Armstrong v. Jurgenson, Case No. 2012-0244, is currently pending before the Ohio Supreme Court. Oral argument was held January 23, 2013. The case concerns a claimant who was diagnosed with sprain/strain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a work related motor vehicle accident. The claimant was rear-ended and the driver of the other vehicle died at the scene. Claimant’s and the employer’s experts agree that claimant developed PTSD in response to the life-threatening nature of the accident and claimant’s observation of the fatally injured driver. In other words, claimant’s PTSD did not arise from the physical injuries claimant sustained in the accident, but rather, as a separate psychiatric condition that occurred contemporaneous to his physical injuries. The question for the Court to decide is whether claimant’s PTSD is a compensable psychiatric injury under Ohio Workers’ Compensation law.

In 2006, the General Assembly modified the definition of a compensable injury under Ohio Workers’ Compensation law. Revised Code 4123.01(C)(1) currently provides that a compensable injury does not include psychiatric conditions unless the conditions have “arisen from” a physical injury or occupational disease. In light of R.C. 4123.01(C)(1), the trial court and appellate court ruled that claimant’s PTSD is not compensable. The Second District Appellate Court explained that the psychiatric condition must have arisen from the injury, i.e., the fact that it occurred at the same time was not sufficient. Claimant argues that psychiatric conditions arising contemporaneous to physical injuries are compensable.

This case will give the Court its first opportunity to address the compensability of a psychiatric condition that occurred contemporaneously with a physical injury. It is also the first significant workers’ compensation issue that will be decided by the newly formulated Court. It will be interesting to see if the Court applies the statute as written and its “arisen from” standard, or if it will employ the more lenient “contemporaneous to” standard. An updated blog will be published once the Court’s decision is announced. Stay tuned.