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Ohio House Bill 308 Seeks to Change Physical Injury Requirement for First Responder PTSD Claims

On February 12, 2020, Ohio House Representatives passed HB 308, by a vote of 74-22. HB 308 would amend several provisions of the Revised Code and, significantly, R.C. 4123.01. Under the proposed amendment to R.C 4123.01, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) claims filed by peace officers, firefighters or emergency medical workers would be compensable without an associated physical injury. In Armstrong. V. John R. Jurgensen Co., 136 Ohio St.3d 58 (2013), the Ohio Supreme Court reiterated that the current statute does not permit so-called “mental-mental” claims.

Early in 2019, a budget bill for the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, which passed the House, included similar language permitting mental only claims. However, that provision was struck from the budget bill upon reaching the Senate. Currently, the bill is scheduled to go to the Senate for consideration. Proponents of the Bill who provided testimony include representatives of the Ohio State Medical Association and the Ohio Psychiatric Association. Opponents include the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the Ohio Township Association.

HB 308 poses several concerns for Ohio employers. Passage of the Bill would overturn 100 years of workers compensation jurisprudence, which has required a nexus between a physical injury and a psychiatric condition in order for the psychiatric condition to be compensable. Expanding the definition of “injury” to include mental only conditions invariably would expand claims costs for Ohio employers. More importantly, compensability of mental only claims for first responders eventually could lead to mental only claims for all claimants under equal protection or fairness arguments.

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