A common question: “Can I make a workers compensation claim for PTSD in Illinois?”
The answer: Yes.
Illinois workers’ compensation law allows an employee to file a work comp claim for psychological disability, even if he did not suffer a physical injury. This is commonly known as a “mental-mental” claim, and it has not always been allowed in Illinois work comp. Common symptoms of PTSD and other psychological work injuries are blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations or a racing pulse, sweating, and a nervous or anxious feeling that comes out of nowhere. It may feel like a heart attack.
Originally, an employee could not recover under Illinois work comp law for a mental or emotional injury unless he had also suffered a physical injury. City of Springfield v. Industrial Comm’n, 685 N.E.2d 12, 14 (1997). However, in Pathfinder Co. v. Industrial Comm’n, 343 N.E.2d 913 (1976), the Illinois Supreme Court changed the law, holding that an employee who “suffers a sudden, severe emotional shock traceable to a definite time, place and cause which causes psychological injury or harm has suffered an accident within the meaning of the Act, though no physical trauma or injury was sustained.” This created the basis for today’s “mental-mental” claim.
The Illinois Appellate Court further explained this emotional trauma in General Motors Parts Division v. Industrial Comm’n., 522 N.E.2d 1260 (1988). The Court said that compensation “is limited to the narrow group of cases in which an employee suffers a sudden, severe emotional shock which results in immediately apparent psychic injury and is precipitated by an uncommon event of significantly greater proportion or dimension than that to which the employee would otherwise be subjected in the normal course of employment.” “Anxiety, emotional stress or depression which develops over time in the normal course of an employment relationship does not constitute a compensable injury.” Basically, this means that an emotional injury that causes PTSD is compensable if a person is exposed to something above and beyond what commonly occurs in their line of work or that the general public is exposed to. However, the stress and anxiety that naturally occurs at a job and builds up over time is not a compensable injury for work comp.
To prove a PTSD injury under the work comp system, an employee must demonstrate:
Importantly, this standard does not change simply because the employee has special training or is expected to handle uncommon situations. For instance, even though a police officer receives weapons training and is expected to deal with armed criminals, he can still suffer a severe emotional shock when confronted by a suspect with a gun. The shock experienced by the worker is not judged upon the type of work the employee is trained to do, but evaluated against if his mental injury “would be the reaction of a person of normal sensibilities.” This means that police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and other critical care workers cannot be held to a higher standard before making a mental-mental claim. This is very good news for our first responders that put themselves in harm’s way to save others and protect the public.