Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, has received a lot of media attention for its prevalence among soldiers returning from overseas. But PTSD can also be a problem for people who experience extremely stressful workplace situations here at home. This is especially true for first responders who deal with violent or traumatic situations, but can also apply to someone who witnesses a bad work accident. Because the symptoms of PTSD can make working difficult or impossible, it can qualify someone for disability benefits. If the event that triggered PTSD happened at work, the sufferer may also qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
Nevada’s stress injury statute
NRS 616C.180 governs workers’ compensation for injury or disease caused by stress, including PTSD. There are two important features of this statute. First, it explicitly exempts from coverage any condition “caused by any gradual mental stimulus.” This precludes workers’ comp claims for certain types of anxiety-related conditions. Second, the statute defines when a stress-related claim is compensable. To qualify for benefits, the condition must meet these factors:
- The employee has a mental injury caused by extreme stress in time of danger.
- The primary cause of the injury was an event that arose out of and during the course of employment.
- The stress was not caused by a layoff, termination, or any disciplinary action.
The most important feature of this statute is the requirement that the stress must arise from a distinct event. A gradual accumulation of stress will not be compensable. In McGrath v. State Dep’t of Pub. Safety, 123 Nev. 120 (2007), the Nevada Supreme Court interpreted the statute to require claimants “to identify a discrete, identifiable, traumatic occurrence that gave rise to stress.”
Like other disease-related workers’ comp claims, proving that the injury “arose out of and during the course of employment” may also be a challenge for PTSD sufferers. For example, if the traumatic event was not itself work-related, an insurer may try to deny the claim. A police officer involved in an on-duty shooting might have little trouble with this element, but it might be less clear for an off-duty officer who witnesses a traumatic traffic accident and offers her assistance.
Late onset further complicates claims
One challenge of PTSD is that it can develop long after the precipitating event. For a worker who begins to experience symptoms long after the event, it can be difficult to meet the statutory requirements for a good compensation claim. In Nevada a work-related illness must be reported to the employer within seven days of being discovered. In the case of PTSD, which can come on gradually, the point when the condition was known may become a major point of dispute. Insurers will deny claims on the basis that they were not reported on time, shifting the burden to the employee to show that he or she provided timely notice only after becoming aware of the connection between the traumatic work-event and PTSD.
Late onset involves other practical problems as well. It may be difficult to trace the PTSD to a specific event. Witnesses to the event also may be difficult to procure.
GGRM is here to support people dealing with PTSD
The attorneys at the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have handled complicated workers’ compensation cases for over 45 years. We are especially proud of our work with first responders in the Las Vegas area. If you are suffering from work-related PTSD and have questions about how to pursue a workers’ compensation claim, reach out to us for a free attorney consultation. Call us at 702-388-4476, or send us a request through our site.