In a rare legislative change to Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Law, Gov. Ned Lamont recently signed into law Senate Bill No. 164 (Public Act 19-17), which expands workers’ compensation coverage for some first responders who experience mental or emotional impairment following certain traumatic events experienced in the line of duty. Specifically, the bill allows for police officers, firefighters, and parole officers that have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. In order to be eligible for benefits, the first responder must have witnessed one of six qualifying events:
- The death of a person or an incident involving the death of a person
- An injury that causes the death of a person shortly thereafter
- Treating an injured person who dies shortly thereafter
- Carrying an injured person who dies shortly thereafter
- Viewing a deceased minor
- An incident that causes a person to lose a body part, to suffer a loss of function, or that results in permanent disfigurement
The law became effective July 1, 2019. The text of the bill, along with Gov. Lamont’s remarks, can be found here.
Prior to the passage of Senate Bill 164, first responders were only eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD if it resulted from physical injury or occupational disease. However, following the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, there began a push by some legislators to expand access to benefits for first responders who witnessed traumatic events in the line of duty.
Claims for benefits must be made within four years of the qualifying event. The bill allows for temporary total disability and temporary partial disability benefits for a maximum of 52 weeks from the date of diagnosis. The maximum weekly benefit, when combined with other benefits, including but not limited to retirement benefits, Social Security benefits, and short-term disability, may not exceed the employee’s average weekly wage.
It is important for the Connecticut claim professional whose coverage includes police officers, firefighters, and parole officers to be aware of this change in the law. Given the unfortunate occurrence of traumatic situations in these lines of work, we expect an increase in PTSD claims filed by these professionals. In addition to the potential increase in new claims, the passage of Senate Bill 164 also represents a noteworthy change in the law for two reasons. First, the Connecticut legislature rarely makes substantive changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act. Second, Connecticut law traditionally does not recognize so-called “mental-mental” claims. In other words, for a claim of PTSD or other mental illness to be compensable in Connecticut, it must result from a physical or occupational injury. This bill represents a departure from this standard. While Senate Bill 164 is narrow – it is limited to certain first responders following certain traumatic situations – it may represent the beginning of a shift toward expanding workers’ compensation coverage for emotional trauma and mental illness not resulting from physical injury.