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Workers Compensation: Work Related Mental Injury

Posted by Ted A. Schmidt | Mar 11, 2021 | 0 Comments

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.

About the Author

Ted A. Schmidt

Ted's early career as a trial attorney began on the other side of the fence, in the offices of a major insurance defense firm. It was there that Ted acquired the experience, the skills and the special insight into defense strategy that have served him so well in the field of personal injury law. Notable among his successful verdicts was the landmark Sparks vs. Republic National Life Insurance Company case, a $4.5 million award to Ted's client. To this day, it is the defining case for insurance bad faith, and yet it is only one of several other multi-million dollar jury judgments won by Ted during his career. He is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in "wrongful death and bodily injury litigation".

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