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What Do You Think: Did PTSD from Bodily Fluids Render Hospital Employee Permanently Unable to Work?

24 Apr, 2024 Chris Parker

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New Orleans, LA ( – In Louisiana, an employee has the burden of showing that he can no longer work and is thus entitled to permanent total disability benefits.

A case involving an employee for the Louisiana State University Health Science Center looks at some of the factors courts consider in determining whether an employee can’t go on working in some capacity.

The claimant in that case was 53, and a high school graduate. He had served 17 years in the Air Force where he trained in computer information management. He suffered from PTSD and had difficulty interacting with members of the public due in part to anger issues. He regularly worked around his yard, cutting his own grass and his neighbor’s. He cared for his brother, who had a disability. He did this, he said, even though he was sensitive to sounds and his brother made a smacking sound when he ate. The claimant also carried out daily tasks, including grocery shopping and cleaning, volunteering, and interacting with his godchildren. 

One day, the claimant was on patrol in the ER when a patient repeatedly threatened him and spit, defecated, and urinated on him. The patient stated: "I already got one of you [expletive]. I've got AIDS and syphilis and everything else.” And according to the claimant, a doctor said the patient was right about that. 

The claimant asserted that he was diagnosed with PTSD because of the incident. He dreamt about it, struggled with anger, became hypersensitive to sounds and smells, and had trouble being around the public.

The claimant received workers’ compensation benefits for his PTSD. When he sought permanency, the employer opposed the claim.

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The court explained that an injured employee may be entitled to permanent total disability benefits when he sustains a very serious or catastrophic injury that renders him unable to return to work in any capacity. La. R.S. 23:1221(2). The employee must prove that he is physically unable to engage in any employment or self-employment.

Moreover, La. R.S. 23:1226(D) provides that before a claimant is found to be permanently and totally disabled, it shall be determined "whether there is reasonable probability that, with appropriate training or education, the injured employee may be rehabilitated to the extent that such employee can achieve suitable gainful employment.”

Was claimant entitled to permanency benefits?
A. Yes. His anger and sensitivity made it difficult for him to interact with others.
B. No. His daily activities undermined his claim that he could not work.

If you selected B, you agreed with the court in Tombrello v. State of Louisiana, No. 55,490-WCA (La. Ct. App. 04/10/24), which held that the claimant failed to show that he could not work in some capacity.

The court pointed out that the evidence indicated that, though the employee might not be able to work with the public, he could pursue a job that limited his involvement with the public, including through self-employment. The fact that he cared for his brother suggested that he was capable of working despite his sensitivities.

“[The claimant] is able to and has cared for his brother for five years despite frustrations and triggers that arise from that care, has a relationship with his godchildren, has volunteered with the public, and has cut his neighbor's lawn,” the court wrote.

While the claimant’s progress might be slow, the court concluded, it did not reflect an ability to return to the workforce in some capacity, the court concluded.

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