A South Carolina police officer who fatally shot a suspect cannot collect workers compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder because the use of deadly force is a "standard and necessary" part of his job, the South Carolina Supreme Court said in a split decision this week.
Brandon Bentley was a deputy sheriff for the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Department, court records show. In October 2009, he responded to a call involving a disturbance between neighbors, where he was reportedly confronted by a man with an umbrella in an "offensive posture."
Bentley fatally shot the man after he threatened to take Bentley's gun and kill him, records show.
Bentley was treated for anxiety and depression after the shooting, and a psychiatrist and psychologist deemed him unable to work. He filed for workers' comp benefits in March 2010.
A workers' comp commissioner ruled that Bentley did not suffer a compensable injury because the shooting "was not an unusual or extraordinary condition of (his) work," records show. An appellate panel of the Richland County Workers Compensation Commission upheld that decision.
The South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the prior decisions in its 3-2 ruling on July 11. In the majority opinion, the court said the shooting that caused Bentley's mental trauma was a "standard and necessary condition" of his employment, rather than an "extraordinary and unusual" circumstance that would be compensable. The majority noted that Bentley was trained to use deadly force.
The court's minority opinion contends that Bentley's mental injury was caused by "extraordinary and unusual" conditions, because officers rarely have to shoot suspects.
"I find it difficult to fathom, let alone countenance, a rule which would allow Deputy Sheriff Bentley to recover workers compensation if he had tripped and fallen and injured his leg while drawing his gun on this suspect, yet does not permit him to recover for the very real mental trauma he undeniably suffered by shooting and killing the man," Justice Kaye G. Hearn said in a dissenting opinion that would have awarded benefits to Bentley.