Do You Know the Rule? When Mental illness is Compensable in Minn.

                               

Minneapolis, MN (WorkersCompensation.com) -- It was not that long ago when Minnesota incorporated “mental impairment” into the definition of “occupational disease” under the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act. Now, individuals with job-related PTSD may be able to obtain benefits—under certain circumstances.

Establishing Eligibility for Benefits

In general, to prove eligibility for workers' compensation benefits in Minnesota at any given time, three elements must be simultaneously met: 

  • The employee has an "occupational disease;”
  • The employee experiences "disablement;" and 
  • The disablement results from the occupational disease.

Definition of Mental Impairment

The act defines mental impairment very narrowly. It is "a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist." Minn. Stat. § 176.011.

Definition of PTSD

The act also narrowly defines PTSD as "the condition as described in the most recently published edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM] by the American Psychiatric Association." Minn. Stat. § 176.011.

How a Worker Establishes a Compensable Mental Impairment

The result of the act’s rules is that individuals with a mental impairment may obtain coverage in limited circumstances. The worker must establish the following to show a compensable injury:

  • The worker has PTSD;
  • A licensed psychiatrist or psychologist has diagnosed the employee with PTSD; and 
  • The psychiatrist or psychologist based the employee's diagnosis on the latest version of the DSM. 

Other Mental Health Conditions

The act’s proviso that PTSD is the only mental impairment to qualify for workers' compensation benefits means that other mental impairments, such as a diagnosis of "other specified trauma," “anxiety disorder,” or “depression,” are excluded from coverage.

As one court put it, “The statute not only defines PTSD as the sole compensable mental impairment, but it also details who must diagnose the disorder (a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist) and the way that the disorder must be diagnosed (using the most recent edition of the DSM).” CHRZ v. Mower County, No. A22-0792 (Minn. 03/08/23).

Case Example

In Mower County, a former long-time sheriff’s deputy no longer had a compensable injury, despite a prior PTSD diagnosis stemming from events at work over a 12-year career. This was because his doctor subsequently concluded that his symptoms had improved and that he no longer met the DSM-5 criteria for PTSD. Specifically, he found the former deputy no longer met DSM-5 Criterion G, which relates to whether the illness "causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

Instead of PTSD, the doctor diagnosed the deputy with "other specified trauma and stressor related disorder," major depressive disorder in partial remission, and a mild alcohol use disorder in remission.

Because the act allows compensation for a mental impairment only in the case of a current PTSD diagnosis, the worker failed to establish a compensable injury, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled.

The fact that the employee continued to have a mental condition wasn’t relevant. “Eligibility for benefits ends when an employee is no longer disabled or when an employee continues to be disabled, but no longer due to a compensable work injury,” the court wrote.

Keep up to speed with what the courts are ruling day in and day out with WorkCompResearch

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