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A mental condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder is compensable under Ohio workers compensation law only when it is caused by a physical injury, the state's Supreme Court has ruled.
Tuesday's 5-2 ruling in Shaun Armstrong v. John R. Jurgensen Cos. addresses the case of a truck driver awarded workers comp benefits for physical injuries but denied benefits for PTSD following a 2009 accident.
The accident occurred while Mr. Armstrong was stopped while driving a dump truck. He watched as another vehicle approached from behind with increasing speed. The other vehicle came to rest under the dump truck and Mr. Armstrong saw the other driver, who was killed, according to the ruling.
Mr. Armstrong filed a workers comp claim that was accepted for cervical, thoracic and lumbar strains. He “subsequently requested an additional allowance for post-traumatic stress disorder,” the ruling stated. A hearing officer allowed the PTSD claim, finding it compensable because it was causally related to the accident.
On appeal before the Clark County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas, experts for Mr. Armstrong and his employer, Cincinnati-based Jurgensen, agreed he suffered from PTSD related to the accident. But they differed on whether his physical injuries caused the PTSD.
The trial court ruled that Mr. Armstrong's PTSD was not compensable because it did not arise from his physical injuries, the Clark County Court of Appeals affirmed.
Upon further appeal, the majority of Ohio's Supreme Court found that Mr. Armstrong's “PTSD undisputedly arose contemporaneously as a result of the accident.”
“However, more is required,” the majority said. “He must establish that his PTSD was causally related to his compensable physical injuries and not simply to his involvement in the accident.”
The majority also found that the appeals court “appropriately determined that the record contains competent, credible evidence supporting the trial court's finding that Armstrong's physical injuries did not cause his PTSD and that Armstrong's PTSD is, therefore, not compensable.”
But in a dissent, Justice William M. O'Neill wrote that “it is sufficient that the psychological injury occurred contemporaneously with the physical injury.”
“Therefore, it was error for the trial court, and then the court of appeals, to disallow the claim,” Justice O'Neill wrote. “It happened on the job, it is real, and it is compensable.”