Safety and OSHA News

Can she get workers’ comp for PTSD from hostage incident?

The Newtown, CT, school shootings have raised the question: Can employees get workers’ comp coverage for post traumatic stress disorder suffered because of a violent event? Recently, an Ohio court dealt with a similar case.

Christine Jones was an employee at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Youngstown, Ohio.

On April 2, 2007, Billy Jack Fitzmorris, a federal prisoner, was brought to St. Elizabeth’s for treatment. He used a homemade knife to overpower and disarm a prison guard who accompanied him.

Fitzmorris had a gun from a guard and took six people hostage, including Jones.

According to Jones’ own testimony:

“The inmate grabbed my left wrist. I yanked away from him. Then he grabbed my right wrist and pulled it and banged it against a doorway and pressed it there — holding me. That’s when he brought the gun up and said, ‘I’ll f*****g kill both of you.’ … He kept saying over and over that he would kill us — at least 15 times.”

After holding the hostages for 25 minutes, Fitzmorris escaped but was eventually recaptured.

Jones suffered an injury to her wrist. She applied for workers’ comp benefits for the physical injury and for PTSD. Her doctor said the anxiety and constant state of hyper-vigilance Jones experienced after being taken hostage prevented her from working.

Initially, she was granted workers’ comp for the wrist injury but denied for PTSD. Jones appealed the PTSD denial. Her appeal resulted in benefits for both the wrist injury and the PTSD.

Her employer appealed the award of benefits for PTSD.

Sole cause of PTSD?

The case eventually wound its way to the Court of Appeals of Ohio.

Jones’ employer argued her doctor’s testimony failed to show her wrist injury was the sole cause of her PTSD. The company said if the injury didn’t directly cause the psychological injury, PTSD shouldn’t be covered under workers’ comp.

The appeals court said the testimony from her doctor showed that Jones’ physical injury was a direct cause of her PTSD, even if it wasn’t the only cause — she also suffered from the stress of being taken hostage. Previous Ohio Supreme Court rulings held that if a physical workplace injury led to PTSD, it should be covered by workers’ comp.

The appeals court said the injury didn’t have to be the only cause of PTSD. For that reason, the judges upheld the lower court ruling that Jones should get workers’ comp for both her physical injury and for PTSD.

Let’s relate this case to the Connecticut school shooting. There were several first responders and school personnel who had to face the horror of 20 dead children inside the school. However, those workers weren’t physically injured.

Under the guidance of the Ohio appeals court ruling in the Jones case, these workers would not received workers’ comp for PTSD. There is question whether the first responders and school personnel in the Newtown massacre can receive workers’ comp for PTSD. Lawmakers have introduced bills in the Connecticut legislature to address this.

Do you think workers should get workers’ comp for PTSD if they witness violent situations at work? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

(Jones v. Catholic Healthcare Partners, Court of Appeals of Ohio, No. 11 MA23, 12/31/12)

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  1. Certain professions carry the risk of exposure to violate incidents such as the Conn. school shootings. It’s my opinion, that those occupations should not recieve WC for PTSD.

  2. I would agree with Combs that certain professions are predisposed to risk of violence and acts of violence and that WC for PTSD should not be given out lightly. The teachers on the other hand are not expected to be apart of acts of violence and should be more likely to receive WC for PTSD.

  3. A determining factor should be whether or not such events are inherent to their occupation. I firmly agree with PM’s comments.

  4. The purpose of Worker’s Comp is to compensate employees for on-the-job injuries. Is a psychological injury less important than a physical injury? It can certainly be faked. This type of claim opens the door to many complications, such as what exactly PTSD is? How it differs from from other types of psychological shocks/scares. Is the injured party truly debilitated, and so forth.

    Is PTSD a real (and compensable) injury? I think so, but the claim should be carefully vetted. I don’t agree with the concept that certain professions should be less eligible for PTSD. No matter how long a person has worked as a First Responder (eg.police, fire), I;m pretty sure no one can be psychologically prepared for certain situations – such as walking into a room full of dead children.

  5. I feel it should be covered

  6. Certain trades have risks inherint. Being a first responder is definitely one of these trades; however, being a teacher is not a trade where one would expect to encounter injury, terrible carnage and death. The school employees should be the only people in line for work comp for PTSD.

  7. PTSD can occur even for some one whose job normally encounters situations. Regardless of how “seasoned” someone is to violence from years in a posiiton as first responder, police, fire, soldier, etc everyone has a breaking point. It’s when the point is reached due to the job that PTSD becomes a coverable WC claim. To disallow coverage just because it’s THE JOB you signed up for is heartless. If you can no longer perform because of trauma received, the availablility of treatment, care and monetary reimbursement shoould be available to everyone. To say person #1 gets compensation becausee it’s not in their job description, but person #2 at the same scene doesn’t because they always see this kind of thing IS NOT FAIR. I do agree the symptoms need to be vetted – some poeple might fake it – but real suffers do need the support and compensation for their injury – regardless of their job title/description

  8. Walked in those shoes says:

    Most people who say that because you signed up for a dangerous job and say that this exhonerates you from getting help when needed, has never done that job. I have been a paramedic for 14 years, now an RN, and EHS specialist. I can tell you that many people get into “the job” with the great expectations of saving lives, making a difference, etc, Howver, you will never know until you are in those situaitons exactly how much your psyche can handle. Yes, most first responders, fire, police AND EMS can usually take more psychologiocal stressors,(although many quit right away due to not being able to handle it). After all they see the things that are so bad they never make it to the hospital/jail. However, if you refuse assistance and treatment for these people you are creating the potential for those idividuals to become many of those things they save people from. If you cant get professional help then where do they turn? Spousal/child abuse? alcohol, drugs, road rage, suicide/homocide? etc. We could in turn create the mosters from heroes because they are not aloud help, no one can understand the heavy burden that comes with “the job.” Most refuse help (stubborn pride, dealing with mentally ill) but almost all keep it inside until that one thing, and yes usually kids, sends them over the edge. The public needs these heroes, and we need to support them, in any way to make sure they are healthy not just physically. If i could download the meomories I have after 14 years of seeing the things that I have i could put others in an institution, but I carry these burdens forever. Dont condemn those who live their life to help you in the worst possible times of your life because you ASSUME their choice in choosing that job somehow prevents psychologocal affliction in situations that most people cannot handle.

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