Not all Psychiatric Conditions are Covered Under Ohio Workers’ Compensation Law

The Supreme Court of Ohio recently held that, a psychiatric condition must be causally related to the claimant’s compensable physical injury that was received, or arose out of the course of employment to be covered by workers’ compensation law.  The case was called Armstrong v. John R. Jurgenson Co.

Facts of the Case

Shaun Armstrong was involved in an accident while operating a dump truck during his employment with Jurgenson Company.  After exiting the vehicle, Armstrong noticed the other driver was not moving and was bleeding from his nose.  After being treated for physical injuries and released, Armstrong learned that the other driver had died.  After receiving workers’ compensation for his physical injuries, he subsequently requested an additional allowance for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Armstrong argued that his mental condition developed contemporaneously with the physical injury and therefore, was compensable under Ohio’s workers’ compensation statute.

Procedural History

At trial, both parties presented expert testimony. Armstrong’s doctor testified that his PTSD resulted from the accident and that his physical injuries were causal factors to his development of PTSD. Jurgenson’s doctor agreed that Armstrong suffered from PTSD as a result of the accident, however opined that Armstrong’s physical injuries did not cause the PTSD.  Jurgenson’s doctor testified that he believed Armstrong would have developed PTSD even without his physical injuries.

The trial court held that Armstrong’s PTSD was not compensable because it did not arise from his physical injuries. The Second District Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Supreme Court of Ohio

The Supreme Court of Ohio focused on the statutory definition of “injury” in the Workers’ Compensation Act.  The Act defines “injury” as “whether caused by external accidental means, or accidental in character and result, received in the course of, and arising out of, the injured employee’s employment.” The definition further provides that psychiatric conditions are excluded from the general definition of “injury,” “except where the claimant’s psychiatric conditions have arisen from an injury or occupational disease sustained by that claimant.”

The court found that this definition required a nexus between the physical injury and the corresponding mental condition. The Court explained that when reading the terms “arisen from an injury” together in context, the statutory definition requires a causal connection between a claimant’s physical injury and the claimant’s mental condition.  The court also noted that the phrase “arisen from” parallels the use of the phrase “arising out of” used in the statutory definition, which relates to a causal connection between the injury and the employment.

Ramifications to Employers

This case gives employers a higher likelihood of fending off long lasting psychiatric condition claims.  Psychological injuries without accompanying physical injury have long been excluded from the Ohio workers’ compensation statute.  However, the Armstrong case takes it a bit further by holding that even if a physical injury arose out of employment, the employee must prove that the psychological injury was causally related to the physical injury.

The downside to employers is that employees with psychiatric conditions not caused by their physical injuries are now free to proceed outside of the workers’ compensation system and pursue common law remedies. This means that employers no longer have immunity from a lawsuit for a psychological injury that might be related to a work-related physical injury if the psychological injury was not caused by the physical injury.

The full Armstrong v. John R. Jurgenson Co. opinion can be found at: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2013/2013-Ohio-2237.pdf

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