Part I: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Minnesota Work Comp is an Occupational Disease, Not a Specific Mental Injury
Under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act, in particular Minnesota Statute § 176.011, subdivision 15, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) is defined as an occupational disease. Because PTSD is defined as an occupational disease, the date the employee became disabled is the date of injury, not a specific traumatic event(s). Employers’ and insurers’ reliance of the date of a traumatic incident, rather than the date of disablement, unfairly denies workers’ compensation benefits to injured workers suffering from PTSD.
This is the first in a 2-part series analyzing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder injuries in the Minnesota workers’ compensation system. Part I describes the types of injuries in the workers’ compensation system and Part II demonstrates that PTSD should be categorized as an occupational disease type injury.
An Injured Worker’s Date of Injury is a Controlling Event
The date of an employee’s injury is a controlling event in Minnesota workers’ compensation law. This means that the law in effect on the date of the employee’s injury determines the amount and type of benefits to which the employee may be entitled. The date of injury is also important in avoiding statute of limitation or notice issues that may prevent employees from receiving benefits. Because PTSD was not a compensable injury under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act until after October 1, 2013, determining the date of injury is vital to a successful PTSD claim.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder should not be treated the same as a “specific injury” under the law. Currently, many of the employees suffering from PTSD have experienced or been exposed to specific traumatic events prior to October 1, 2013. But, because he or she did not become disabled until after October 1, 2013, the injured employee has a compensable work comp claim.
Unfortunately, due to perhaps a lack of knowledge of the mechanism of PTSD or desire to avoid paying injured workers’ benefits, many employers and insurers treat PTSD as a specific injury. Hopefully, the Minnesota Courts will take up this issue and provide clarification to ensure many deserving injured workers receive compensation for their injuries. Many of the employees suffering from PTSD are police officers, firefighters, and correctional officers. These public servants who risk their lives deserve better from the Minnesota workers’ compensation system.
Types of Injuries in Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Law
For background, Minnesota workers’ compensation law recognizes various types of injuries, including but not limited to: specific, Gillete, or occupational diseases. Different types of injuries have different ways to determine the date of injury.
A specific injury occurs when a discernable incident causes an employee to be injured in the course and scope of the employment. Previous case law used an “accident test” to determine if an injury was compensable. The date of injury in a specific injury appears obvious – the date on which the employee suffered injuries from an incident or accident. For example, an employee injures her back during a slip and fall at work on April 4, 2015; therefore, the date of injury is April 1, 2015 and the applicable laws are those are in effect on April 4, 2015.
Gillete Type Injuries
In contrast, a Gillete type injury is when injuries occur as a result of repetitive trauma in the performance of ordinary job duties. The date of injury in a Gillete type claim allows for some flexibility. Previous case law required that courts use the date when an “ultimate breakdown” occurred. Now, the modification of an employee’s job duties due to restrictions, when an employee seeks medical treatment, or lost time from work may be used to determine the employee’s date of injury.
In Anfinson v. Anamax Corp. the Court determined that the last date of employment was the date of the employee’s Gillete type injury, even though the employee did not miss time from work, have medical treatment, nor changed jobs as a result of the medical condition. slip. op., No. WC09-4976 (W.C.C.A. Mar. 8, 2010). Recently the court found that when an employee’s condition did not cause symptoms until some time after his last date of employment, the date of disablement can be established as the last date of employment. See Wittstock v. McPhilips Bros. Roofing Co., slip op. No. WC12-5471 (W.C.C.A. Jan. 9, 2013).
Determining the date of injury in Gillete type injuries is much more complicated than specific injuries arising out of specific incidents or accidents. The employer and insurer may disagree with the employee’s attorney as to the date of injury. Each side will argue a date of injury that either limits the benefits or allows for more generous benefits. If the matter settles, the parties may compromise and if the matter were to proceed to a workers’ compensation hearing, then a judge would determine the date of injury.
An occupational disease is a disease arising out of and in the course of employment, peculiar to the occupation in which the employee is engaged, and the employment puts the employee at a greater risk than the general public. Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subdivision 15(a). The date of injury in occupational disease cases, the date in which the injury becomes compensable, is the date the employee becomes disabled as a result of the condition. Minn. Stat. § 176.66, subd. 1.
The definition of the date of disablement has expanded over the years. Previously, the date of disablement occurred when an employee is no longer able to earn full wages in the position last employed. See Notch v. Victory Granite Co., 28 W.C.D. 252, 238 N.W.2d 426 (Minn. 1976). The date of disablement does not have to be the last date the employee worked. See Sorcan v. USX Corp., slip op., No. WC04-287 (W.C.C.A. June 29, 2005). The date of disablement can also be defined as taking a different job at reduced wages or requesting a job change. Lundmark v. Nokomis Sheet Metal, 45 W.C.D. 213 (1991).
Notably, in occupational disease work comp claims, the employee’s entitlement to benefits is established by the law in effect on the date of disablement, not the law in effect on the last date of exposure. See Stillson v. Peterson Hede Co., 454 N.W.2d 430 (Minn. 1990).
As determined by the mechanisms of PTSD and the Minnesota Legislature, PTSD has been defined for the purposes of workers’ compensation as an occupational disease; therefore, the appropriate date of injury is the date on which the employee became disabled as a result of the condition, not the date of the traumatic event or “exposure.”
If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD due to a work-related accident or traumatic incident, you should consult with an attorney experienced in this area of the law. At Meuser Law Office, P.A., we have represented many clients with PTSD, including police officers, firefighters, first responders and correctional officers. We understand this nuanced area of the law and work with our client to ensure you receive the full benefits you are entitled. Contact Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a no-obligation consultation today. Don’t let the insurance company unfairly deny you benefits as a result of their misinterpretation of the law surrounding PTSD in Minnesota.