The short answer to this question is yes, but it depends. We represent clients with a wide variety of mental and physical work-related impairments, including post-traumatic stress disorder, often referred to as PTSD. The disease itself as well as how Maryland Workers’ Compensation law treats it are extremely complex. It is important after work-related trauma not only to get mental health treatment, but also to consult a Workers’ Compensation lawyer with specific PTSD experience.
What is PTSD?
According to Mayo Clinic, PTSD is a mental health problem “triggered by a terrifying event” experienced either directly by the patient or through observation. Onset may be either within the month after the event or sometimes even years later. Four kinds of symptoms may occur:
- Intrusive memories, including flashbacks and dreams
- Avoidance of mental or verbal focus on the event or of things that bring it to mind
- Negative mood and thoughts, including hopelessness, pessimism, trouble with memory and others
- Changes in “arousal symptoms,” which are “physical and emotional reactions” like irritability, overwhelming shame, self-destructive behavior, easily reacting with fear and others
Tennessee bus driver example
State law controls Workers’ Compensation and while certain legal concepts are widely shared among the states, the way mental impairments are handled varies. In September, a Workers’ Compensation panel of the Tennessee Supreme Court looked at a claim for benefits based on a bus driver’s PTSD from observing a shooting in the course of her duties.
The Supreme Court affirmed that she was permanently and totally disabled based on her medical expert’s opinion and the claimant’s own testimony.
Maryland law and PTSD
In Maryland, it is possible that the case could have gone the other way depending on whether violence is considered a risk of being a bus driver. One line of cases looks at PTSD claims in the context of whether it is a compensable occupational disease. State statute says that an occupational disease must be “due to the nature of an employment in which hazards of the occupational disease exist …”
For example, in one case, a Maryland court found that PTSD was compensable where the claimant was a paramedic who attended fatal accidents as part of her duties, causing the PTSD. However, in another case, PTSD from coworker harassment was not compensable because harassment is not a “hazard peculiar” to the job of a computer operator.