Raquel Martinez was employed as a master deputy forensic investigator with the Spartanburg County, South Carolina Sheriff’s Office. On April 4, 2005, Martinez was called to perform a forensic accident investigation involving an incident where Anthony Johnson, a Greenville County deputy sheriff, and a former officer with the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, accidentally killed his two-year-old daughter while backing his patrol car out of his driveway. As part of Martinez’s standard forensic investigation, she took measurements of the child’s body and photographed the front lawn of the house, the child’s body, the location of the patrol car, the interior of the house, and the undercarriage of the patrol car.
Approximately four months after the accident investigation, Ramon Martinez, Martinez’s father, received a phone call from Martinez’s neighbor informing him that Martinez was “going up and down in the front yard, and she was talking weird.” After arriving at Martinez’s house, her father was unable to locate Martinez and discovered her car windshield was “smashed to pieces,” and her house was in a state of disarray. He discovered Martinez in some nearby bushes. At this point, Martinez wanted her father to meet an imaginary “little girl” that she was going to take on a trip. Martinez was admitted to Spartanburg Regional Medical Center and was diagnosed with delirium related to Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms after she abruptly stopped taking Xanax. Martinez continued to receive psychiatric and psychological treatment in 2005 and 2006.
The South Carolina Court of Appeals rejected her disability claim. South Carolina follows the same standard as many other states, allowing stress claims only where the emotional stimuli or stressors are incident to or arise from “unusual or extraordinary” conditions of employment. Under South Carolina’s formulation, the requirement of “unusual or extraordinary” conditions in employment refers to conditions of the particular job in which the injury occurs, not to conditions of employment in general.
It was this standard Martinez could not meet. The Court found “Martinez witnessed autopsies, previously investigated 24 suspicious death/homicide cases, and worked approximately 100 to 150 death cases. The Sheriff’s Office did not have a rule prohibiting its employees from investigating scenes in which they knew the victim. Martinez does not dispute her job duties during the April 4, 2005 investigation were within her ordinary employment.
“While we empathize with the undoubtedly difficult nature of Martinez’s job, we find Martinez’s argument unpersuasive. Despite the tragic nature of the accident, Martinez and Anthony Johnson’s friendship was not such a close degree as to render the investigation an unusual and extraordinary condition of employment.”
Martinez v. Spartanburg County, 2011 WL 2447081 (S.C. App. 2011).
The above article has appeared in a previous issue of Public Safety Labor News and has been reprinted courtesy of Labor Relations Information System. These articles are for informational purposes only.