Biological roots of post-traumatic stress don't trigger comp for physical injuries
Case name: Wheeler v. State of Wyoming, No. S-10-0041 (Wyo. 12/10/10).
Ruling: The Wyoming Supreme Court held that a firefighter's mental injuries were not compensable.
What it means: In Wyoming, a physical injury must be something outside the biological changes in the brain associated with mental disorders in order for the injury to be compensable.
A volunteer firefighter responded to a fire call. Two other firefighters entered the burning building, and a large explosion occurred. The firefighter entered the building and saw that the others were badly burned. Both of the other firefighters died as a result of their injuries. While in the building, the alarm on the firefighter's breathing apparatus activated. He panicked and removed the mask from his face. He suffered burns and smoke inhalation. The firefighter began to experience emotional problems, including sleep difficulties, anger, paranoia, and difficulties with family, work, and social interaction. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. The firefighter sought benefits. The Wyoming Supreme Court held that the firefighter was not entitled to benefits for his mental injuries.
The firefighter argued that his conditions were compensable physical injuries. A psychiatrist testified that post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder had biological roots in the brain. The court considered the language of the statute, which clearly differentiated between mental and physical injuries. The court also noted that the firefighter's conditions are commonly known as mental injuries. The firefighter did not argue that his mental injuries were caused by his compensable physical injuries, such as his burns or smoke inhalation.
The firefighter also argued that the injuries to the deceased firefighters should establish the compensability of his mental injuries. The court declined to consider whether a worker can receive compensation for mental injuries caused by physical injuries to another because the firefighter already received the maximum amount of benefits.
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January 24, 2011
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