Ohio Supreme Court Confirms That a Psychological Condition Must Directly Result From the Allowed Physical Injury to be Compensable

Kegler Brown E-mployment Alert

In Armstrong v. John R. Jurgensen Co., 2013 Ohio-2237, the Ohio Supreme Court addressed the question of whether, in a workers’ compensation claim, a psychological condition must directly result from the physical conditions allowed in the claim to be compensable. The case involved a claim by a driver of a dump truck who was rear-ended by another vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle died as a result of the injuries in the accident. The claimant suffered injuries to his back and neck.

He moved to additionally allow the claim for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”). The Commission ultimately allowed the condition and the employer appealed into court. The trial court rendered judgment in favor of the employer based upon testimony from the employer’s expert that claimant’s PTSD would have arisen from this accident whether or not claimant had suffered any physical injury. In other words, the circumstances of the accident, and not the injuries resulting from it, caused the PTSD. The Court of Appeals affirmed this decision and claimant appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Construing the 2006 amendment to the workers’ compensation statute, specifically R.C. 4123.01(C)(1), the Court held that a psychological condition must directly and proximately result from the allowed physical injuries in the workers’ compensation claim to be compensable. A psychological condition resulting from the “accident,” but not the physical injury caused by the accident, is not compensable.

The effect of the Court’s holding is clear in cases involving PTSD, but it also should provide support for the defense of other psychological conditions where the causal relationship is questionable, such as where depression allegedly results from financial hardship following an injury, but not from the injury itself.