Workers’ Compensation for Emotional Distress
Ohio’s workers’ compensation program will provide benefits to a person who develops a mental disorder or emotional problem because he or she suffered an injury or contracted an occupational illness on the job. Workers’ comp in Ohio, however, does not directly cover job-related stress, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The distinction regarding what counts as a “compensable” — eligible for benefits or compensation — emotional or mental disorder is written into the Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.) and has been upheld by several Ohio Supreme Court decisions. The most-recent major statement by the highest court in Ohio comes from Armstrong v. John R. Jurgensen Co., which was decided in 2013.
Armstrong was a dump truck driver who, in 2009, suffered serious neck and back injuries when a speeding driver hit him from behind at a yield sign. The person who caused the wreck got pinned under the dump truck, and Armstrong believes he saw the person die.
After exhausting workers’ compensation benefits for his physical injuries, Armstrong worked with an Ohio personal injury lawyer to file an extension on the grounds that he suffered PTSD. That secondary claim was rejected on several appeals, and the Ohio Supreme Court also ruled against Armstrong when he asked the justices to rule on the question of whether section 4123.01(C)(1) of the O.R.C. explicitly “limits workers’ compensation coverage for psychiatric conditions to those conditions caused by the claimant’s compensable physical injury.”
The justices did uphold the rejection of the PTSD workers’ comp claim, finding that “pursuant to the plain language of [the statute], a claimant must sustain physical injury or occupational disease as a prerequisite to recovering workers’ compensation benefits for a mental condition. A psychiatric condition is not a workers’ compensation injury except when the condition has ‘arisen from an injury or occupational disease sustained by that claimant.’”
The justices went on to write: “The General Assembly may determine that mental conditions that develop contemporaneously with compensable physical injuries, or that arise out of the same accident or occurrence as the physical injuries, should be compensable, and amend the statutory language accordingly. Absent a mandate from the General Assembly that such conditions are compensable, however, we will not expand workers’ compensation coverage to them.”
To take that out of legalese, Armstrong’s PTSD did not qualify him for workers’ compensation because it developed at the same time as his neck and back injuries. If a crippling depression had befallen him during a protracted treatment, rehabilitation, and recovery process, he might have succeeded with his claim for extended disability benefits. Success would not be guaranteed, but the workers’ compensation people could not have declined his application out of hand.
Working with an Ohio personal injury lawyer who has experience representing injured and ill workers will help establish timelines and causation for emotional distress or mental disease. Compiling valid diagnoses, organizing psychiatric and counseling records, and putting together a narrative that clearly communicates the connection between a work-related accident or exposure and subsequent mental and behavior issues are all necessary to convince workers’ comp case reviewers.
If you believe you have a claim for worker’s compensation, consider contacting a personal injury lawyer at the Cleveland, OH, offices of Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman. We have helped many people navigate the workers’ comp system, and we charge nothing for an initial consultation. To schedule an appointment, call (800) 678-3318 or reach out to us online.