The Ohio workers’ compensation act has, for many years, defined the term “injury” to mean “any injury received in the course of and arising out of employment.” Despite this broad definition, and the statutory requirement that workers’ compensation laws be construed by courts in the manner most favorable to injured workers and their families, Ohio lawmakers and courts have had a long history of resistance to recognizing work-related psychological or psychiatric injury as compensable under the workers’ compensation act. Court decisions long ago took the position that “injury” under the workers’ compensation act includes on physical injury, even though the statute at the time contained no provision which specifically required such a limitation. Beginning in the mid-1980’s, the General Assembly amended the definition of “injury” in the workers’ compensation act to specifically exclude psychiatric or psychological conditions, except in cases where such conditions were caused by a work-related physical injury.
In April of last year, after the Boston Marathon bombing and an explosion at a Texas factory which resulted in multiple deaths, I wrote in this space about how Ohio workers’ compensation law would treat police, fire and emergency medical personnel who develop anxiety, depression or post traumatic stress disorder after responding to situations serious injuries and fatalities. The answer was then – and still is – clear. It ignores them. Despite clear medical and scientific evidence which shows that these problems often result from witnessing the aftermath of violent injuries and deaths, and that police, fire fighters and emergency medical personnel have higher rates of such problems than most other occupational groups, Ohio law denies workers’ compensation to first responders in these situations, because they did not sustain physical injury themselves while carrying out their duties.
Some help may now be on the horizon for our safety forces and emergency medical workers. In June of this year, the Ohio Senate passed and sent to the House of Representatives Substitute Senate Bill 252. This bill, which enjoyed bi-partisan sponsorship in the Senate, would allow workers’ compensation coverage for peace officers, fire fighters or emergency medical workers diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder caused by their employment.
This bill, while not perfect, is clearly a step in the right direction. It has not yet become law, however. It still must be voted on by the House of Representatives, and signed into law by the Governor.
If you believe that we have a duty to protect those who put themselves in harms way to protect us, please contact your state representative to urge him or her to vote for Senate Bill 252.