Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Workers’ Compensation

Under the laws of every state, if you have suffered an injury on the job, you can seek benefits through the state’s workers’ compensation laws. While certain types of injuries are clearly covered—traumatic injury and repetitive stress/motion injuries are almost always covered—some are less certain. For workers who have been exposed to conditions that cause post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, many states have struggled to determine whether workers’ compensation should be provided.

The Sources of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Work-related PTSD has been reported as resulting from a broad range of events, including:

  • Witnessing work-related acts of violence, including co-worker attacks
  • Working in jobs that necessarily involve danger, violence or frightening activities, such as law enforcement, fire prevention, paramedic services or emergency medicine
  • Exposure to threats of violence by co-workers

The Basis for Compensation for Mental Disability in New Jersey

Under established New Jersey law, an employee may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for mental disability or injury (which covers PTSD) if five requirements can be shown:

  • The employee’s working conditions were stressful
  • Credible evidence must show that the employee found the working conditions stressful
  • The identified “stressful working conditions must be unique to the specific workplace
  • There must be medical testimony demonstrating a “psychiatric disability”—the finding cannot be based on the mere statement of the employee
  • The workplace must have been a (not necessarily “the”) material cause of the psychiatric disability

The Impact of a Pre-Existing Condition

One of the principal challenges in successfully prosecuting a workers’ compensation claim for PTSD or almost any other mental disability is the concept of a “pre-existing condition.” With most compensable workplace injuries, the employer is said to take the employee as they found them, i.e., if an employee has brittle bones or a weak heart, the employee can still seek workers’ compensation benefits if the condition is aggravated at work. However, in a recent New Jersey case, the court of appeals found that such is not the case with respect to mental disability. The court held that a potential claimant, who had experienced sexual abuse as a child, could not recover workers’ compensation benefits because of psychological injuries suffered when a threatening environment at work triggered reactions tied to the childhood sexual abuse.

Contact Us

At Taylor & Boguski, we bring more than 70 years of combined legal experience to injured workers throughout New Jersey. For a free initial consultation, contact our office online or call us at 856-200-8989.