Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects millions of Americans. Many veterans suffer from it as a result of their service to our country. Many of our countries first responders suffer from it as well as a result of trauma encountered on the job.
Of course, work-related PTSD is not limited to first responders. Many people experience severe trauma at work. Sometimes, car wrecks or other vehicular accidents cause this trauma. Other times, it comes from shootings or other violence.
How does workers’ compensation treat PTSD?
The basic idea of a state workers’ compensation system is that employers will pay wage loss benefits and medical benefits for a work-related injury. In exchange, employers generally cannot be sued by the injured employee for “personal injury”. The workers’ compensation claim is the “exclusive remedy” for the injured worker.
The problem is that many states workers’ compensation systems do not cover “mental injuries” especially when there is no “physical injury” to the worker. So, an injured worker is not covered for PTSD and severe depression that occurs after an armed robbery or other traumatic event.
You probably still remember the mass shooting that occurred at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June 2016. One of the first responders who carried bodies out of the nightclub developed PTSD as a result of that tragic event. Even though he was doing his job, his PTSD is not covered under Florida workers’ compensation law.
Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws would yield the same result. If there were mass shootings in a nightclub, neither the first responders nor the nightclub employees would receive workers’ compensation coverage for psychiatric conditions that developed from the trauma (unless they were physically injured as well).
I find this tragically unfair. Mental trauma can often be much worse than physical trauma. Yet, Georgia’s state workers’ compensation laws and the workers’ compensation laws of many other states refuse to recognize these mental injuries.
Isn’t there a danger that people will fake PTSD?
Opponents of changing the law will say that mental injuries can be faked. There are a few problems with that argument:
- Physical injuries potentially can be “faked” as well but we still pay workers’ compensation benefits for them
- Almost all state workers’ compensation laws (including Georgia) already cover mental injuries as long as there is a physical injury as well. If we are really concerned about mental injuries being faked, then we should not cover them at all
- Psychiatrists and psychologists have developed tests that help determine whether someone is suffering from a mental injury or just trying to “fake it”
Of course, the really big problem for injured workers is that employers may still try to claim immunity from “personal injury” lawsuits when their negligence leads to a worker being held up at gunpoint and developing PTSD or another psychiatric injury. This could result in the injured worker being left holding the bag with absolutely no remedy, even if the employer was careless with security.
This problem should be fixed. It is unfortunate that a terrible tragedy like the Pulse shooting in Orlando is required to bring attention on an issue like this to a national level. Maybe one good thing that can come out of that shooting is a change to take care of our nation’s injured workers a little better.
Jason Perkins is an attorney who specializes in representing injured workers. He regularly blogs about Georgia’s workers’ compensation system and issues that are important to injured workers and their families.
You can subscribe to his Georgia Workers Compensation channel on YouTube.