The Arizona Court of Appeals recently held that a claim for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought three and one half years after the injury occurred was not barred by untimeliness because the condition did not manifest until nine months before the claim.
In Arizona, claimants must seek workers’ compensation benefits within one year after an injury is manifest. A compensable injury becomes manifest when the injured employee recognizes the nature of his injury, the seriousness of the injury, and the probable causal relationship between the injury and the employment. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 23-1061(A).
In Pitts, the claimant was working as a police officer in May 2013 when he responded to calls about a man brandishing a gun near a hospital. When the claimant arrived at the hospital, the gunman proceeded to fire numerous shots at his police vehicle and the claimant ultimately shot the gunman in the shoulder. The claimant resumed work only three weeks after the incident despite telling the department psychologist he felt unsteady. One year later, the claimant attended the gunman’s three week trial every day and testified in the case. Over time, the claimant began to have trouble sleeping, had nightmares, and experienced anxiety and social withdrawal. The gunman’s sentence was later reduced due to a technicality. This upset the claimant further and he became depressed, began having panic and anxiety attacks at work, and experienced tunnel vision, insomnia, and dissociative episodes where he lost track of time. The clamant became hypervigilant about his family’s security and safety. In January 2016, the claimant saw a trauma psychologist and was diagnosed with dissociative complex PTSD relating to the shooting incident in 2013. This was the first time the claimant was diagnosed with PTSD related to this event. In October 2016, the claimant filed for hearing seeking benefits.
The Court of Appeals found that the claimant experienced a traumatic incident, and then developed symptoms that increased in nature and severity over a period of years. However, the claimant was not diagnosed with PTSD until January 2016, and the carrier did not present evidence to show that the claimant’s symptoms had become acute enough to allow a diagnosis of PTSD before that time. The Court noted that in contrast to many physical injuries where a diagnosis is immediate and obvious, the emergence of a mental health injury is difficult to pinpoint. The case was reversed for a determination of compensability.
Pitts v. Indus. Comm’n of Ariz., 438 P.3d 703 (March 21, 2019)
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