When the South Carolina Supreme Court issued its decision in Bentley v. Spartanburg County and S.C. Association of Counties SIF (Opinion No. 27140) in July 2012, there was little doubt the General Assembly would heed the Court’s call for reform of §42-1-160(B) and the requirement of “extraordinary and unusual” conditions to prove a compensable mental-mental injury for law enforcement officers. The question was not whether the requirement for proving a compensable mental-mental injury would be revised, but to what extent and to whom the new standard would apply.
The most recent version of House Bill H.3147 was amended by the House Judiciary Committee and is now being sent to the House floor for consideration. The bill in its current form contains subsection (C) “[t]he provisions of subsection (B)(1) do not apply, however, if the employee is employed as a law enforcement office and the impairment causing the stress, mental injury, or mental illness arises from the law enforcement officer’s direct involvement in, or subjection to, the use of deadly force in the line of duty.” This version significantly narrowed the exception from the prior version released in February 2013 which included fire fighters, law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians and correctional officers. It also limits the exception to the use of deadly force as opposed to the prior exception for “an event or series of events that are part of the employee’s employment.”
The proposed amendments to §42-1-160 carve out a very specific exception to the “extraordinary and unusual” conditions standard which was so harshly criticized by the Court in Bentley. However, the amendments in their current form are not likely to open the flood gates of litigation as many adversaries of reform have contended. The limited exception would only apply to the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer who, as a result of the same, develops a mental injury or illness resulting in impairment. The House Judiciary Committee has proposed amendments that specifically address the facts and issues of Bentley with regard to law enforcement officers, and now the House will determine if these amendments sufficiently address the Court’s call for reform of mental-mental compensability requirements.
If you would like to learn more about H.3147 or the Bentley case that spurred the legislation, read our previous blog posts here.