Just recently, we received news of another school shooting, this time in Kentucky, where two people died and many were injured. It seems every month now we hear of another senseless act of violence. In the workers’ comp community, we understand that these shootings can happen to people at work and can also affect first responders who have to respond to the shootings. This article will serve as an overview of stories involving workers’ comp and workplace shootings.
Statistics show that 28% of mass shooting victims will develop PTSD and 7-19% of police officers will develop the disease as well.
The main question in any workplace shootings involving PTSD is whether the shooting arises out of or is in the course and scope of employment. Adjusters need to look at what the cause of the shooting was and whether the employee places themselves at risk. They should also look at whether the shooting took place on the premises or not. Pharmacy records are a good resource to obtain to see if the Claimant has received any medication for depression or anxiety before the industrial accident. An IME should be considered, and also the question needs to be asked whether there is a nexus between any physical injuries and the PTSD condition.
In Orlando, FL, a first responder who helped removed bodies after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June of 2016 is seeking workers’ compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder. Many recall this deadly shooting as one that claimed the lives of 49 people and injured many more. The current law states that a person must have a physical injury that accompanies the psychiatric condition. The Claimant’s attorneys argue that his hypertension is a physical manifestation related to PTSD. There are medical studies which correlate hypertension and PTSD. Proposals are being made in the Florida legislature to change the requirement of a physical injury related to PTSD. A judge recently rejected the claim, read more WorkersCompensation.com coverage here.
Many Southern California police officers responded to the horrific Las Vegas shooting last year where dozens of people were killed. Some of them sustained gunshot wounds or other injuries while they rushed to help victims and perform CPR. However, many of these officers are seen from a workers’ compensation standpoint to have been off-duty police officers who voluntarily chose to assist in an out-of-state emergency. Many states have laws which say that police officers are always on duty because many of them are on-call or would have to respond should they observe the commission of a crime. However, those laws seemed stretched when the officers are out of state at a concert. California’s labor code says that public agencies have to pay benefits if the officers are practicing, “protection or preservation of life or property, or the preservation of peace anywhere in this state.” The law further says that this is true even if they are not acting at the direction of the employer. Some believe the first part of that phrase does not confine the preservation of life within the state. These high profile cases will likely need to be decided at the appellate level.
Ohio Statute 4123.01 only allows for treatment of psychiatric conditions if the condition is related to a physical injury or sexual assault. A case entitled Amstrong v. John R. Jurgensen Co., 136 Ohio St.3d 58, 2013-Ohio-2237 expands upon the statute and held that the physical injury sustained the claimant must cause the psychiatric injury. The Claimant in that case was involved in a motor vehicle accident with a dump truck where the other driver died. The court ultimately held that the physical injuries the Claimant sustained in the accident did not cause the PTSD. Officers have been trying to get the law changed for years but have been unsuccessful.
In Connecticut, Police Unions are pushing for police officers to be able to seek workers’ compensation coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder. They claim it can be caused by stress resulting from having to respond to deadly mass shootings. Prior to the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook in 2012, Connecticut had a workers’ compensation bill that allowed police officers to seek coverage for mental or emotional impairments but only if it involved the use of deadly force. Now, police in Connecticut are asking for PTSD coverage for emotional trauma that does not arise from the use of deadly force. One officer, Thomas Bean, has been kept out of work by anxiety from the event.
Connecticut experienced an update in the law after officer Frank Chiafari was forced to shoot and kill the chimpanzee that mauled a woman in Stamford back in 2009. Chiafari was also denied workers’ comp benefits because the prior law only covered use of deadly force on humans. Subsequent opinions interpreting the new law require a nexus between the PTSD and a physical injury.
The future could involve more states changing or attempting to change their workers’ compensation laws in potential efforts to give more favorable treatment to first responders with respect to PTSD, due to its political attention.
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