To qualify for a mental stress injury under Illnois workers’ compensation law, if you aren’t physically injured or touched too, you have to show that you experienced a severe and sudden emotional shock.
Usually this means something happens to you like being robbed or something happens to a co-worker like seeing them get badly injured or killed while working. That can lead to PTSD and a real psychological problem about returning to work.
Other times though you can be minding your own business and see something awful and still have a good work case. This happened in 2009 to a Chicago Transit Authority (“CTA”) bus driver who finally had her case resolved in 2020.
I didn’t handle this one so I have no idea why it took 11 years, but it does seem justice prevailed in the end. According to the case summary I read, she was driving her bus on her regular route when she saw two men engaged in a shootout. She immediately felt scared which of course makes sense. She kept driving and her passengers hit the floor. Two days later she began receiving counseling due to her anxiety and depression.
Video from the bus showed that she was really close to where this happened and the Judge felt it was reasonable that she felt that her life could be in danger. She testified that being so close to the gunfire made her scared and nervous. All of this was supported by the records of her treating psychologist. The Arbitrator found in her favor because she had to drive this specific route which increased her risk of being exposed to trauma.
I honestly have no idea what the basis was for even fighting this case other than the CTA and City of Chicago in general tend to make odd decisions when it comes to work injuries. Sometimes it seems facts don’t matter as much as who the worker knows. Perhaps they fought it because it happened outside the bus. That really is ridiculous though because it’s not like she could do anything to prevent bullets from going through the windshield or really protect herself in any other way.
It also makes no sense that this case took 11 years as she was back to regular work within four months. Cases against the government can take longer, but not usually this long. It was appealed after trial, but 11 years is still very unusual.
The bottom line is that if your job duties cause you to experience anxiety or stress from a one time, shocking event like seeing someone get shot, you likely can get medical treatment at your employer’s expense. And if your doctor says you should be off work for that time, they have to compensate you for it. And when it’s all over you’d be eligible for a settlement. They aren’t physical injuries, but they are handled the exact same way when it comes to benefits.