Can Police Officers bring PTSD Occupational Disease Claims in New York?

New York Workers’ Compensation Law provides compensation for occupational psychiatric claims arising from workplace stress. What about claims filed by Police Officers who allege that their work history has rendered them disabled by virtue of an allegedly psychiatric condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from  the stress of that job? We recently prevailed in arguing that a New York police officer’s psychiatric impairments; which included depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, were not compensable disabilities.

The claimant alleged that throughout his 25 plus years as a police officer for the insured, he experienced multiple traumatic events that were the cause of his psychiatric problems. There was no dispute that the alleged traumatic events were significant. The claimant testified he was the first police officer on the scene at multiple homicides, responded to a house fire that resulted in multiple fatalities and participated in multiple failed resuscitation attempts on both adult and multiple infant victims.

The claimant provided medical evidence from a treating psychologist who opined the claimant’s psychiatric impairments were causally related to his experiences as a police officer. Additionally, the insurance carrier’s own IME, a psychologist, also opined the claimant’s psychiatric impairments were causally related to the multiple traumatic experiences.

We successfully argued that the courts previously ruled a claim for a work-related psychiatric condition “cannot be sustained absent a showing that the stress experienced by the affected claimant was greater than that which other similarly situated workers experienced in the normal work environment.” (see Matter of Spencer v. Time Warner Cable). In our case, while the claimant testified extensively about the stress he endured, no evidence was offered that the stress he encountered was greater than other first responders who were similarly situated.

Subsequent to our case, the Appellate Division upheld a similar Board decision in the case Cook v E Greenbush Police Dept. In that case, the Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s ruling that the claimant’s mental stress was not out of the ordinary for his occupation, and therefore not compensable.

For a mental injury premised on work-related stress to be compensable, “the stress must be greater than that which usually occurs in the normal work environment.” See Charlotten v New York State Police, 286 AD2d 849, 849 (2001), and Guess v Finger Lakes Ambulance, 28 AD3d 996, 997 (2006), cert. denied, 7 NY3d 707 (2006). Whether the stress experienced by a claimant is more than that normally encountered is a factual question for the trial judge to resolve, and will not overturned on appeal unless there is substantial evidence to the contrary. See Brittain v New York State Ins. Dept., 107 AD3d 1340, 1341 (2013) and Charlotten, supra.

About the author, Declan Gourley.

Declan is an attorney licensed to practice law in New Jersey, New York and the U.S. District Court of New Jersey. Declan is a Partner at Lois LLC where he defends employers and carrier in New York workers’ compensation claims. He can be reached directly at dgourley@loisllc.com or 201-880-7213.