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Minnesota Case Law Update--PTSD
Juntunen v. Carlton County
SUPREME COURT – DECEMBER 21, 2022
WCCA No. WC21-6418
Douglas Juntenen worked as a police officer for Carlton County and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) on August 20, 2019. Pursuant to the applicable Minnesota statute, first responders diagnosed with PTSD are entitled to a rebuttable presumption that the condition is work-related.
The employer and insurer denied primary liability and made arrangements for an independent medical evaluation to address causation for the diagnosed PTSD. The IME was completed on July 20, 2020, and stated that the employee was not suffering from PTSD at the time of the exam or any time in the 30 days prior.
The Compensation Judge ruled that the medical opinions expressed in the independent medical evaluation report were more persuasive than the employee’s treating physician and found that the statutory presumption did not apply. The judge denied the Employee’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
The employee appealed, and the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (“WCCA”) reversed the decision of the Compensation Judge, holding that the presumption applied at the time the employee was diagnosed with PTSD.
On appeal, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the WCCA holding that the statutory presumption applies as soon as a diagnosis of PTSD has been made. The Court held that the employer and insurer failed to rebut the presumption because their medical expert commented only on the diagnosis of PTSD for the three months prior to the evaluation and not during any other time frame. Therefore, the Court found that the opinion of the treating doctor regarding the diagnosis of PTSD was unopposed for any other time frame.
Chrz v. Mower County
SUPREME COURT-March 8, 2023
WCCA No. WC21-6418
Ryan Chrz worked as a sheriff’s deputy for Mower County and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) on September 25, 2019.
On March 30, 2021, the employee’s treating psychologist found that his condition had improved such that he no longer met all of the DSM-5 criteria for a valid PTSD diagnosis. Instead of PTSD, she found that his work-related mental health condition after March 30, 2021, was “other specified trauma and stress related disorder.” She continued to support his claim for disability from working in law enforcement due to his work-related mental-health condition. The employee then filed a Claim Petition for ongoing workers’ compensation benefits.
Following a full evidentiary hearing, the Compensation Judge awarded the employee ongoing workers’ compensation benefits.
The employer and insurer appealed, and the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (“WCCA”) reversed in part, holding that the employee was not entitled to any workers’ compensation benefits after March 30, 2021.
On appeal, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the WCCA holding that, even if an employee remains disabled from a work-related mental health condition that was originally diagnosed as PTSD, the claim stops being compensable once the employee no longer meets the diagnostic criteria set forth by the current version of the DSM. On that basis, the Court held that Mr. Chrz did not have an ongoing compensable work injury and was not entitled to ongoing workers’ compensation benefits.
MINNESOTA STATUTORY UPDATE—COVID PRESUMPTION HAS ENDED
Effective January 14, 2023, Covid-19 is no longer presumed to be work related, regardless of occupation.
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Minnesota statute held that for any employee working in one of the following occupations who contracted Covid-19, the condition as presumed to be work related:
· nurse or health care worker
· correctional officer, or security counselor employed by the state or a political subdivision in the following work environment: corrections, detention, or secure treatment facility
· emergency medical technician
· a health care provider, nurse, or assistive employee employed in a health care, home care, or long-term care setting, with direct Covid-19 patient care or ancillary work in Covid-19 patient units, and
· workers required to provide childcare to first responders and health care workers.
In 2022, the Minnesota legislature extended the Covid-19 presumption with an applicable sunset provision effective 11:59 p.m. on January 13, 2023. As of January 14, 2023, the provision has now expired andCovid-19 is no longer a presumptive disease in any employee.