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A firefighter who saw his co-worker fatally burned by a fire explosion is eligible for workers compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, an Illinois appellate court says.
Scott Moran had filed a workers comp claim for PTSD that he said was caused while he was at working as a lieutenant/paramedic for the fire department of the Village of Homewood, Illinois, according to court documents.
When the department responded to the scene of a house fire March 30, 2010, Mr. Moran testified that he was placed in charge of the firefighting operation. Brian Carey, one of the firefighters on the squad, entered the burning house with another firefighter.
Later, Mr. Moran reported seeing a flash, and then watching as firefighters dragged Mr. Carey out. Mr. Carey died at the hospital from his injuries, legal records said.
In April 2010, Mr. Moran sought the help of a psychologist for his inability to get his mind off of the event. After an evaluation, Mr. Moran was diagnosed with PTSD.
The psychologist worked with Mr. Moran in therapy, determined in June 2010 he was able to return to work and continued to treat Mr. Moran after he returned to work in late October/early November, according to court documents.
In January 2011, Mr. Moran returned to therapy because he was constantly experiencing flashbacks of the fire and of Mr. Carey burning while he was at work, court records said.
A separate psychiatrist, who saw Mr. Moran immediately after the fire event, evaluated him again in November 2012. That doctor said that Mr. Moran had improved since his first visit, but still diagnosed him with chronic PTSD from the event that caused him to “suffer an overwhelmingly traumatic experience.”
Court records said an Illinois workers comp arbitrator in January 2013 found Mr. Moran had not proved that he had an accidental injury while working and awarded him no benefits, as his “non-traumatic psychic injury” was dependent on his “peculiar vicissitudes as he related to his work environment.” The arbitrator awarded $7,477 to the Village of Homewood to reimburse the municipality for temporary disability benefits it had paid to Mr. Moran.
The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed the decision, and Mr. Moran requested a review from the Circuit Court of Cook County, which also affirmed the decision. Mr. Moran appealed.
A five-judge panel of the Illinois 1st District Appellate Court in Chicago reversed the Circuit Court's decision Friday, saying evidence showed Mr. Moran did get PTSD while working as a firefighter and that his “psychological injuries stemmed from a single, traumatic event on March 10, 2010, and he is entitled to workers comp benefits for his injury,” court records said.
The appellate court found that testimony from Mr. Moran's treating physicians was credible, and also noted that his employer treated the incident as potentially traumatic for Mr. Moran and other firefighters.
“Due to the traumatic nature of the event, all first responders returned to the station for critical incident debriefing,” the ruling reads. “For the first time in the history of the fire department, the department ceased performing fire suppression and emergency medical service operations and referred all calls to mutual aid companies for a period of approximately ten days.”
The case was remanded to the Illinois workers comp commission to determine how much Mr. Moran should receive in benefits.
Ontario has adopted legislation to create a presumption that post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosed in first responders is work-related, streamlining their ability to access workers compensation benefits.