Comp denied for firefighter's PTSD unaccompanied by physical injury
City of Norman v. Helm, No. 110273 (Okla. Civ. App. 12/07/12).
The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals held that a firefighter was not entitled to benefits for his mental injuries that were unaccompanied by physical injuries.
What it means:
In Oklahoma, an injured worker who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression as a result of a work incident is not entitled to benefits unless he also suffered a physical injury in the incident.
A firefighter for a city responded to an incident in which two young boys were trapped in the trunk of a car on a hot day. The firefighter took care of one boy who "was in heart stroke." The firefighter had 10 children, and one of them was the same age and had the same name as the boy. The boys later died. The firefighter said that after the incident he started to isolate himself from friends and family and had flashbacks and nightmares. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. He sought workers' compensation benefits, and the city denied compensability. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals held that he was not entitled to benefits.
A statute states that a compensable injury does not include a mental injury that is unaccompanied by a physical injury. The city asserted that the PTSD constituted a mental injury, not a physical injury. The firefighter's doctor stated that PTSD displays biochemical changes in the brain and body.
The court stated that the legislature has an "obvious purpose" to deny compensation for psychological disorders unaccompanied by a nonpsychological, physical injury. Although the medical community's understanding of the underlying physical ramifications of PTSD changed over time, the advance in neuroscience did not change the clear legislative intent. The court concluded that the firefighter sustained mental injuries that were unaccompanied by a physical injury.
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March 25, 2013
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