In Illinois, workers’ compensation doesn’t cover all emotional injuries, but it does cover some. The general rule is that you have to suffer an emotional shock that is sudden and severe. Often this means that you must be able to point to a specific incident that caused the trauma. A bank teller held up at gunpoint would likely qualify, whereas an employee who has a mental breakdown because of a demanding boss likely would not.
There was a recent case involving a police officer who filed a workers’ compensation claim for post-traumatic stress after being involved in a standoff. The person the officer was dealing with appeared to have a handgun (later turned out to be a BB gun). During the next few days, the officer started to experience anxiety when responding to calls at work. He was diagnosed with PTSD and sought benefits.
Sometimes claims like these will be denied based on the fact that the emotional trauma developed over time and therefore wasn’t sudden and severe. In this case, the officer didn’t begin suffering anxiety until a few days after the incident, and the worker’s compensation commission said benefits were not allowed because there was no immediate shock or emotional harm.
Another reason the claim was denied was because the incident (the standoff) was something this man was fairly likely to be exposed to as a police officer. In other words, it shouldn’t cause him as much anxiety as the average person because he’s a trained officer.
The case went up to the Illinois appellate court, which reversed the decision. They said that there was sudden and severe emotional shock, which led to PTSD. And the court also said that the man shouldn’t be held to a higher standard because he is a police officer. If a standoff would traumatize the average person, then it could traumatize anyone, regardless of that person’s job.
So, the existence of emotional shock is an objective, not subjective question. When determining whether emotional trauma is worthy of benefits, the person’s occupation and training are not relevant.
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