Workers Compensation: Work Related Mental Injury
France v. The Industrial Comm'n, No. CV-20-0068 PR (March 2, 2021) (J. Gould) https://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/0/OpinionFiles/Supreme/2021/CV200068PR-Amended.pdf
WORK-RELATED MENTAL INJURY IS COMPENSABLE IF THE SPECIFIC EVENT CAUSING THE INJURY WAS OBJECTIVELY “UNEXPECTED, UNUSUAL OR EXTRAORDINARY”—AS VIEWED FROM THE STANDPOINT OF A REASONABLE EMPLOYEE WITH THE SAME OR SIMILAR JOB DUTIES AND TRAINING AS CLAIMANT
Claimant a Gila County deputy sheriff, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after he shot and killed a man who threatened him with a shotgun during a welfare check. His workers compensation claim was denied on the basis his job duties encompassed the possibility of using lethal force in the line of duty. The Arizona Supreme Court set the award aside and vacated the Arizona Court of Appeals decision.
A.R.S. § 23-1043.01(B) states that employees may receive compensation for mental injuries if “some unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress related to [their] employment . . . was a substantial contributing cause of the mental injury, illness or condition.”
The supreme court held that this statute requires the administrative law judge to consider if the specific event causing the injury was “objectively unexpected, unusual or extraordinary” from the point of view of a reasonable employee with the same or similar job duties and training as the claimant. It is not enough to only examine whether the claimant's basic job duties included the possibility of such an event occurring.
It is axiomatic that law enforcement officers are trained to respond to welfare checks, and that during such calls there is a possibility they might encounter a violent situation. But here, the specific work-related event that caused France's injury was the attack on France and his subsequent shooting and killing of the gunman. The record in this case shows that this type of encounter by a law enforcement officer is exceedingly rare. For example, France testified that in his thirty-six years as a law enforcement officer, he was involved in two gunfights, including the subject incident, and only this incident involved killing a subject. Likewise, at the ICA hearing, several law enforcement officers with many years of service testified that, while they are trained and prepared to use lethal force in the line of duty, they had never been involved in a gunfight. And although the estimates varied, the evidence showed that officer-involved shootings in Gila County were extremely rare, with fewer than ten such incidents occurring over the past forty years. In short, the Shooting Incident is not the type of incident that is part of a law enforcement officer's daily routine, nor is it expected that a deputy will face such a dramatic brush with death in responding to a welfare check.