PA Supreme Court: “Abnormal Working Condition” Caused Trooper’s Trauma
Under Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation law, claims for mental injuries can be difficult to prove as the injured worker must show that an “abnormal working condition” existed to have caused the psychological trauma. This is a burden for employees in some professions, such as paramedics and firemen, where stressful –and sometimes horrific – incidents are considered to be part of the job and not “abnormal.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled in a case where a Pennsylvania state trooper filed a claim for mental disability after experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from an incident where a mentally-impaired woman dashed in front of his patrol car, causing the trooper’s car to strike the woman. The woman died after the trooper attempted to revive her using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The trooper’s claim was granted by the workers’ compensation judge. However, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board reversed the Judge’s decision, reasoning that the incident did not represent an abnormal working condition for the trooper’s “stressful and perilous profession.” The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Appeal Board’s decision. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and held that the trooper is entitled to benefits. The Supreme Court found that the specific facts of this tragic accident rose above even the normal stressful duties of police work and that the experiences of this trooper in this incident were not part of what can normally be expected in the line of duty.