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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder May Become a Presumptive Condition For First Responders

On Behalf of | Nov 16, 2018 | Workers' Compensation


Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

Under the current state of Workers’ compensation law in most states, if an emergency first responder fall ill or has an accident on the job, he or she has to present the illness like everyone else. Many people in the field have felt that the risks and stresses inherent in the job of responding to emergencies should automatically be taken into consideration in determining the nature of the presenting injury suffered by first responders.

Limited Political Success

Workers compensation law is under the control of the states. One after the other, states are proposing changes in workers’ compensation to add the presumption of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for first responders (including all professions who serve in emergency operations). Under new legal worker compensation provisions, first responders (broadly defined) needing compensation would be presumed to be victims of PTSD for the purpose of the act.

By September 2018, thirty states have proposed altering the worker’s compensation law to add the presumption of PTSD for first responders. The National Council on Compensation Insurance has named this change the top trend in workers’ compensation reform even though the bills are moving through the states very slowly.

A number of states took precautionary half-measures.

  • So far in 2018, of 103 state bills dealt with workers compensation provisions for first responders and only 6 bills past passed “true occupational presumption for PTSD.”  Washington State, Florida, Vermont, Hawaii, New Jersey, and New Hampshire enacted inclusion of the PTSD presumption into their workers’ compensation legislation.
  • In 2017, Colorado passed a bill recognizing PTSD as compensable under workers compensation. Then the state passed a bill allowing the treatment of PTSD using medical marijuana.
  • South Carolina created a $500,000 fund to help fund first responders out of pocket medical costs related to the treatment of PTSD.
  • Texas passed an act that eases the burden for first responders filing PTSD claims, requiring the lower standard of proof: “preponderance of evidence” and without the need to declare medical impairment.
  • New York included PTSD references in the 2018 budget that would allow first responders to claim personal injury based on “extraordinary work-related stress” [Hanson & Watson, “Addressing the Emergence of PTSD Presumption: Issues and Solutions” pdf].

The Idea of a Presumptive PTSD Condition

The need for humane workers’ compensation policies came from specific articles in the press and noted by politicians. In June 2016 an Orlando, Florida Police Officer, Gerry Realin spent four hours removing dead bodies from the Pulse Nightclub, victims of the Orlando mass shootings. He was among the officers who covered the 49 victim’s bodies with white sheets. The officers used markers to tally up the dead. The experience left him damaged. He is plagued by flashbacks. nightmares, and depression and was not able to return to work. The sight of a white paper or a Sharpie marker was enough to trigger a flashback. In the year he spent out of work, Realin was not able to receive any worker’s compensation benefits. There was no physical injury to claim compensation about. Florida law excludes so-called “mental-mental claims,” or claims for mental conditions without a physical injury.

Realin and his wife tried to lobby with members of the state legislature in Florida to get changes in the workers’ compensation law. His argument was that Florida’s current workers’ compensation law creates a public safety hazard because emergency workers and first responders were forced to return to work under dangerous psychological conditions. Bills were introduced into the Florida legislature due to Realin’s lobbying efforts and the efforts of others. But none of the bills passed.

In many cases, the inclusion of a presumptive mental state condition in workers’ compensation settlements may be a difficult and costly change in the workers’ compensation system. However, many feel that for occupations where high levels of stress that approximate those of war-time conditions, the inclusion of the presumption that a mental disorder can be labelled PTSD and compensation be provided appears to make sense.

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