state-trooper-imageThe Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently upheld workers’ compensation for a state trooper who sustained psychological damages after striking and killing a woman who darted in front of his cruiser.

The trooper, a 12-year veteran of the Pennsylvania State Police, unintentionally struck the woman in November 2006 while he was on his way to the police barracks. The woman, who was later determined to be suffering from mental illness, was dressed all in black when she ran out in front of the cruiser.

The trooper attempted to revive her by performing CPR while also diverting traffic around the scene of the accident. He initially returned to work; however, four days later he left his employment and did not return as a result of the anxiety and stress.

The trooper then filed a workers’ compensation claim, saying he was severely traumatized by the incident and was unable to perform his job. The State Police denied the claim stating that his injuries did not amount to a disability and did not occur in the scope of his employment. The State Police also argued that he did not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The State Police argued that a police officer is expected to work in stressful and dangerous conditions, meaning any trauma caused by the accident was part of the job and not compensable.

A workers’ compensation judge, however, found that the trooper had a “mental injury arising from a work-related mental stimulus” and was entitled to benefits.  The judge acknowledged that a police officer can expect to be involved in stressful or violent situations. However, the accident in question was not one an officer should expect to encounter in the normal course of duty.

The State Police appealed the judge’s decision to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. The board reversed the decision, stating that “we cannot agree that this incident constitutes an abnormal working condition given the nature of

[Appellant’s] stressful and perilous profession.” On appeal, the Commonwealth Court agreed with the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. That decision was then appealed to the state’s highest court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court overturned both lower courts and reinstated the original decision awarding benefits. The Supreme Court found that there had been an “extraordinarily unusual and distressing single work-related event experienced by Appellant, resulting in his disabling mental condition, where such single and comprehensive work-related event constituted an abnormal working condition as a matter of law.”

If you have suffered a workplace injury or illness, you may be entitled to benefits through the Worker’s Compensation.