South Carolina Workers’ Comp for Injured Firefighters
Learn about your right to workers’ comp benefits after a firefighting accident in Columbia
Firefighters in South Carolina are often hailed as heroes, and rightfully so. With courage that defies explanation, they plunge into infernos, wrestle with blazes, and put their lives at risk to save others. Whether it’s a house fire, a forest blaze or a chemical emergency, these brave men and women face dangers that most people can hardly imagine.
Yet, their job is not just physically grueling; it’s also fraught with the potential for catastrophic injuries and even death. From burns and smoke inhalation to falls and other traumas, the risks are ever-present.
Given these hazards, workers’ compensation is not just a legal necessity—it’s a moral imperative. When firefighters suffer injuries in the line of duty, they need more than applause for their bravery; they need substantial support to cover medical bills, rehabilitation and potential lost wages.
If you’ve been seriously injured in a firefighting accident in Columbia, don’t settle for less than you deserve.
The knowledgeable work injury attorneys at Smith, Born, Leventis, Taylor & Vega will fight to get you maximum compensation for your injuries.
How common are firefighter injuries?
According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), approximately 60,750 U.S. firefighter injuries were reported in 2021 alone, a 6% decrease from 2020. The majority of these injuries (32%) occurred while firefighters were actively fighting fires at the scene.
What is the most common injury firefighters suffer during their careers?
The NFPA reports that the most common injuries firefighters experience are muscle strains, sprains and pains, accounting for 45% of all reported injuries in 2021. These types of injuries often occur due to the physically demanding nature of firefighting, which frequently involves heavy lifting, quick movements and awkward postures.
Other top injuries include the following:
- Smoke or gas inhalation. Beyond immediate smoke inhalation issues, like respiratory distress, repeated exposure can have long-term health impacts, like lung cancer and an increased risk of heart attack.
- Burns (fire or chemical). Apart from burns caused by fire, firefighters also risk chemical burns from hazardous materials.
- Bone fractures and dislocations. Broken bones and dislocations can occur from falls, equipment failures, or during the physically demanding acts of rescue.
- Heat stress. Firefighters wearing heavy protective gear can suffer from thermal stress, especially during prolonged exposure to high heat.
- Cuts and bruises. Sharp objects, broken glass and metal fragments at fire scenes can cause these types of injuries that typically heal on their own but could lead to complications like infection if not properly treated.
- Broken bones. Whether from a fall, being struck by an object or a collision while driving to an emergency, broken bones are a significant risk.
- Spinal cord injuries. These can result from falls from ladders, heavy lifting or other incidents where the back and spine are compromised. The consequences can be severe and long-lasting.
- Traumatic brain injuries. Firefighters are at risk for traumatic brain injuries due to falling objects, explosions or falls from heights.
Understanding the range of injuries that firefighters face underlines the importance of rigorous training, proper equipment, and supportive measures like workers’ compensation to help those who risk their lives to save others.
What are the top causes of firefighter injuries?
According to 2021 data from the NFPA, the majority of firefighter injuries during a fire are caused by physical exertion and accidents. Overexertion or strain is the leading cause, accounting for 25% of injuries.
Other common causes include:
- Falls, jumps, slips and trips (24%)
- Exposure to fire products (12%)
- Contact with objects (9%)
- Being struck by an object (6%)
- Extreme weather conditions (3%)
- Exposure to chemicals or radiation (1%)
In the news:
One firefighter killed and others wounded in massive Columbia apartment fire
One firefighter died and 6 others were injured in a massive apartment fire in Columbia, South Carolina, on May 26, 2023. The fire occurred at Tropical Ridge Apartments and led to multiple people being rescued. Two residents were also injured and taken to the hospital. The incident caused heavy damage to the building, displacing a total of 19 people.
The firefighter who died was from the Irmo Fire District. His family members will be entitled to workers’ compensation death benefits under South Carolina law.
Are firefighters in South Carolina entitled to workers’ compensation?
Yes, firefighters in South Carolina are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they’re injured or become ill as a result of their job duties. In South Carolina, employers with 4 or more employees are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. This means that nearly all firefighting agencies, being typically larger than 4 employees, would be mandated to provide this coverage for their firefighters.
How does workmans comp work in S.C.?
The workers’ compensation system in South Carolina is a “no-fault” system. This means that an employee does not have to prove that their employer was at fault for the injury or illness to receive benefits.
The main requirement is that the injury or illness must occur within the “course and scope” of employment. This means that the injury must happen while the firefighter is performing job-related duties. It covers a wide range of scenarios, whether the firefighter is responding to an emergency, training, or performing other work-related tasks.
Injuries from one-time accidents and occupational diseases and illnesses like cancer that develop over time are covered under workers’ compensation. However, workers need to be able to prove that their injury, illness or disease is a direct result of their job duties or work environment.
What about volunteer firefighters? Are they covered under workers’ compensation in S.C.?
Volunteer firefighters may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits after a work-related injury or disease under certain circumstances. You should consult with a workers’ compensation attorney who can advise you of your rights if you’re unsure if you qualify for benefits.
Explore the key factors affecting eligibility, including employee status, the nature of the injury or illness, and reporting and filing deadlines.
Is PTSD covered under South Carolina workers’ comp?
As of 2023, the South Carolina legislature is considering a bill that aims to amend South Carolina law to provide workers’ compensation benefits for first responders, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters, who are medically diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Under the bill, the PTSD would need to arise from a “significant traumatic experience or situation” that occurred during their scope of employment. These experiences are explicitly defined in the bill and include events like witnessing death, using deadly force, or being subjected to it.
For a first responder to be eligible for benefits, 3 conditions would need to be met:
- PTSD must be medically diagnosed, arising from their involvement in a significant traumatic situation.
- The first responder must be participating in and receiving clinical care through specific South Carolina support programs.
- There must be an incapacity to work as determined by a treating physician.
As these laws are rapidly evolving, it’s best to consult with an experienced work injury attorney to discuss your options for compensation if you’re a first responder experiencing symptoms of work-related PTSD.
What benefits are injured firefighters entitled to?
Injured firefighters are entitled to various benefits under the workers’ compensation system, although the specifics can vary according to the nature of the injury or illness. Here are some of the general types of benefits that may be available:
- Medical benefits. All necessary medical treatment related to the injury will be covered. This includes hospital stays, surgeries, medications and rehabilitation services.
- Wage loss benefits. If a firefighter is unable to work due to their injury or illness, they may be eligible for benefits to replace their lost income, which usually amounts to two-thirds of their average weekly wage.
- Vocational rehabilitation. In some cases, injured firefighters may require assistance in retraining for a different line of work; these services can also be covered.
- Mileage reimbursement. Travel costs for medical appointments related to the work injury can also be reimbursed in many cases.
- Death benefits. If a firefighter dies as a result of their injuries, their dependents may be entitled to death benefits, usually a percentage of the firefighter’s average weekly wage, along with funeral and burial expenses.
Understanding the specific benefits you may be entitled to often requires consultation with legal experts familiar with workers’ compensation laws in your jurisdiction. But broadly speaking, these are the types of benefits that firefighters injured on the job could expect.
Does workers’ comp pay for pain and suffering in South Carolina?
No, workers’ compensation does not cover pain and suffering. The workers’ compensation system is designed to provide specific benefits, such as medical treatment and wage replacement, but it does not compensate for emotional and psychological aspects like pain and suffering.
This is consistent with the “no-fault” nature of workers’ compensation, which provides benefits regardless of who is at fault for the injury, but limits the types of compensation that are available.
However, if a third party other than the employer is responsible for the injury, an injured firefighter may have the option to file a separate personal injury lawsuit against that third party. In such cases, compensation for pain and suffering could potentially be awarded. However, within the context of workers’ compensation claims in South Carolina, pain and suffering are not compensable.
What steps do firefighters need to take to file a workers’ comp claim in South Carolina?
Workers’ comp benefits aren’t automatically awarded to injured workers. There are certain steps that must be taken within a specified timeframe to be eligible. To file a workers’ compensation claim in South Carolina, firefighters should do the following:
- Immediately seek emergency care. It’s crucial to get the medical attention you need right away, as this provides documentation that links your injury to your job. Unless it’s an emergency, you’ll be required to see an employer-approved doctor.
- Report the accident to your employer. A written report detailing the injury and how it happened is required and must be submitted within 90 days of the injury event or discovery of the occupational disease. Failing to notify your employer within this time frame could result in your claim being denied.
- Verify your employer files a claim. Once your employer has been notified, they’re obligated to file a claim with their insurance provider and notify the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. If your employer fails or refuses to do this, you have the option to file the claim yourself by submitting Form 50 to the Commission.
If you encounter any issues, such as your employer refusing to file a claim or your claim being denied, it’s highly advisable to consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to protect your rights and guide you through the process.
Were you injured while working as a firefighter? Maximize your benefits with the help of a skilled Columbia work injury attorney.
If you’re a firefighter who has suffered an injury on the job, we know the physical, emotional and financial toll it can take on you and your family. You’ve bravely served your community, and now it’s time for you to get the support you need to heal and recover.
The skilled work injury attorneys at Smith, Born, Leventis, Taylor & Vega are here to help you navigate the complex world of workers’ compensation.
Don’t leave your financial future and well-being to chance. With our knowledgeable attorneys by your side, we can guide you through every step of the claim process, ensuring your rights are protected. We’ll stand up to insurance companies who may try to minimize your benefits, fighting tirelessly to secure the maximum compensation you’re entitled to for medical expenses, lost wages, and rehabilitation costs.
Learn more by scheduling your free consultation today.
Evarts, B., & Molis, J. (2022). United States Firefighter Injuries in 2021. https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/Emergency-responders/osffinjuries.pdf