Safety and OSHA News

Shooting victim’s physical wounds healed; workers’ comp for PTSD?

This motel worker was shot and severely injured. Doctors said he reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) for his physical wounds, but he continued to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Can he continue to receive workers’ comp benefits? 

Cleveland Cummins was employed at Budget Host Town Center Motel in Cincinnati. On Oct. 16, 2006, he was severely injured when he was shot in the back during a robbery attempt. He suffered wounds to his anterior abdomen, colon and liver and nerve damage to his leg.

Cummins received temporary total disability (TTD) workers’ comp benefits through Jan. 25, 2009 when his treating physician said his physical injuries had reached MMI.

However, on Aug. 11, 2009, a doctor reported Cummins was suffering from PTSD as a direct result of his work injury and needed psychotherapy. On Nov. 30, 2009, a doctor certified Cummins was temporarily and totally disabled from October 2009 through February 2010. Cummins received TTD compensation through Feb. 27, 2010. Doctors said his PTSD hadn’t reached MMI.

Then, Cummins had a significant lapse in psychological treatment. During that time he also didn’t work or look for work and a doctor never said he was capable of working.

On July 10, 2013, a doctor evaluated Cummins and said his PTSD “had never resolved,” and he needed psychotherapy to address his symptoms. The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation granted the request for psychotherapy.

Cummins also applied for continuing TTD benefits. A hearing officer determined Cummins “had no intent to re-enter the workforce … therefore the injured worker voluntarily abandoned the workforce.”

On appeal, another hearing officer found Cummins wanted to go back to work but could not. However, this hearing officer also denied him benefits because Cummins wasn’t working in 2013 when he asked for the resumption of TTD benefits. In other words, his psychological condition hadn’t forced him to leave the workforce, so he wasn’t entitled to benefits.

Cummins appealed yet again, this time to a state court. A magistrate was appointed to investigate his case.

The magistrate recommended that the hearing officer’s decision be overturned.

TTD benefits are paid to injured employees until any one of these four things occur:

  • injured person has returned to work
  • injured person’s doctor says employee is able to return to previous job
  • work within the physical capabilities of the employee is made available by the employer or another employer, or
  • employee has reached MMI.

Previous court decisions had also determined that voluntarily leaving employment ends TTD compensation.

Since none of those situations applied to his case, and he wasn’t seeking TTD benefits for the period when he wasn’t receiving psychological treatment, the magistrate recommended vacating the order which denied Cummins TTD. Even though his physical wounds had reached MMI, his PTSD had not. An appeals court adopted the magistrate’s recommendation, and now the case will go back to a hearing officer to determine Cummins’ TTD benefits.

(State ex re. Cleveland Cummins v. Charles Kyun Lee Budget Host Town Center Motel, Court of Appeals of Ohio Tenth District, No. 14AP-10, 11/26/14)

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