IL Work Comp – Post-Traumatic Stress And Your Job


Under Illinois workers’ compensation law, you can not bring a claim for general job-related stress.  Having a boss that is rude, working long hours, feeling overwhelmed by all of the work they are making you do?  Unfortunately, those scenarios are not enough to bring a successful work comp claim.

Illinois law on this issue is based on a famous case called Pathfinder. That case said that when an employee in Illinois suffers a sudden, severe emotional shock which leads to a psychological injury and is the result of a significant event that they would not normally be exposed to, then their injury is related to the job and they can get comp benefits.  There needs to be proof of a specific time, place, and event which caused a mental breakdown.

In other words, repeated stress over time is not a case, but a one-time event that is not normal is. The most common example is when someone is robbed at gunpoint or sees a dead body on the job. But it can also be something that you’d never think could happen in your line of work.

In a recent case, a Dollar General worker saw a person overdose and collapse in their store. As store manager, they had to address what was happening by calling 911. The family of the woman who overdosed came into the store wondering why their mom was going into an ambulance. Seeing all of this caused anxiety, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, and feeling of guilt and hopelessness. It was a clear post-traumatic stress disorder situation, PTSD.

The key to winning the case for PTSD benefits is that an overdose is not a common event to happen in a store. Her medical records showed that her need for treatment by a psychiatrist was all related to this event. At trial, she testified that she had trouble thinking straight and became panicky and had trouble breathing at times. She had undergone mental health treatment in the past, but not for 14 years. This was also helpful in proving that the work shock was the cause of her problems.  In the end, the Arbitrator awarded payment of all her medical bills and lost time along with 50 weeks of disability benefits.

While this is the first case I’ve even seen where PTSD happened as a result of an overdose in a store, the uniqueness of it doesn’t make the Arbitrator’s ruling any less correct. It’s great to be in a state like Illinois that protects injured workers in these situations and allows them to get the treatment that they need.

The bottom line is that if you do have PTSD that you feel is work-related, to win workman’s comp benefits, you must show it was a one-time event that caused a severe emotional shock and it’s not the type of thing that you’d expect to be exposed to on a regular basis. In other words, a store worker may know they could get robbed or a police officer might know that they could see a dead body, but those events are one time, shocking, and not something you expect every day.

By Mike Helfand

Courtesy of Illinois Workers Compensation

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