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The Arizona Supreme Court upheld an insurance company’s denial of an industrial injury claim filed by a Tucson police officer who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The patrol officer began training with the Tucson Police Department in 2000 after passing the necessary pre-employment physical and psychological examinations. In 2009, he responded to an accident in which another officer was killed, according to No. CV-21-0192-PR.
The officer told his supervisor that the incident negatively affected him. He was sent to a psychiatrist, but the incident was never reported as an industrial accident for workers compensation purposes. He continued to receive mental health care over the years that followed.
In 2018, the officer responded to a domestic violence scene that involved a suicide. After this incident, he began having nightmares, flashbacks and difficulty concentrating on the job. His treating psychiatrist and the City of Tucson's doctor both recommended he be relieved from his work duties.
The officer filed an industrial injury claim arising from the 2018 incident, claiming it exacerbated his preexisting post-traumatic stress disorder. The city’s insurer, Tristar Risk Management, denied the claim.
An administrative law judge upheld the denial, finding the claims for mental injuries noncompensable because the 2018 incident was not an “unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress” situation as required under Arizona law.
In a divided opinion, the court of appeals affirmed the denial of benefits.
The Arizona Supreme Court agreed, writing that it has never determined whether the state Constitution provides workers compensation for mental stress injuries, that the “relevant case law is circuitous and contradictory” and that the “constitutional definition of injury by accident necessarily entails an unexpected event.”
One justice dissented in part, writing that a covered worker who incurs a mental injury from an on-the-job accident caused at least partially by "a necessary risk or danger" of the employment or the failure of the employer to “exercise due care” or follow an employment law is constitutionally entitled to workers compensation.
WorkCompCentral is a sister publication of Business Insurance. More stories here.