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An Arizona appeals court set aside an administrate law judge’s holding that a police officer’s workers compensation claim was time-barred.
In Pitts v. Industrial Commission, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals of Arizona, Division One in Phoenix unanimously held that insufficient evidence supported the ALJ’s decision to deny benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder sought by the officer several years after a shooting incident.
Benjamin Pitts worked as an officer for the City of Chandler. In May 2013, he was on duty in his patrol car with his fiancée, who was participating in a ride along, when he was dispatched to a hospital where a man had been seen with a gun. When they arrived, the man shot at Mr. Pitts’ squad car, shattering the windshield. He returned fire, shooting the man in the shoulder and ending the gunfight.
Neither he nor his fiancée was injured, and nearly a year after the incident, Mr. Pitts testified at the man’s three-week trial, which resulted in his conviction and incarceration. However, two years after the incident, the man’s sentence was reduced.
In December 2015, Mr. Pitts sought sleep medication from his primary care physician, who diagnosed him with probable PTSD; he saw a trauma psychologist in January 2016 and was diagnosed with dissociative complex PTSD related to the shooting incident and taken off patrol duty. In October 2016, he filed a workers compensation claim for PTSD stemming from the incident, and the insurer denied his claim for benefits.
At the hearing, Mr. Pitts’ fiancée testified that in 2015 he had begun to disassociate and became hypervigilant about his family’s safety, but the ALJ determined that his claim was time-barred.
Mr. Pitts brought a special action, holding that the ALJ erred and that he did not know of his PTSD condition until 2016. The Arizona Court of Appeals set aside the ALJ’s decision, noting that unlike physical injuries, where a diagnosis is immediate and obvious, the emergence of a mental health injury is more difficult to pinpoint. The court found that neither the city nor the insurer offered evidence to allow the ALJ to resolve when Mr. Pitts’ PTSD injury became compensable or when he should have known that his injury had become acute enough to constitute a compensable claim.
As a result, the court held that the city and insurer failed to meet their burden of proving the claim was untimely, and held that Mr. Pitts is entitled to a hearing on the merits of his case.
Attorneys in the case did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
An appellate court in Tennessee on Tuesday ruled that a police officer’s post-traumatic stress disorder is not subject to injured-on-duty benefits, affirming an earlier decision that found the alleged cause of his mental injury not outside of the scope of his job duties following a fatal shooting.