Ohio: Appellate Court Affirms Award for PTSD in Spite of State’s Limiting Definition of “Injury”

An Ohio appellate court recently affirmed a trial court’s summary judgment in favor of a medical center clerk who had received an award of workers’ compensation benefits related to physical injuries, as well as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sustained in connection to a hostage-taking [Jones v. Catholic Healthcare Partners, Inc., 2012 Ohio 6269, 2012 Ohio App. LEXIS 5441 (Dec. 31, 2012)]. The clerk and five others were taken hostage by an inmate who had been transported to the hospital for treatment. The group was held for approximately twenty-five minutes by the inmate, who then escaped. While they were held hostage, the inmate grabbed the clerk and banged it against a doorway, indicating that if the hostages did not do as he said, he would kill them.  

The employer denied the claim based upon the restrictive definition of “injury” contained in Ohio Rev. Code § 4123.01 in effect at the time of the claimed injury. Under that definition, psychiatric conditions, such as PTSD, are compensable only when the condition arises from a physical injury or occupational disease sustained by the claimant or where the claimant’s psychiatric conditions arise from sexual conduct in which the claimant was forced by threat of physical harm to engage or participate. Here the examining physician indicated that the injury to the clerk’s wrist was “a cause,” “albeit not the sole cause,” of the PTSD condition. The employer contended that was insufficient, that R.C. 4123.01 should be interpreted so as to limit recovery for psychiatric conditions arising out of employment, where occupational disease was not a factor, to situations where a claimant could identify a physical injury as the sole cause of the psychiatric disorder.

Declining to construe the statute as the employer had urged, the appellate court indicted that none of the various appellate court cases cited by the employer involved the denial of coverage to a claimant suffering both a covered physical injury and a psychiatric condition resulting from the same work-place incident. The court was not inclined to follow the arguments urged by the employer.

The court did acknowledge an apparent inconsistency between its position in the instant case and that of another appellate district one year earlier in Armstrong v. Jurgenson Co., 2011 Ohio 6708, 2011 Ohio App. LEXIS 5521 (Dec. 23, 2011) [see this blog’s discussion of Armstrong at http://www.workcompwriter.com/ohio-court-nixes-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-claim-in-spite-of-close-ties-with-truck-drivers-compensable-physical-injuries/ ]. In Armstrong, the Second District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s finding that the physical injuries suffered by a teamster, who was the victim of a rear-end crash while working, were not the cause of his PTSD. The appellate court noted that in Armstrong there was conflicting testimony on the central issue of causation. The claimant’s examining physician originally diagnosed the teamster with PTSD and referred to his physical injuries in the report relied on by the Industrial Commission to grant this PTSD benefits. The treating physician also testified at trial that the physical injuries contributed to and were causal factors in the claimant’s PTSD. The employer presented a contradicting expert witness who concluded that although the claimant was suffering from PTSD, the cause of the disorder was the act of witnessing the collision and resulting harm to the other driver (who died), and was not related in any way to the claimant’s own back and shoulder injuries.

In the instant case, the appellate court stressed that the matter before it did not involve conflicting testimony. The appellate court held that the hospital clerk’s uncontradicted evidence of both a compensable physical and concurrent psychiatric condition was sufficient to support the trial court’s conclusion that there was no genuine issue of material fact to be litigated. The clerk was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

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