On October 1, 2013, Minnesota Workers’ Compensation law first recognized Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) as a compensable work injury.
Workers’ compensation claims involving psychological/mental problems are divided into three categories: 1) cases in which mental stress produces a physical injury; 2) cases in which a physical trauma produces a mental injury; and 3) cases in which mental stress produces a mental injury. Minnesota recognizes workers’ compensation claims based on the first two categories but denied compensation for claims where mental stress resulted in a mental injury, with a very limited exception for certain PTSD claims occurring on or after Oct. 1, 2013.
Minnesota Worker’s Compensation Change to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Claims Involving Certain Occupations
The Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Laws were updated for certain workers who are diagnosed with PTSD. In June 2018, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill into law updating the MN Workers’ Compensation Act. One of the major changes is that an Employee can bring a mental stress claim as a workers’ compensation claim, but there is high standard for employees to be able to show the mental stress of the job caused a mental condition or mental impairment.
Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subd. 15(d), “mental impairment” is defined as a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist, as described in the most recently published edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association.
One of the main updates is that PTSD is presumed to be an occupational disease for certain occupations. For injuries occurring after January 1, 2019, there is a presumption that employees in certain occupations diagnosed with PTSD have a compensable workers’ compensation claim. The occupations affected include: licensed police officers; firefighters; paramedics; emergency medical technicians; licensed nurses employed to provide emergency medical services outside of a medical facility; public safety dispatchers; officers employed by the state or a political subdivision at a corrections, detention, or secure treatment facility; sheriffs or full-time deputy sheriffs; and members of the Minnesota State Patrol.
For the presumption to apply, the Employee 1) must be on active duty; 2) cannot have a prior PTSD diagnosis; c) must work in one of the designated jobs listed above; and 4) the PTSD injury must be claimed on or after January 1, 2019.
Although this presumption means that we start with the assumption the claim is compensable, employers are still able to rebut the presumption in order to defend against this claim. The burden is then shifted to the employer to disprove a compensable claim from the employee to prove a compensable claim to the employer. Employers have the ability to rebut the presumption and challenge an employee’s claim to benefits. The presumption is rebuttable by the employer or insurer by presenting “substantial factors.” However, the term “substantial factors” has not been statutorily defined. Any substantial factors used to rebut this presumption and are known to the employer or insurer at the time of denial of liability must be communicated to the employee on the notice of denial of benefits.
The legislature did make it clear that a diagnosis of PTSD is not considered an occupational disease if it results from disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, layoff, demotion, promotion, termination, retirement, or similar action taken in good faith by the employer.
The likely result will be that employers with employees in the occupations listed above will see a significant increase in mental stress claims.
It will be interesting to see how this change to the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Statute will change future case law involving PTSD claims. We just will need to wait and see.