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HB 308: Peace of Mind for First Responders HB 308: Peace of Mind for First Responders

HB 308: Peace of Mind for First Responders

With House Bill 308 becoming effective on April 12, 2021, Ohio has taken the first step to establish compensation and benefits for first responders through the creation of a specific fund designated to address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The fund will not be administered by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. The intention of the fund is to “pay compensation for lost wages to a public safety officer who is disabled by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) without an accompanying physical injury received in the course of, and arising out of, employment…” By creating a separate fund to pay the costs of medical expenses and compensation for PTSD regardless of physical injury, Ohio can meet first responders’ mental health needs while still protecting the integrity of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation fund.

Workers suffering from stress-related mental illnesses, without a physical injury, are generally not entitled to Ohio workers’ compensation coverage. Ohio excludes psychiatric conditions under “except where the claimant’s psychiatric conditions have arisen from an injury or occupational disease sustained by that claimant.” While some states recognize psychiatric conditions arising solely from job-related emotional stress for workers’ compensation purposes, Ohio does not. Instead, under current Ohio law, psychological injuries are not compensable without an accompanying physical injury. As such, proving the relationship between a physical injury and mental condition is a crucial component of workers’ compensation recovery for a psychological condition in Ohio.

Ohio’s statute limiting psychiatric allowances has been upheld by many Supreme Court decisions, most recently in the 2013 case of Armstrong v. John R. Jurgensen Co. In Armstrong, the Ohio Supreme Court found that “pursuant to the plain language of [the statute], a claimant must sustain physical injury or occupational disease as a prerequisite to recovering workers’ compensation benefits for a mental condition. A psychiatric condition is not a workers’ compensation injury except when the condition has ‘arisen from an injury or occupational disease sustained by that claimant.’” And further ruling, that “For … PTSD to qualify as a compensable injury under R.C. 4123.01(C)(1), … more is required; [claimants] must establish that PTSD was causally related to his compensable physical injuries and not simply to his or her involvement in the accident.” Thus, simply being involved in an accident and then developing post-traumatic stress disorder is insufficient to allow that condition.

By enacting House Bill 308, Ohio has apparently determined that applying Armstrong’s logic to first responders may be misplaced and overly broad given the stress of those occupations through witnessing severe injuries and fatalities in the line of duty. House Bill 308 recognizes the unique challenges placed on first responders while preserving the fundamental doctrine of traditional Ohio law. The creation of a completely separate fund directed specifically towards the allowance of PTSD for first responders without changing Ohio workers’ compensation law reaffirms Armstrong’s requirement that an alleged psychological injury must be causally connected to an underlying physical injury, while also providing an exception for first responders.

If you have questions about HB 308 or worker's compensation, contact Agnes Stucke or the Ice Miller Labor & Employment attorney with whom you normally work.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader's specific circumstances.
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