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)