State Police Successfully Opposes Trooper’s PTSD Claim

How post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims are treated by workers’ compensation and pension laws varies widely across the country. Some states require only that an employee prove that PTSD was caused by the job. At the other end of the spectrum, the most conservative states require that the employee actually be physically injured in the incident that caused the PTSD.

Kentucky follows the “physical injury” model. So it was not unusual to see the Kentucky Court of Appeals reject State Trooper Benjamin McCray’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits arising from his PTSD. What was surprising was to see a rather passionate opinion from a judge who clearly disliked the result, but felt he was required to vote to deny McCray’s claim.

McCray’s claim arose on September 25, 2009, when he was called to a domestic disturbance. When he arrived at the scene, he was confronted by a man who he believed was armed with a gun, and was forced to shoot the man in order to protect his own life. After shooting the suspect, and because he did not know if other individuals at the scene were armed, McCray retrieved a rifle from his KSP vehicle and waited in a wooded area until additional troopers arrived. It was later determined that the suspect was armed with a BB gun. McCray was not physically injured in the incident.

Shortly after the incident, McCray began experiencing paranoia, lack of sleep, as well as episodes of rage and anger. By April 2010, McCray stopped working because his rage and anger “got to the point where I was going to end up hurting somebody that didn’t need to be hurt.” A doctor concluded that McCray suffered from major depression, panic disorder, severe occupational issues and PTSD, and opined that McCray was “totally and permanently disabled from any form of work due to the severity of his symptoms.”

McCray filed a workers’ compensation claim for his PTSD. When the Kentucky State Police rejected the claim, McCray appealed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

In rejecting the claim, the Court held that “it is clear from the plain and unambiguous statutory language that an ‘injury’ for purposes of Kentucky law shall not include a psychological, psychiatric or stress-related change in the human organism unless it is a direct result of a physical injury. PTSD as suffered by McCray is a psychological, psychiatric or stress-related change in the human organism; however, by his own testimony he admitted that he suffered no physical injuries on the date of the shooting. Ergo, McCray is not entitled to benefits absent a causal, physical injury.

“We are compelled to acknowledge that McCray is in all respects a sympathetic claimant, and from our reading of the opinions of the ALJ and the Board, it is readily apparent that they recognize this reality. Nevertheless, we are bound to apply the statutory and case law in its current form and not as one may wish it to exist. The law clearly limits compensability to those occurrences of PTSD arising from physical injury to the claimant.”

A concurring judge was a bit more vociferous about the issue. The judge wrote that “the outcome of this case, while compelled by the lamentable state of the current law, is fundamentally and profoundly unjust, inhumane, and illogical. It cries out for a statutory revision by the Kentucky General Assembly. The wording of the workers’ compensation statute requiring physical impact under the circumstances of this case has produced an absurd and unjust result in clear derogation of the beneficent purpose underlying Workers’ Compensation and governing courts in construing its statutory scheme.

“I respectfully submit that it is high time for Workers’ Compensation to abandon the physical impact rule. It is a patent disgrace to have to deny recovery to McCray.”

Kentucky State Police v. McCray, 2013 WL 5864401 (Ky. App. 2013).