Several recent news stories reported that close to 200 police officers have applied for PERA disability benefits and likely workers’ compensation benefits too. These applications coincided with the protests in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and calls to reinvest police funding to other areas of priority for the city of Minneapolis.
The law recently changed on January 1, 2019, creating a rebuttal presumption that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is work-related for active duty firefighters, police officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, corrections officers, sheriffs, and state patrol officers. A licensed psychologist must still diagnose PTSD under the DSM-V and the active duty service member cannot have been diagnosed with PTSD previously. PTSD is not considered an occupational disease if it results from a disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, layoff, demotion, promotion, termination or retirement or similar good faith action taken by the employer.
The presumption can be rebutted, meaning an employer and insurer can still deny that the PTSD is work-related if substantial factors are present. There is no definition for “substantial factors”.
There is a difference between workers’ compensation benefits and Public Employees Retirement Association benefits. Certain public employees are eligible for retirement benefits or disability benefits if they can no longer work through PERA. If their conditions are work-related, they can also apply for workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation benefits can be offset by PERA disability benefits if a police officer were to receive both for the same condition.
So let’s discuss how the city of Minneapolis may respond to these claims. If I was a betting person, I would guess that nearly all of them will be denied because either the definition of PTSD isn’t met or because of substantial factors. One of those substantial factors is that an attorney held a press conference to announce that several hundred claims were being filed simultaneously. This certainly raises questions about the legitimacy of each individual claim, given what we know about the protests following the death of George Floyd. I can’t think of any situation where a press conference would be in the best interest of a client. A press conference serves as a great method of attracting new clients for the attorney holding the press conference, but doesn’t further the cause of any individual client’s case. Furthermore, when that many cases from one employer are tried by the same attorney at the same time, it gives the appearance of impropriety and makes it easier for the city to deny the cases and take a hard line stance against awarding any benefits, which is not in the best interest of an injured worker.
The protests were for the most part peaceful. PTSD requires a person to fear death or imminent bodily harm. Certainly there may be many protesters who felt this fear, but it is hard to imagine that a heavily armed police officer shared the same fear with regards to unarmed protesters. The police officers inside the 3rd precinct before it burned down may have legitimate claims for PTSD, although reports suggest they were aware that the precinct would be burned down ahead of time and evacuated according to that knowledge. However, due to the flood of other claims, their legitimate claims may also be denied.
The timing of these applications is also suspicious, given that most have occurred since the city council passed a pledge to dismantle the police department. Any stress related to this event would not qualify as PTSD because it was caused by layoff, termination, and other unrelated factors.
Finally, other active duty service members, especially firefighters and paramedics, who worked tirelessly throughout the George Floyd protests, probably have very legitimate workers’ compensation claims. The sheer number of fires to businesses in Minneapolis that firefighters had to put out could give rise to compensable workers’ compensation claims. The paramedics who had to rush to treat injured protesters could also have compensable workers’ compensation claims.
We have represented numerous police officers, sheriffs, paramedics, and firefighters. We also are willing to provide our workers’ compensation clients with assistance in applying on their own for PERA disability benefits at no charge, because we believe that’s the kind of service a client should expect from their attorney.
At The Law Office of Joshua Borken, we help injured workers in all occupations, regardless of political belief, race, gender, religion, national origin or sexual orientation. However, we won’t represent a client unless we believe we can prove in front of a judge that the client’s injury is work-related. We put our trust in our clients and we work to earn that same trust from our clients. We will never, ever hold a press conference to boast about the number of clients we’re representing or the benefits we’re fighting for. We don’t demand attention; we demand justice.
Black Lives Matter.