April 6, 2018

PTSD Bills Gain Momentum in Workers’ Comp

Florida Governor Rick Scott recently signed Senate Bill 376 into law, officially recognizing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as an occupational disease compensable by workers’ compensation for first responders without the need for a physical injury.

While several states require coverage for PTSD following a physical injury, many have argued that with the lack of a preceding physical injury, PTSD, a condition of mental anguish following psychological shock that often results in sleep disturbances, vivid flashbacks, anxiety, and depression, should not be covered by workers’ comp.

However, as first responders and other professionals whose occupations regularly put them in the way of harm and other potentially traumatic scenarios speak out, legislators around the nation have begun to reconsider the matter.

Last year saw several new PTSD laws passed. Nebraska and Texas enacted PTSD laws for first responders without physical injuries, and Colorado enacted broader coverage for PTSD not limited to first responders. Meanwhile, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island have already been covering PTSD with no accompanying physical injury for a few years.

And it appears that as 2018 continues, momentum for PTSD coverage without a physical injury will continue to increase.

Arizona House Bill 2501, which would give first responders with PTSD workers’ compensation coverage, recently passed the House with a 57-2 vote and is being reviewed by a Senate subcommittee before potentially receiving a full Senate vote.

Utah House Bill 209 passed the House with a 54-16 vote, aiming to establish a working group to study a first responder’s workers’ compensation claim due to mental stress. If the bill is signed into law, this taskforce, which consists of representatives from workers’ comp, first responders, and the Division of Risk Management, could potentially impact PTSD claims, depending on their findings.

Connecticut Senator Cathy Osten announced plans to amend Senate Bill 278, a bill that aims to provide training and suicide prevention for police officers, in order to provide workers’ compensation benefits for police officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from incidents on the job.

Finally, an Oregon judge ruled in Sheila L. Minor v. Saif Corp. and Coos County that a 911 operator’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from handling a violent call was considered an eligible occupational disease claim.

As more states debate the issue of PTSD presumption and presumption of compensable conditions in general, it will be interesting to see if there will be an eventual trend towards covering this diagnosis and other occupational diseases for private employees who may be equally at risk outside of the public sector. Only time will reveal the long term economic cost of this recent trend. One thing is certain, our industry will be watching closely as the issue evolves.

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