nature of their jobs and the types of trauma they encounter.

    Unfortunately, South Carolina’s current laws state that in order to qualify for medical benefits for work-related stress, mental injuries, and mental illness “unaccompanied by physical injury,” the conditions that caused the injury must have been “extraordinary and unusual in comparison to the normal conditions of the particular employment.”

    Thankfully, some lawmakers are currently pushing to change this: a new bill was introduced in January 2023 that would open up benefits for first responders without requiring the circumstances be “extraordinary or unusual.”

    While the current laws do not mean you can’t get compensation for your mental distress, it does make it much harder. Hiring an experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer to help you complete your application for benefits can help improve your chances of getting the compensation you deserve.

    What Will This New Bill Do for First Responders in South Carolina?

    If Section 42-9-50 is adopted into the South Carolina Code of Laws, first responders will be eligible for benefits for a medical diagnosis of PTSD arising from a traumatic event in the course of their employment when:

    1. The first responder is unable to work due to their condition, as determined by their doctor.
    2. The first responder is actively receiving treatment for their condition.

    Currently, first responders may be eligible for mental stress management programs through the South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program (SCLEAP) or the South Carolina First Responders Assistance and Support Team (SC FAST). Before a first responder can receive these new workers’ comp wage benefits, they must first exhaust all help available through either SCLEAP or SC FAST.

    First Responders and PTSD

    First responders are at a greater risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder, and other mental disorders.

    Symptoms of PTSD include:

    • Nightmares, flashbacks, and recurring thoughts
    • Emotional numbness and/or feeling detached from reality
    • Anger, guilt, worry, and hopelessness
    • Avoidance of certain places and people that remind the victim of the traumatic event
    • Loss of interest in activities that once brought happiness
    • Constantly feeling anxious or on edge
    • Cognitive issues, such as memory problems
    • Sleep issues and insomnia
    • Self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse and suicidal thoughts

    PTSD may not develop immediately after a first responder experiences a traumatic event. In some instances, PTSD symptoms may occur months after the traumatic event. Because emergency personnel are generally exposed to multiple stressful and traumatic events on a regular basis, they may develop PTSD symptoms from enduring multiple traumatic incidents that gradually wear down their resistance.

    Our workers’ compensation lawyers at Joye Law Firm are on the side of first responders and are ready to help you obtain all the medical benefits available following your work-related accident.

    Hiring a Lawyer is Often Necessary to Obtain Full Benefits

    If your workers’ compensation claim has been denied, you may wonder what steps you can take next. There are many reasons why a claim may be denied. For instance, your employer may contend that your injury was not a direct result of your work but rather your life outside the job. Claims also can be denied due to missing filing deadlines.

    In fact, missed notification deadlines and failure to seek prompt medical care are among the most common reasons that first responders’ workers’ compensation claims get denied. A first responder may try to work through an injury for a period of time before seeking medical treatment. This can cause an insurance administrator to question the seriousness of the injury and deny their application for benefits.

    In South Carolina, an injured employee has 90 days to notify their employer of their injury or illness. In some cases, it is difficult to pinpoint precisely when an injury occurred. Our attorneys can organize your medical records to show how your injury or illness was related to your job, and will ensure that you meet all the necessary deadlines for filing your workers’ comp claim.

    The right South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer for you will be one who is experienced in handling first responder injury cases. Our skilled workers’ compensation lawyers at Joye Law Firm are well-versed in handling cases for first responders in South Carolina, including a $195,000 settlement for a North Charleston firefighter who experienced a career ending injury.

    If you are a first responder, our experienced South Carolina workers’ compensation attorneys would like to review your case and discuss your options. We will make sure that your employer is correctly applying the statute and not unjustly withholding benefits. This is why it is so critical that you hire a workers’ compensation lawyer who handles these types of cases and knows what benefits you are entitled to under the law.

    Contact Joye Law Firm Today to Learn How We Can Help

    Our South Carolina workers’ compensation attorneys at Joye Law Firm respect the bravery and dedication of first responders who put themselves in harm’s way to help others. We’re proud to represent first responders who have been injured on the job with their disputed workers’ comp claims. We fight for the benefits and compensation first responders need for medical bills, future medical bills, a portion of lost earnings, and other damages.

    Joye Law Firm has been helping injured people throughout South Carolina since 1968. When police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and other first responders suffer harm, we also fight for their right to full and fair compensation.

    Joye Law Firm has offices in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Clinton, and Summerville. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our experienced South Carolina workers’ comp lawyers, call (888)-324-3100 today.

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