Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Workers’ Compensation Award for Firefighter with PTSD Injury

firefightersThe Illinois workplace injuries you suffer are not always physical ones. For one firefighter seeking workers’ compensation benefits, his injury was post-traumatic stress after a fellow firefighter died battling a blaze. Even though the firefighter did not actually see his colleague die and was not involved in trying to rescue or resuscitate him, the overall facts of the case still indicated that he suffered a “severe emotional shock” and was entitled to benefits, the Illinois Appellate Court has ruled.

The claimant was a man who began working as a firefighter in 1986. In 2010, he was a lieutenant in a small department for the Village of Homewood. The man was in command at a fire in Homewood in March 2010 when a flashover occurred and one of Homewood’s firefighters died in the blaze.

After the incident, the Homewood fire chief told the lieutenant that he could not return to work until he was cleared by a psychiatrist. By May, the lieutenant had seen a doctor, who diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. The lieutenant returned to work in the fall of 2010.

The lieutenant’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits was not successful at first. The arbitrator refused to award him any benefits, concluding that the lieutenant did not suffer a physical injury, did not see the fatally injured firefighter get injured or die, and was not involved in the rescue or resuscitation efforts. The lieutenant, the arbitrator decided, suffered only an “adverse emotional reaction,” which meant that he was not entitled to benefits.

The Appellate Court concluded differently. In Illinois, a claimant seeking workers’ compensation benefits can recover for a severe emotional shock but not for an event that amounts only to an adverse emotional reaction. The mere fact that the lieutenant was not inside the house and didn’t see the fire engulf the fatally injured firefighter did not automatically mean that the claimant did not suffer a severe emotional shock. In this circumstance, the lieutenant was in command of the fire. He was the one who told the other firefighters, including the man who later died, where to go and which type of hose to use. He had planned to go into the house with the others until one of the other firefighters assured him that “we got this.” The man who persuaded him to remain outside was the firefighter who died inside the house.

Additionally, the lieutenant had not previously experienced the death of a co-worker on the job. The event was so jarring that he continued having flashbacks until at least late August. The lieutenant had medical expert evidence that the harm he suffered was the result of “a severe reaction to an exceptionally distressing emotional shock.” All of this was enough to establish that he had a valid claim for benefits.

Whether you are seeking civil damages or workers’ compensation benefits, your workplace injury case needs the skill and experience of knowledgeable counsel. The diligent Chicago workers’ compensation attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck have been helping people who have been hurt at work for many years and have what it takes to help with your case. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.

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Illinois Hospital Worker Wins Reinstatement of Full Temporary Total Disability Award, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, June 28, 2017

Illinois Appellate Court Reinstates Benefits Award for Injured Auto Worker, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, May 22, 2017