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Ohio Supreme Court Upholds Denial of PTSD When It Was Not Caused By The Injury

On June 4, 2013, the Ohio Supreme Court in Armstrong v. John R. Jurgensen Co. (2013-Ohio-2237) upheld a trial court's decision to deny an injured worker's request for the allowance of post traumatic stress disorder in his workers' compensation claim. Shaun Armstrong was stopped in his dump truck at a yield sign while entering Interstate 70 when a motorist struck him at a high rate of speed from behind. The motorist was killed and Armstrong suffered strains of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. Armstrong filed for his BWC claim to be further allowed for PTSD. Armstrong's employer, John R. Jurgensen Co., obtained a report from William L. Howard, Ph.D., who opined that Armstrong's PTSD was not caused by Armstrong's physical injuries; instead, Dr. Howard reported Armstrong would have developed PTSD even without his physical injuries. The trial court denied the further allowance of PTSD in Armstrong's workers' compensation claim. The Second District Court of Appeals upheld the decision.

On appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court went through a lengthy explanation of previous court cases and ultimately concluded the statute in question, Ohio Rev. Code 4123.01(C)(1), was clear: psychiatric conditions are excluded from the definition of "injury" under Ohio law, "except where the claimant's psychiatric conditions have arisen from an injury or occupational disease sustained by that claimant." In this case, the Supreme Court concluded the report of Dr. Howard was sufficient for the trial court to conclude there was no causation between Armstrong's development of PTSD and his allowed neck, upper back and low back strains. According to the Court:

"Armstrong undisputedly suffered compensable physical injuries as a result of the accident, and his PTSD undisputedly arose contemporaneously as a result of the accident. For Armstrong's PTSD to qualify as a compensable injury under R.C. 4123.01(C)(1), however, more is required; he must establish that his PTSD was causally related to his compensable physical injuries and not simply to his involvement in the accident."

In order to succeed with obtaining PTSD (or any other psychological condition) in an Ohio BWC claim, the medical evidence needs to establish that the allowed conditions (not the accident itself) caused the psychological condition. Otherwise, the reasoning of Armstrong will preclude the psychological condition in the claim. It is difficult to imagine when PTSD will ever be approved in a BWC claim. Was the PTSD caused by the severed hand, or the punch press accident that resulted in the severed hand? Was the PTSD caused by the broken bones, or the concrete mixer accident that resulted in the broken bones? Was the PTSD caused by the convenience store clerk's contusions, or the violent beating she took from the assailant during the robbery incident? Obviously, the Armstrong decision is not good for injured workers.

If you have suffered a psychological condition due to your industrial accident, please call us at 614-221-1300. We will help determine the best way to pursue the psychological condition in your claim.