Minnesota High Court Says PTSD is No “Brain Injury”

Reiterating the Minnesota rule that so-called “mental-mental” injuries–mental injuries associated with mental stimulus, as opposed to physical stimulus–are not compensable and that it is for the state’s legislature, and not its courts, to change the rule, the Supreme Court of Minnesota recently affirmed the denial of benefits to a police officer who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after he had responded to an accident at the local high school–a young woman had fallen out of a pickup truck–and realized he knew the young victim well [Schuette v. City of Hutchinson, 2014 Minn. LEXIS 97 (Mar. 5, 2014).

Is PTSD a Brain Injury

The police officer adopted an argument that has been used in some other cases within jurisdictions that refuse to provide coverage in mental-mental situations: that PTSD is a physical brain injury. The high court acknowledged that the officer had introduced considerable evidence supporting his position that he sustained a physical brain injury. The court added, however, that the compensation judge was free to choose among conflicting medical experts’ opinions and did just that by adopting the opinions of the employer’s experts that the officer’s PTSD did not cause a physical brain injury. The court indicated the employer’s experts were qualified medical professionals, well versed in the study of PTSD, whose opinions were based on professional experience and a thorough examination of the scientific literature. One such expert acknowledged that some studies have found evidence of structural differences in the brains of individuals diagnosed with PTSD, but concluded that the scientific evidence remains ambiguous.

The high court concluded that because the compensation judge’s findings were not manifestly contrary to the evidence, the officer did not suffer a compensable personal injury under Lockwood v. Independent School District No. 877, 312 N.W.2d 924 (Minn. 1981). The court indicated that if the mental-mental rule in Minnesota was to be changed, that change would need to come from the legislature, not the courts.

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