Post-traumatic stress disorder and Workers’ Compensation in Maryland

Maryland workers in some fields who develop PTSD due to events occurring as a result of or on the job may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits.

The Maryland Department of Labor reports that workers across the state suffered 62,600 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in 2017. Although some of these injuries are physical, including broken bones, muscle strains and sprains, lacerations and burns, others cannot be seen by the naked eye. Workers in some professions and fields may develop mental or emotional conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD,) in the course of their employment. That said, the statutory framework and case law is complicated as to whether a diagnosis of PTSD is compensable under the Worker's Compensation Act.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as "PTSD," is a mental disorder that may develop as a result of experiencing a frightening, dangerous or shocking event. It is only natural for people to experience an array of reactions due to involvement in or witnessing of traumatic situations. However, persistent symptoms or associated problems may be a sign of acute or chronic PTSD.

What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD in adults is characterized by the presence of the following:

· One or more avoidance symptoms

· One or more reactivity or arousal symptoms

· One or more re-experiencing symptoms

· One or more mood and cognition symptoms

To be diagnosed with this mental condition, people must experience these types of symptoms, which include avoiding feelings or thoughts related to the traumatic event, feeling tense or having angry outbursts, having flashbacks or nightmares, losing interest in once-enjoyed activities, and having distorted feelings or negative thoughts, for at least one month following the traumatic situation. Further, the symptoms they experience must be so severe that they interfere with people's work or relationships.

Is PTSD a covered condition?

While PTSD is often characterized as an Occupational Disease, depending on the circumstances, it may be argued as an Accidental Injury for purposes of the statute. A particular incident at work that results in both a physical and emotional injury may be characterized, in sum, as an "Accidental Injury." Additionally, PTSD may be considered an occupational disease, under Maryland state law. Occupational diseases may be covered by the state's Workers' Compensation program if they are due to the nature of a job in which risk factors for the condition exist, have symptoms consistent with those known to be the result of exposure to agents workers in the employees' job roles are likely to experience on the job and it can be reasonably assumed that the condition was developed due to the injured workers' employment.

In order to be compensable, workers must show they developed PTSD as a result of their employment, their conditions have resulted in disability, and the disorder was caused by the nature of their jobs or due to exposure to a biological or chemical factor common their jobs and industries. For example, a paramedic may develop PTSD due to routine exposure to gory and shocking scenes. As a result, the paramedic may find him or herself experiencing flashbacks of the traumatic events and crying episodes, which may impact his or her ability to go to work and treat patients in emergency situations. That considered, although PTSD may be compensable on its own, case law and trial practice reflect that the Worker's Compensation Commission prefers finding a PTSD diagnosis is compensable as an occupational disease when there is a specific incident that occurred at work, or the injured worker also suffered a physical injury in relation to the PTSD.

Working with a lawyer

When Maryland workers suffer injuries on the job, they often rely on Worker's Compensation benefits to help them provide for themselves and their families until they recover and get back to work. Unfortunately, however, the path to obtaining benefits such as medical care coverage and wage replacement is not always straightforward. Psychological injuries are particularly complicated in relation to compensability, so it is critical that an injured worker seek an attorney with extensive knowledge of such a Claim.