Meuser, Yackley & Rowland Secure Significant Court Win for First Responders with PTSD

In 2018, the Minnesota legislature unanimously passed the PTSD presumption, Minnesota Statutes §176.011, subdivision 15(e). Recognizing the significant traumas that first responders are exposed to while protecting and serving our communities, the Minnesota legislature sought to make it easier for first responders diagnosed with work-related PTSD to access potentially life-saving mental health care, and other workers’ compensation benefits, to help them heal.

Since the PTSD presumption took effect on January 1, 2019, however, few have benefited. Until now, most employers and insurers have ignored the PTSD presumption, denying approximately 9-out-of-10 claims. Dan Harrison and Lindsey Rowland secured a significant Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals win in the last week of 2021 so that first responders may finally realize the benefits of the 2019 PTSD presumption, which was intended to help Minnesota first responders but has, unfortunately, fallen short.

In Juntunen v. Carlton County, et al, the Court decided in favor of our client that unless an employer and insurer communicate “substantial factors” to deny an injured employee’s PTSD claim, an injured employee who meets the requirements of the PTSD presumption is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The decision was unanimous – all five judges on the bench decided the case, none dissented. This is a significant win for first responders with PTSD who often wait years before gaining access to workers’ compensation benefits.

Deputy Sheriff Juntunen encountered many tragic and traumatic events during his nearly 20-year law enforcement career (including learning that his former partner at the Sheriff’s Department had committed suicide). Deputy Juntunen was diagnosed with work-related PTSD by no fewer than four mental health care providers, including his EAP therapist; yet the employer and insurer almost immediately denied responsibility for his injury. It has been more than two years since Deputy Juntunen stopped working in law enforcement due to his work-related PTSD and he still has not received any workers’ compensation benefits. But that is about to change.

The Court’s decision will ensure that employers and insurers timely accept responsibility for an employee’s work-related PTSD and provide them with benefits to help them return to work (including medical care, wage loss, and job placement services), unless they communicate “substantial factors” to rebut the PTSD presumption.

The Court’s decision is also likely to benefit first responders who become disabled from certain types of cancers, heart conditions (including myocarditis and coronary sclerosis), pneumonia, infectious diseases, and COVID-19. Sometimes known as the “subdivision 15” presumptions, these legal presumptions function similarly to the PTSD presumption: eligible employees (first responders who meet certain other criteria) who develop one of the listed occupational diseases, are presumed to have developed the occupational disease because of their work activities. The purpose of these presumptions is to make it quicker and easier for injured employees to access medical care, wage loss, job placement services, and other workers’ compensation benefits.

All too often, first responders who have an occupational disease are unaware that their condition may be work related or they become discouraged because their employer and insurer initially denied their claim. The Court’s decision in Juntunen should encourage employers and insurers to accept responsibility for more of these claims. At the very least, the Court’s decision in Juntunen sends the powerful message that the PTSD presumption, in particular, can no longer be ignored. Employers and insurers that continue to ignore the PTSD presumption may be subject to penalties and interest.

At Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, we will continue to zealously advocate for our individual clients, like Deputy Juntunen, and the first responder community. We understand the impact of the legal presumptions on your claims. We also understand how to coordinate all your potential claims, including workers’ compensation, PERA/MSRS, and Healthcare Continuation (Minn. Stat. §299A), to maximize your available benefits. If you think you may have a work-related occupational disease, or your employer or insurer has already denied your claim, then please call us at 1-877-746-5680 for a FREE consultation.