Last summer, I wrote about the mental issues (such as PTSD) faced by our first responders. Our first responders have extremely stressful jobs. They handle people and situations at the very worst moments. First responders see the worst human suffering in normal times. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the stressors faced by first responders have exponentially increased.
In my prior post, I discussed current Alabama workers compensation law related to mental injuries. Current law does not provide compensation for mental-only injuries. Mental injuries are only compensable if they stem from a work-related physical injury. The physical injury requirement is also the law in several other states.
You can read my prior article if you want a greater understanding of current Alabama work comp law. Over the years, many of our severely injured clients have dealt with psychological issues. I’ve seen the depression and anxiety suffered by clients who face chronic pain, serious disability or an inability to work. Some physical injuries such as RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy) produce chronic pain so severe, mental health injuries are almost inescapable. When we help an injured client facing severe personal injuries and disabilities, we often have to fight in court to win them the benefits needed. Many insurance companies simply deny every request for mental health treatment. You won’t get the treatment you need without a fight. Where the injury and need for care is clearly documented, that’s shameful.
When I wrote my 2020 post, I asked a simple question. Should Emergency Responders Receive Work Comp Benefits For Psychological Injuries Including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Think about the situations emergency responders see. Paramedics often arrive at car accident scenes full of human carnage. They see suffering that we do not. Our police officers also face the same scenes in many cases. In other cases, our police officers put their own lives on the line to prevent criminals from hurting the rest of us. They face life or death decisions as part of the job.
First responders cannot simply ignore the things they have seen or heard. Nor should we expect them to do so.
Should our work comp laws cover mental-only injuries? Should our work comp laws cover mental-only injuries in those limited public service professions where people see and hear the worst on a daily basis? I understand why our current laws require a physical injury in order to compensate for a mental-health injury. I understand how this requirement prevents overbroad or unwarranted claims seeking benefits for simple stress or anxiety. Any talk of expanding work comp coverage and insurance companies start talking about the floodgates of litigation. But, if we are being honest, we should look at those professions where workers are exposed to trauma on a daily basis. Some professions take a toll on workers beyond normal life experiences.
This is a topic that needs discussion. In 2019, The Washington Post wrote an article titled First Responders Struggle With PTSD Caused By The Emergencies, Deaths, Tragedies They Face Every Day. The Washington Post article tells a few stories of first responders. I’ve represented a number of injured police officers and paramedics over the years. I could tell you many more. The article also discusses the effort in some states to amend work comp laws so these workers are covered.
I think the law should be amended to allow mental-only claims for first responders who face overwhelming stressors on a daily basis. Will the Alabama Legislature consider expanding our law on this issue?
Recently, one state legislator introduced a bill that would provide PTSD work comp coverage for our first responders. Local channel WHNT has a short article on the bill. The WHNT article starts with the quote:
Alabama lawmakers have introduced a bill aiming to look out for the first responders that look out for us.
That’s a good way to say it. We need to help the first responders who are working to help us. In modern times, we ask so much from our police, paramedics and fire fighters. They are first on the scene of every tragedy. It’s time to help them with the support they need.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm helps people with serious personal injuries across Alabama. Many of these cases involve workers seriously injured on-the-job. We understand Alabama’s work comp system and the benefits available to you.