Armstrong v. John R. Jurgensen Co., Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-2237.

In a decision released June 4, 2013, the Ohio Supreme Court has affirmed that in order for a mental condition to be compensable under the Ohio workers’ compensation system, a compensable physical injury sustained by the claimant must cause the mental condition.

The facts of the case are that an employee was involved in a motor-vehicle accident while operating a one-ton dump truck in the performance of his job duties. The employee’s truck was struck from behind by another vehicle resulting in the death of the driver. After being transported to the emergency room, the employee was treated for physical injuries and released. He was distressed to learn, while in the emergency room, that the other driver had died.

The employee filed a workers’ compensation claim for his physical injuries, and his claim was allowed for cervical strain, thoracic strain, and lumbar strain. He subsequently requested an additional allowance for post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). A hearing officer allowed the employees additional claim, finding his PTSD compensable because it was causally related to his industrial injury and his previously recognized conditions. The employer ultimately appealed to court. The parties did not dispute that the employee actually had the condition of PTSD, the dispute was over what caused it. Injured workers have the burden of proof to show that there injuries are causally related to the performance of their work duties.

The expert for the employer opined that the employee’s PTSD was caused by “the mental observation of the severity of the injury, the fatality, [and] the fact that it could have been life threatening to him at some point.” The expert further opined that the employee would have suffered PTSD regardless of his physical injuries. The trial court as well as the appeals court sided with the employer and the employee appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

R.C. 4123.01(C) defines “injury” for purposes of workers’ compensation. Psychiatric conditions are excluded from the general definition of “injury,” “except where the claimant’s psychiatric conditions have arisen from an injury or occupational disease sustained by that claimant.”

The Court recognized that no Ohio appellate court has ever recognized a workers’ compensation claim for mental injury or mental disease caused solely by job-related stress which is unaccompanied by physical injury or occupational disease. Accordingly the Court was not willing to broaden what it called unambiguous language in the statute.

Hence, for a mental injury to be compensable, it must arise from a compensable physical injury. Mental conditions, standing alone are not sufficient, nor are mental conditions which are contemporaneously incurred with a physical injury, but which are not caused by the physical injury.