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Although workers’ compensation claims commonly arise from physical injuries or occupational illness, some workers may suffer a mental injury or illness due to a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is a medical condition in which a person has difficulty emotionally and mentally recovering after experiencing or witnessing an event that caused feelings of fear, terror, or helplessness. A person may begin to suffer from PTSD soon after a traumatic event. But in many cases, the symptoms don’t manifest until weeks, months, or even years later. As a result, people who develop PTSD from a work event or work conditions may find it difficult to get the workers’ compensation benefits they need.

If you are considering seeking workers’ compensation benefits for your PTSD, let the trusted lawyers of Joye Law Firm help. For more than 50 years, our firm has helped injured workers across South Carolina recover the benefits they need. Our firm has the skill, experience, and resources to help you in even the most complex workers’ compensation cases, such as those involving PTSD.

Contact our firm today for a free, no-obligation case evaluation to talk to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. Our team will explain how we can help you pursue workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD. We can meet with you anywhere in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Columbia, Clinton, and surrounding areas of South Carolina. Call us at 888-324-3100 to get started.

What Is the Current Workers’ Compensation Law on PTSD in SC?

In South Carolina, workers’ compensation is intended to provide benefits to people who suffer injuries and illnesses related to work. While workers’ compensation benefits are frequently granted for physical injuries and illnesses, the current law in South Carolina restricts the availability of workers’ comp benefits for mental injuries.

Section 42-1-160 of the South Carolina Code expressly states that: “stress, mental injuries, and mental illness arising out of and in the course of unemployment unaccompanied by physical injury … are not considered a personal injury unless … the employee’s employment conditions causing the stress, mental injury, or mental illness were extraordinary and unusual in comparison to the normal conditions of the particular employment.”

Over the past few years, the South Carolina Legislature has been considering revising the law to expressly include PTSD among the types of injuries covered by workers’ compensation.

Common Workplace PTSD Claims

PTSD is triggered by a horrific, terrifying event or series of events. Workers may be exposed to such events in the course and scope of their employment. For example, first responders such as police, firefighters, and EMTs or healthcare workers are frequently exposed to traumatic events.

Workplace PTSD claims can also commonly arise from:

  • A worker’s own traumatic workplace accident, especially one that results in a catastrophic injury such as amputation
  • Witnessing another employee’s serious injury or death in the workplace
  • Suffering a sexual assault committed by a co-worker in the course and scope of employment
  • Being victimized by criminal activity in the workplace, such as a robbery or an active shooter incident

PTSD claims may be accompanied by claims of physical injury or illness from a workplace accident or incident. In other cases, PTSD may represent the only injury suffered by a worker.

Common Symptoms of PTSD

Common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Frequent, involuntary, and intrusive flashbacks and dreams of the traumatic event
  • Avoidance of stimuli, including thoughts, feelings, places, people, objects, or activities, that cause you to remember the traumatic event
  • Inability to remember parts or details of the traumatic event
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Feelings of self-blame, guilt, fear, shame, or anger
  • Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Withdrawal
  • Irritability and outbursts of anger
  • Loss of impulse control or self-destructive behavior
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Hypervigilance or paranoia
  • Problems falling or staying asleep

The mental distress caused by PTSD can also lead to physical symptoms and medical issues, such as:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Fatigue
  • Ulcers
  • High blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart attack or stroke

When these symptoms last for at least one month and cause a significant impairment in your daily living or professional work, you may be diagnosed with PTSD.

Treatment for PTSD

PTSD can be treated via several different methods. Common treatments include:

  • Talk therapy, including individual therapy, couples therapy, and group therapy. Talk therapy methods may include cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and mindfulness therapy.
  • Biofeedback therapy, which is designed to help you recognize and adjust to sources of tension and stress.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which can help you change the way you react to feelings of the traumatic event.
  • Medications, including SSRIs and SNRIs that can help treat anxiety and depression. Medications may also help alleviate physical symptoms triggered by PTSD, such as migraines or gastrointestinal issues.

Most people experiment with several types of treatment methods before they find one or a combination that provides the greatest amount of recovery from the symptoms of PTSD.

How Does Workers’ Compensation Handle Mental Injury in South Carolina?

South Carolina’s workers’ compensation law may provide compensation for a mental injury or illness that accompanies another work-related physical injury or illness. However, when a mental injury or illness such as PTSD arises by itself from an employee’s work, the law restricts a person’s ability to obtain workers’ comp benefits.

Workers’ compensation benefits may only be available for PTSD unaccompanied by physical injury if a worker can prove that the PTSD was caused by extraordinary and unusual employment conditions. This means that a worker who develops PTSD through what would be considered the normal conditions of the job may not be entitled to workers’ comp benefits for the condition. This can severely restrict workers whose jobs regularly include stressful and traumatic situations, such as police officers, firefighters, or hospital workers.

A worker seeking benefits for PTSD must also prove, through medical evidence, that their condition was caused by their employment. Many workers’ compensation claims for mental illness and injury are often contested by employers and workers’ compensation insurers who argue that a worker’s mental health issues were caused, in whole or in part, by problems in their personal life.

Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim

  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim requires you to first notify your employer of your injury or illness. South Carolina law requires that you give notice to your employer within 90 days of an accident that results in your injury or, for an injury arising from repetitive trauma, within 90 days from when you discover or should have discovered that you had a compensable injury.
  • Once you notify your employer, your employer is required to file a claim with the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. If your employer fails to do so, you have two years from the date of the traumatic accident or the date you discovered or should have discovered your injury to file the claim.
  • After you provide notice, your employer or its workers’ compensation insurer must either accept or deny your claim.
  • If your employer or its insurer denies your claim or does not pay you the full amount of benefits you believe you are entitled to, you can file a claim to obtain a hearing before a workers’ compensation commissioner. At the hearing, you or your attorney can present medical evidence and testimony in support of your claim for benefits for PTSD.
  • The workers’ compensation commissioner will issue a ruling determining whether your PTSD constitutes a compensable injury under South Carolina’s workers’ compensation laws and what benefits you may be entitled to. This includes the types of medical and mental health treatment your employer and its workers’ comp insurer may be obligated to cover.

Because workers in South Carolina can only obtain workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD under limited circumstances, it is critical to have a knowledgeable lawyer on your side for these complex claims.

Talk to a South Carolina Workers’ Comp Lawyer Now

If you’re suffering from PTSD related to your job, you need experienced legal representation to help you pursue the workers’ compensation benefits you may be entitled to receive. Contact Joye Law Firm or give us a call at 888-324-3100 for a free, confidential consultation with a compassionate South Carolina workers’ comp lawyer.