Workers’ Compensation for PTSD – Blacktop Industries v. Wolfe

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric condition that causes a person to suffer anxiety following some form of extreme emotional trauma. Unfortunately, many soldiers returning from war are afflicted with PTSD. But you don’t have to spend time on a foreign battlefield to be at risk. PTSD can result from a wide variety of circumstances, including a car accident. In a recent decision, West Virginia’s Supreme Court explained that a person who suffers from PTSD stemming from a workplace accident may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

wreck.jpegMr. Wolfe was injured in an auto accident while driving a truck for Blacktop Industries. He sustained abrasions on his neck and back and muscle spasms as a result of the crash, in which the other driver was killed. He was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the accident. He began to suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, and insomnia, according to the Court, and underwent psychiatric treatment. Wolfe obtained workers’ compensation benefits for the physical injuries, but a state claims administrator denied his request for benefits related to the PTSD.

The Workers’ Compensation Office of Judges later affirmed the decision. The Office held that Wolfe didn’t prove that his psychiatric issues were related to the injuries that he sustained in the crash, rather than being a result of the fact that the other driver died in the crash. West Virginia Code ยง 23-4-1f (1993) provides that a worker can’t seek workers’ compensation benefits for an injury “solely caused by nonphysical means and which did not result in any physical injury or disease to the person claiming benefits.” In other words, the Office said the PTSD had to be directly related to a physical injury for which Wolfe received benefits.

On further appeal, the Office’s Board of Review disagreed. The Board said the PTSD was compensable because it was clearly a result of the crash, which had also caused Wolfe to suffer physical injuries in the form of the abrasions and muscle spasms.

Siding with the Board, the state Supreme Court held that Section 23-4-1f didn’t bar Wolfe from obtaining workers’ compensation benefits for the PTSD. “Mr. Wolfe did suffer a physical injury in the form of abrasions on his back and shoulder, and his claim was held compensable for superficial injury of other multiple/unspecified sites,” the Court said. “Mr. Wolfe also has provided medical evidence that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.” The Court also noted that he began seeking psychiatric treatment the day after the accident happened.

Thus, the Court said Wolfe could get workers’ compensation benefits for his PTSD.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident on the job, the Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia workplace accident attorneys have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Workplace Accidents, Employer Liability and ‘Deliberate Intent’ – Cunningham v. Felman Production

Conflicting Stories and “Obvious” Danger Don’t Keep Injured West Virginia Worker from Jury Trial – Kruis v. Allmine Paving

The Key to Winning a West Virginia Car Accident Case? Evidence – Ratliff v. State Farm