Apr 1, 2013

PTSD and Workers’ Compensation Benefits

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers who experienced post- traumatic stress disorder as a result of killing an individual are not entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits. The case stems from a 2009 incident in which a Spartanburg County deputy sheriff officer killed a suspect he stated threatened to kill him. Following the killing, the officer stated he suffered from anxiety and depression as a result of the event. The officer applied for workers’ compensation benefits and was denied. The reason behind the denial was the fact that officers are trained in the use of deadly force and realize that circumstances may arise in which they have to utilize deadly force.
As the law reads, the mental trauma must be associated with “extraordinary and unusual” employment conditions.

The court held that the current workers’ compensation law does not extend to mental health issues in which an officer may experience as a result of utilizing deadly force. The Court agreed with the commissioner that law enforcement officers are trained in deadly force and may have to use it during the course of their employment. Therefore, the mental trauma as a result of exerting deadly force does not rise to the level of “extraordinary and unusual” job conditions.

In the majority opinion, the justices discussed the possibility of the legislature to reform the law by eliminating “extraordinary and unusual”
job conditions requirement. South Carolina would not be alone; the law in Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Michigan does not require “extraordinary and unusual” employment circumstances in order to be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

In Georgia, a claimant is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for a “psychological injury” alone. In other words, the psychological injury must be related to a physical injury. In a case regarding a claimant seeking workers’ compensation benefits solely on the basis of a “psychological injury”, the GA Supreme Court held that the General Assembly never intended the definition of “injury” in OCGA § 34-9-1(4) to include compensation for purely a “psychological injury.”