A new Connecticut law that will make post-traumatic stress “injuries” presumptively compensable for any worker who experiences a “qualifying event,” such as witnessing a death, may not be as narrow as opponents had hoped, according to Insurance and Business experts.
On June 12, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed SB 913, which takes effect on January 1, 2024, expanding the mental health injury compensation already provided to first responders. Under the law, a psychiatric specialist must examine the claimant and diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder “as a direct result of an event occurring in the course of their employment.”
The action was for a long time. Similar legislation had been introduced before and two separate bills were introduced this year. Connecticut was also among the first states to pass PTSD laws for first responders — now a national trend.
Some states, such as California, already accept workers̵7; compensation claims for psychological injuries that occur because of something experienced on the job, such as witnessing violence or being robbed, without a physical injury.
The new Connecticut law is different in that it assumes that a person suffers because of the work experience, without the worker having to prove that the event caused the suffering.
Christy Thiems, Chicago-based assistant vice president, workers’ compensation, for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, said the insurance industry and companies opposed the legislation because of the potential for increased workers’ compensation costs. She said the reimbursability “expansion is concerning, but there are a number of eligibility criteria and limitations that could reduce the impact of this legislation.”
One such parameter is the list of qualifying events that a worker must witness in order to qualify. These include seeing a deceased minor, witnessing a death or an accident that later leads to a death, and witnessing a serious injury such as a disfigurement.
The Connecticut Business Industry Association lobbied to include that a claimant must have seen something disturbing at work to qualify.
“We wanted to make sure that if this were enacted, the scope of coverage would remain as narrow as possible to avoid the potential risk of fraud, of course, and to make sure that if people have PTSD from their job that it’s covered, of course, but to make sure it’s not because of other events in their lives, says Peter Myers, Hartford, Connecticut-based government affairs officer with CBIA.
But problems remain with the new law, said Les Kertay, a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based psychologist and senior vice president of behavioral health at Axiom Medical Consulting Inc., which provides comp services.
“There’s kind of an assumption built in that if you’re exposed to one of these events you’re automatically traumatized and therefore assumed to have had a work injury, and that’s just not true of the science,” he said.
Mr Kertay said only a small percentage of people would be diagnosed with PTSD after a traumatic event. “To me, this potentially really widens the problem,” he said.
Another concern concerns a possible pre-existing diagnosis, he said.
“The qualifying event has to be at work, but what if the person has combat exposure that led to PTSD and then witnesses another event in the workplace?” he said. “How do we determine if the work event caused or greatly contributed to a diagnosis of PTSD if the person already has the diagnosis? That’s just one of the problems with causal analysis.”