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Firefighter suffering from PTSD entitled to benefits, court says

Some jobs are inherently more dangerous than others, such as firefighting. However, even in these types of jobs, situations may arise that lead a worker to seek workers' compensation benefits.

An Illinois Appellate Court has recently made a novel ruling with regards to workers' compensation. In this case, the court ruled that a firefighter who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD was eligible for workers' compensation benefits after his coworker died while fighting a fire.

In this case, the claimant testified that he was ordered to take command of a house fire from outside the home. A flashover occurred and other firefighters exited the home, carrying with them an injured firefighter. The claimant issued a mayday alarm, and an ambulance was sent to the scene. Unfortunately, the claimant was told that the injured firefighter had passed away.

The claimant sought the help of a psychiatrist because he simply could not stop thinking about the fire. He was unable to sleep and it was affecting his relationship with his family and others. The psychiatrist determined the claimant had PTSD. Eventually, the claimant was able to return to work.

However, only one month after stopping treatment, the claimant once again sought treatment because he could not get the fire out of his mind and was suffering from guilt and conflict. A second psychiatrist determined the claimant had chronic PTSD, as he was exposed to a traumatic event that was unusual and occurred all of a sudden.

After the claimant sought workers' compensation benefits, an arbitrator determined that death was a risk one takes when one works as a firefighter, so his injuries were not accidental. Thus, the claimant was denied benefits. A review by the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission and the Cook County Circuit Court also came to the same conclusion.

Despite these conclusions, the appellate court found that just because the claimant was not in the burning house when the incident occurred does not mean that the incident wasn't traumatic. Moreover, the court determined the incident was not one that would arise during the normal course of the job. Therefore, the claimant was entitled to psychological disability.

While not everyone agrees with this decision, it is important to recognize that there are many conditions that could give rise to workers' compensation benefits. Residents of Illinois who have questions about how this case might affect them or about workers' compensation benefits in general may want to consult with an attorney to gain more information about their situation.

Source: Illinois Business Daily, "Attorney: PTSD workers' comp case may open claim floodgates," Aug. 2, 2016

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