PTSD Statute Does Not Require a Compensation Judge’s Independent Assessment

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals and concluded that the statutory language providing that PTSD is covered by the Workers’ Compensation Act does nothing more than require that a diagnosis of PTSD in a workers’ compensation case be done by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist based on the latest version of the DSM.

In Chadd Smith v. Carver County, Smith sought workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD, which he claims resulted from numerous traumatic incidents that he experienced by working as a deputy sheriff for Carver County. The County denied responsibility. Two licenses psychologists assessed Smith — one diagnosed Smith with PTSD; the other did not. The compensation judge found the psychologist who did not diagnose Smith with PTSD to be more persuasive, adopted that psychologist’s report, and dismissed Smith’s claim petition.

The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals reversed, determining that the 2013 amendment requires that a compensation judge conduct an independent assessment to verify the diagnosis of a psychologist or psychiatrist conforms to the PTSD criteria in the DSM-5 before accepting the expert’s diagnosis. The WCCA noted that the compensation judge’s decision to adopt the expert opinion relied on was improper because the psychologist’s diagnoses did not explicitly conform to the PTSD criteria in the DSM-5.

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the decision of the WCCA and reinstated the compensation judge’s decision. The Court noted the language of the statute is plain and straightforward. For an employee to recover workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD arising out of and in the course of employment, the employee must prove that a psychiatrist or psychologist has diagnosed him or her with PTSD and that the professional based the employee’s diagnosis on the latest version of the DSM. The Court noted the WCCA’s opinion would require the compensation judge to go far beyond determining whether the medical professional had adequate foundation for diagnosing a worker with or without PTSD under the DMS-5. The Court further noted that the WCCA’s opinion substitutes a compensation judge’s legalistic analysis of the DMS-5 for the professional judgement of psychiatrists and psychologists.

Please click here to download a copy of the Court’s decision.

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