Physical Injury Still Required for Valid Ohio Workers’ Compensation Claim

Kegler Brown E-mployment Alert

This week, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a workers' compensation statute requiring a physical injury before a claim is deemed compensable.

Kimberly McCrone was working as a bank teller at a Bank One branch in Canton when her branch was robbed. While she was not physically hurt, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and filed a workers' compensation claim for that psychological condition. The Industrial Commission denied her claim because the workers' compensation statute requires a physical injury before a psychological condition is considered compensable. That is, the physical injury must cause the psychological condition. Ms. McCrone appealed the disallowance of her claim into court and Bank One filed a motion for summary judgment. The Stark County Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision and ruled in favor of Ms. McCrone, finding that the exclusion of solely psychological injuries from workers' compensation coverage is unconstitutional because it denies such employees equal protection under the law. The matter was then heard by The Supreme Court of Ohio.

In a 5-2 decision, a majority of the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and upheld the constitutionality of the statute. In doing so, the Court reaffirmed the Legislature's prerogative to define what is and what is not compensable for workers' compensation purposes. It found that the Legislature had legitimate reasons to exclude purely psychological injuries. For example, it noted that it is hard to prove the existence and cause of psychological injuries, as opposed to most physical ones. Likewise, the Court held the Legislature can legitimately limit coverage to only certain types of conditions to ensure the efficient use of the workers' compensation fund, whose resources are limited. In a concurring opinion, one of the Justices encouraged the Legislature to fully consider the question of whether solely psychological conditions should be covered by workers' compensation. Until the Legislature makes such a change, an employee with solely psychological injuries is entitled to bring a negligence action against the employer pursuant to the Bunger case, decided by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1998.