Georgia Firefighter Settles PTSD Suit for $250k

Forsyth County, Georgia has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a former firefighter who was prevented from returning to duty after taking stress-related medical leave because he was deemed to be a “safety-risk.” The settlement awards Timothy Smallwood $250,000 and resolves a federal lawsuit he filed back in April, 2018 alleging a violation of Americans With Disabilities Act.

According to the complaint, Smallwood was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2012. In March 2017 his doctor recommended he take medical leave to provide more in-depth treatment. His request for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act was approved and began on March 24, 2017. After exhausting his FMLA leave he was granted additional leave. When his doctor cleared him to return the county “his request … was denied because of his PTSD and because the county deemed him to be a safety risk.”

Although the terms of the settlement were not available in the court file, Forsyth County recently began offering expanded its stress-related counseling services to first responders. The Forsyth County News is reporting that Forsyth County Fire Chief Barry Head is crediting a Forsyth County News’s series titled “The Weight of Responding,” with opening the eyes of county officials to the stress problems of first responders. They quoted chief Head as saying:

  • “After the series that Forsyth County News did, it opened our eyes to the fact that we probably should be doing a little more for our employees, and a couple of comments those employees or former employees made really kind of shook us to the core.”
  • “One of those was that they didn’t feel like the current service that we provide is quite adequate. That’s what this corrects.”

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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