A new workers compensation law in Vermont makes it easier for police officers, rescue workers, ambulance workers and firefighters to bring claims for work-related post-traumatic stress disorder. The same law also makes it easier for employees in traditionally high-stress jobs to bring workers compensation claims related to mental health.
Workers Comp in Vermont: Psychological Claims v. Physical Injuries
Since 1996, there has been a different legal standard for workers’ compensation claims involving psychological injuries (as opposed to physical injuries). The standard is that the employee must show that the stress is unusual or extraordinary. “In order for mental injury caused by stress at work to be compensable, a claimant must show that the stresses at work were of a significantly greater dimension than the daily stresses encountered by all employees.” [See Bedini v. Frost.]
The Previous Law
In 2003, the Vermont Supreme Court decided that, for purposes of determining whether the stress was “unusual,” the comparison group is “similarly situated employees,” rather than all employees. [See Crosby v. City of Burlington.]
The impact of this was that for employees in high-stress jobs, such as firefighters or police officers, it would be very difficult to bring a psychological injury claim based on stress that was normal for that position. So, for example, since it is normal for rescue workers to be involved in traumatic rescues, PTSD caused by a traumatic rescue would not be covered by workers comp.
A new law [See the complete text at § 601(11)(I).] changes the way workers compensation claims are reviewed for psychological injuries.
A Unique Scenario! Help for PTSD Claims for Police, Firefighters and Rescue Workers
First, there is a new type of claim for police officers, rescue/ambulance workers, and firefighters who develop PTSD. For workers in these fields who are diagnosed with PTSD by a mental health professional, it is now presumed that the PTSD was incurred in the line of duty unless it can be proven it was caused by a non-work-related cause.
This is a huge change.
There are no other types of injuries that are presumed to be work-related. All other injuries/conditions require a doctor to give an opinion that it is work-related.
Changes for all Psychological Claims
The second change was for psychological claims across all occupations. The comparison group for showing workplace stress was “unusual” is now as compared to all employees, not just similarly situated employees. The practical impact of this change is that it may be easier for employees who work in high-stress fields to establish a psychological claim, which includes:
- Prison guards
- People who work with mentally unstable patients
- First responders
It is not clear yet whether this new law, which went into effect on July 1, 2017, will apply to claims that have already been filed, or if it will only apply going forward.
Want to find out if the new law applies to you? Have questions about workers comp? Contact me!