Minnesota Supreme Court Rules That in Order to Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits for PTSD, You Must Have PTSD: Chrz v. Mower County

The employee was a deputy sheriff for Mower County from 2007-2019. During his employment with Mower County, he experienced many traumatic events including violence and death. In February 2019, he was placed on administrative leave after using physical force to subdue a juvenile arrestee. While on leave, the employee was evaluated by a licensed psychologist who diagnosed the employee with PTSD under the DSM-5. Following this diagnosis, the employee was taken off work from September 25, 2019, to an undetermined time.

On March 30, 2021, the employee was reevaluated by his psychologist, who opined that the employee’s PTSD symptoms had improved and that he no longer met the DSM-5 criteria for PTSD and diagnosed him with “other specified trauma and stressor related disorder, major depressive disorder in partial remission.” The psychologist found that the employee had reached MMI with a 20 percent PPD rating for the PTSD. The psychologist opined that the employee remained disabled from work due to his alternative mental diagnosis.

The employee filed a claim petition, alleging entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits after April 1, 2020. The employer and insurer denied that the employee sustained a compensable PTSD injury based upon an IME that opined he did not meet the criteria under the DSM-5 for PTSD. At hearing, the workers’ compensation judge found that the employee sustained a work-related occupational disease in the nature of PTSD on April 30, 2019. The judge awarded benefits from April 1, 2020, to the present and continuing.

The employer and insurer appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals, arguing that the compensation judge erred in granting benefits after March 30, 2021, when the employee’s psychologist concluded that he no longer had PTSD. The WCCA reversed, finding that the employee was ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits after March 30, 2021, because he no longer had a compensable occupational disease under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act. The court stated that because the “other trauma and stressor related disorder” was not a compensable injury, he did not have a compensable disorder under the Act.

The employee then appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, who affirmed the WCCA. In doing so, the Court found that the only mental impairment covered by the WCA is PTSD. Additionally, to prove eligibility for benefits, an employee must prove three elements:

    1. The employee has an occupational disease;
    2. The employee experiences disablement; and
    3. The disablement results from the occupational disease.

In this case, the Court found that the employee had a diagnosis of PTSD from a licensed psychologist under the DSM-5 through March 30, 2021. However, after that date, the employee no longer met the occupational disease element and could no longer establish a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The Court stated that a holding allowing ongoing benefits under this circumstance would, in effect, make a diagnosis of PTSD perpetual and therefore incompatible with the WCA which made PTSD the only mental impairment to qualify for benefits. The Court noted that if the Legislature intended other mental impairments to be compensable such as the “other specified trauma and stressor disorder” in this case, it would have included it in the statute.

The Court acknowledged a dissenting argument at the WCCA that the employee’s ongoing mental impairments could be compensable under a consequential injury theory, but did not address the merits as it was not advanced by the employee at the workers’ compensation hearing or on appeal at any level.

Bottom Line

The Minnesota Supreme Court reiterated that to obtain workers’ compensation benefits, an employee must have a compensable condition that causes disablement. If an employee no longer has the disabling condition, there is no entitlement for benefits. In the case of PTSD, or any injury for that matter, it is important to make sure that the employee continues to have the proper diagnosis of the condition to remain eligible for benefits.