The Arizona Supreme Court upheld an insurance company’s denial of a work injury claim filed by a Tucson police officer who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The patrol officer began training with the Tucson Police Department in 2000 after passing the required pre-employment physical and psychological examinations. In 2009, he responded to an accident in which another officer was killed, according to No. CV-21-0192-PR.
The officer told his supervisor that the incident had a negative effect on him. He was sent to a psychiatrist, but the incident was never reported as an occupational accident for compensation purposes. He continued to receive mental health care in the years that followed.
In 2018, police responded to a domestic violence scene involving a suicide. After this incident, he started having nightmares, flashbacks and difficulty concentrating at work. Both his treating psychiatrist and the City of Tucson’s physician recommended that he be relieved of his duties.
The officer filed an injury claim stemming from the incident in 2018, claiming it aggravated his pre-existing post-traumatic stress disorder. The city’s insurer, Tristar Risk Management, denied the claim.
An administrative law judge upheld the denial, finding that the psychological injury claims were not compensable because the 2018 incident was not an “unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress” situation as required under Arizona law.
In a divided opinion, the Court of Appeal upheld the grant refusal.
The Arizona Supreme Court agreed, writing that it has never determined whether the state constitution provides for workers compensation for mental health injuries, that “relevant case law is circumstantial and contradictory” and that the “constitutional definition of injury by accident necessarily involves an unexpected occurrence.”
A judge dissented in part, writing that a protected worker who sustains a mental injury from an on-the-job accident caused at least in part by “a necessary risk or danger” to the employment or the employer’s failure to “exercise due care” or comply with a labor law has a constitutional right to workers’ compensation.
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