ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that workers may receive compensation if they developed post-traumatic stress disorder from their jobs.
The ruling delighted public safety and emergency personnel who want the General Assembly to establish a task force to study the issue.
“We have firefighters and police officers who need help, and this is one way to get it for them,” said Stephen Fisher, a Montgomery County firefighter and legislative representative for the Maryland State and District of Columbia Professional Firefighters Association.
The court ruling stemmed from a 1995 case in which Doreen Kay Means, then a 29-year-old Baltimore County paramedic, claimed she suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome from working at the Towson fire station.
In 1987, she worked a fatal traffic accident involving five teenagers. Afterwards, she asked to be transferred to a quieter station. Then, she asked to be demoted to a firefighter. In conjunction with the demotion, she was transferred back to Towson, where she sometimes worked as a paramedic because of staff shortages.
In 1992, Means responded to a gruesome motorcycle accident in which the victim hadn’t worn a helmet. Means claimed that working the wreck triggered a memory of the 1987 accident.
Means began missing work and seeing a county psychiatrist and therapist. She reported suffering flashbacks of the van accident, crying spells and difficulty concentrating.
A counselor and doctor wrote that Means seemed to be experiencing symptoms consistent with delayed onset of post- traumatic stress reaction. Means filed a worker’s compensation claim seeking reimbursement for 110 hours of missed work.
In 1995, the Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Baltimore County Circuit Court ruled that because post-traumatic stress disorder wasn’t an occupational disease under the Workers’ Compensation Act, she had no case.
But in its ruling Tuesday, the Court of Appeals concluded that it was reasonable to assume that Means’ disorder resulted from her job as a paramedic and is compatible with the legal definitions of an occupational disease.
The court said the General Assembly should address whether cases like Means’ should be specifically excluded in the act, noting that more than 20 states have found that these cases can be compensable under some circumstances.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee recently killed a resolution to establish a task force on post-traumatic stress disorder among public safety and emergency services professionals.
“It’s our view that our folks – firefighters, emergency personnel, police officers – are exposed to stressful situations on a regular basis,” said Kevin O’Connor, who lobbies for the firefighter’s association. He added that the Court of Appeals’ ruling reinforces that argument.
The Means case was sent back to Baltimore County Circuit Court, where the specific merits of her claim will be addressed.
“That’s all we were asking for,” Harry W. Blondell of Baltimore, Means’ attorney, said. “They’ve just said that post- traumatic stress disorder can be a compensable occupational disease.”
The Baltimore County Attorney didn’t return calls seeking comment. Peggy Short, acting director of administration for the Workers’ Compensation Commission, said, “We will uphold whatever the court tells us to do.” -30-