A deputy sheriff was on road patrol when he was dispatched to a residence following a call involving disturbances between neighbors. A man refused to cooperate with the sheriff's orders and walked toward the sheriff with an umbrella raised in an "offensive posture." The sheriff said the man threatened to take his gun and kill him. The sheriff fired one shot at the man's chest, resulting in his death.
The sheriff received annual training on the use of firearms and deadly force. All sheriffs were aware of the possibility that they might be required to fire their weapon then shoot and kill. Statistics showed that the killing of suspects by sheriffs in the county occurred about once per year.
Following the incident, the sheriff began to suffer psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression. He sought treatment and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. His psychiatrist and psychologist concluded that he was unable to work.
The sheriff sought workers' compensation benefits. A workers' compensation commissioner found that the work event was not an unusual or extraordinary condition of his work, so the sheriff did not suffer a compensable mental injury arising out of his employment. The appellate panel of the Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed the commissioner's decision and denied the claim. The sheriff appealed.
Was the commission correct in denying benefits to the sheriff?
A. No. The use of deadly force was not within the normal scope and duties of a sheriff.
B. No. The sheriff was aware that he might have to shoot someone and was trained in the use of deadly force.
C. Yes. The killing of a suspect only occurred once a year in the county.
How the court ruled: C. The South Carolina Supreme Court held that the sheriff's PTSD and depression did not arise out of an unusual or extraordinary condition of his employment, so he was not entitled to benefits. Bentley v. Spartanburg County, No. 27140 (S.C. 07/11/12).
The court explained that to recover benefits for a mental injury a worker must show that the employment conditions causing his condition were extraordinary and unusual in comparison to the normal conditions of the employment. The court found that the sheriff's awareness of the possibility that he might have to shoot someone, his training on firearms and deadly force showed that the incident was not extraordinary and unusual but was a standard and necessary condition of his job.
A is incorrect. The court explained that the sheriff knew that he would sometimes be required to use deadly force in his job. He was instructed on the use of firearms and deadly force.
B is incorrect. The court explained that it had to examine the conditions of the employment and not the frequency of an event occurring. The court concluded that the incident was a standard and necessary condition of the sheriff's job.
Editor's note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
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August 16, 2012
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