PTSD HELD NOT TO BE A OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE IN ABSENCE OF PHYSICAL INJURY
Robert Cocking v. City of Montgomery:
On March 12, 2010, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals considered the issue of whether Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") was compensable as an occupational disease in the absence of a physical injury. In the discovery phase, it was learned that the plaintiff was a Montgomery firefighter for 25 years. In his capacity as a firefighter, he was often called upon to respond to emergency situations. On October 3, 2005, the plaintiff failed to revive a two and a half year old baby. On June 29, 2008, he failed to revive a 52 year old woman. The plaintiff alleged in his complaint that the continuos exposure to such stressful situations caused him to develop PTSD. The employer filed and argued a motion for summary judgment based on the fact that there was no evidence of a physical injury. In Alabama, there must be physical injury in order for a mental injury to be compensable. The plaintiff conceded that there was no physical injury but argued that there was no such requirement if the mental injury was an occupational disease. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment and the employee appealed the decision. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals considered the briefs and heard oral argument on the issue. The Court ultimately affirmed the trial court’s decision. In support of its decision, the Court noted that the statute defining an occupational disease specifically refers to physical diseases. As such, in order for a mental disease to qualify, it would need to meet the same physical injury requirement as an accidental injury.
My Two Cents:This is not the first time this argument has been made. However, in prior cases, the Court of Civil Appeals decided in favor of the employer because the plaintiff did not have job duties peculiar to his or her employment that could possibly cause PTSD. This always left open the possibility that the Court could determine in a subsequent case that PTSD was an occupational disease if the plaintiff could prove his or her job duties could cause the disorder. This issue has now been resolved and the physical injury requirement remains intact even when an occupational disease is alleged.