What Do You Think: May Driver Recover Benefits for Truck Fire that Sparked his PTSD?

06 Dec, 2023 Chris Parker


Dubois, PA (WorkersCompensation.com)– In Pennsylvania, an employee with a psychic injury may have a compensable injury within the meaning of the workers’ compensation act. But he’ll have to show that the injury resulted from an abnormal working condition—a determination that hinges, in part, on the circumstances of the injury.

In a case involving a truck driver who allegedly developed PTSD, a court looked closley at the facts surrounding a truck fire to determine whether it was an abnormal working condition.

The employee was driving on the turnpike when his emergency indicators lit up. He pulled over and, in the passenger side rearview mirror, saw flames. There was smoke coming in through the passenger side door. The employee’s training and commercial licensing had prepared him, in part, for the possibility of a truck catching on fire. His truck had a fire extinguisher on board.

The employee leapt out of the cab and ran a hundred yards away. Another truck driver stopped and quickly put out the fire with his extinguisher and with the employee’s extinguisher. The employee went back and helped the second driver put out the embers. Neither driver was injured.

The employee subsequently filed a workers’ compensation claim for a psychic injury, claiming he developed PTSD because of the incident. A workers compensation judge found the injury compensable, and an appeals board agreed.

The employer challenged the decision in court, asserting that the fire was not an abnormal working condition.

The court explained that to obtain workers' compensation benefits for a psychic injury, the claimant must prove that the mental injury he sustained is other than a subjective reaction to normal working conditions. The claimant must establish that the injury arose from abnormal working conditions.

Was the fire an abnormal working condition?
A. Yes. The fact that the driver received training that related to a possible fire was irrelevant to whether the fire was an abnormal working condition.
B. No. It was brief, no one was hurt, and the employee’s training prepared him for the possibility of the vehicle catching on fire.

If you chose B you sided with the court in Premium Transportation Staff, Inc. v. Welker, No. 1329 C.D. 2022 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 11/30/23), which held that the fire was not an abnormal working condition.

Some fires, depending on the facts, can amount to an abnormal working condition, the court conceded. But that was not the case here. Based on the facts, the employee did not experience an extraordinarily unusual and distressing event that constituted an abnormal working condition.

“Claimant acknowledged that he could anticipate a truck fire and had been trained on how to respond,” the court wrote.

Further, the relatively minor fire he experienced was quickly extinguished, and no one was hurt. For a truck driver, a minor fire was not an unusual event, the court concluded.

The court reversed the decision of the appeals board.

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