Las Vegas POA

In Some States, PTSD Not Compensable Injury Without Physical Injury

Written on 04/30/2021
Will Aitchison

Brian Carver was employed by the Jackson Police Department in Mississippi as a patrolman for 20 years. In 2004, Carver fatally shot a suspect. After his two required visits to a psychologist, Carver was cleared to return to work, where he experienced physical and mental health issues while on duty.

The first time Carver experienced PTSD symptoms after returning to work occurred when he was dispatched on a domestic violence call. During the incident, he became “highly anxious” due to the “yelling and screaming” coming from the house. In response, Carver drew his weapon and kicked in the door, which caused the door to hit a child standing on the other side. Carver stated that he “froze and that he could not move or enter the house,” forcing his fellow officers to take charge of the situation.

Carver explained that his reactions were triggered mainly by domestic vio­lence situations and that he no longer could handle domestic violence duty. Domestic violence situations would cause flashbacks of the 2004 shooting and overwhelm him. In some instances, Carver would wait until other officers had arrived on the scene and let them handle matters.

In 2007, the Department transferred Carver to the motor unit, which dealt mostly with traffic-related matters. Even though Carver no longer handled domes­tic violence disturbances, he continued to experience physical and mental health issues when carrying out his official du­ties. When motorists failed to stop right away, Carver would become anxious and would feel as if he were still in a position that would require him to use deadly force. In April 2011, during a traffic stop, Carver acted inappropriately by getting into a verbal altercation with a motorist and then handcuffing the person. Along with his crippling anxiety, “Carver was fighting insomnia by periodically taking prescription medication.”

In December 2011, while on patrol during a Christmas parade, Carver in­volved himself in an altercation with a driver. The dispute was over the driver not wearing a seat belt and refusing to listen to Carver. In response to the driver’s noncompliance, Carver jerked the door open and tried to put the moving car into Park in an effort to get the driver to stop. After the incident Carver worried “he might use his weapon inappropriately.”

When Carver was diagnosed with PTSD, Carver applied for non-duty and duty-related disability benefits. The board of the Public Employees Retire­ment System rejected his application for duty-related benefits, and Carver appealed the decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The Court upheld the denial of duty-related benefits. The Court’s de­cision turned on Mississippi’s workers’ compensation statutes, which requires that employees are only entitled to duty-related benefits if they become disabled “as a direct result of an acci­dent or traumatic event resulting in a physical injury occurring in the line of performance of duty.”

The Court found that the law “clearly states that a physical injury is required. The language of the statute required: (1) an accident or traumatic event; (2) a physical injury associated with that accident or traumatic event; and (3) that the accident and accompa­nying physical injury occurred in the line of duty.

“Carver argues that a physician’s testimony establishes PTSD as a physical injury because it triggers many physio­logical changes in the body, including chemical changes to the brain, which can produce physiological symptoms. While it is true that PTSD can cause physiological changes to the brain and may manifest physiological symptoms, the accident or traumatic event that caused the disorder did not also cause a physical injury.

“Carver fatally shot a suspect, and as a result, has suffered emotional prob­lems, but the firing of his weapon caused him no direct physical injury. He did not suffer a bruise or broken bone, and the bullet did not ricochet and strike him in the head. He may argue that the injury was the chemical change in his brain which the doctor can see, but the shooting itself did not cause these changes. Carver’s emotional and psy­chological response to the incident did.”

Four judges dissented from the five-judge majority opinion, contending that “PTSD is a physical injury because it affects the brain physically and can lead to disabling physical manifestations, as it did with Carver.”

Carver v. Public Employees’ Retire­ment System, 2020 WL 7252824 (Miss. 2020).

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