NE WC Bill For Mental Injuries Advances

Lincoln, NE (CompNewsNetwork) - Lawmakers gave first-round approval March 25 to a bill that would change the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act.

Currently, the act indicates that mental injuries are compensable only when tied to a compensable physical injury.

LB780, introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, would make mental injuries unaccompanied by a physical injury eligible for compensation for first responders in limited circumstances. The bill would exclude recovery for mental injuries resulting from normal employer and employee relations, including personnel and disciplinary actions.

Lathrop said the exclusion of mental injuries unaccompanied by a physical injury limits the workers' compensation system in helping traumatized workers.

For example, he said, if a law enforcement officer on routine patrol responds to a burglary and shoots a person, that officer may suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Because the injury is mental or emotional and it began without a physical injury, it is not covered in the state of Nebraska,” Lathrop said.

Bellevue Sen. Abbie Cornett said the distinction is detrimental to first responders.

“If they get a paper cut in this state, workers' compensation pays for it,” she said. “They don't pay for it if they have to shoot somebody. They don't pay for workers' compensation and psychiatric help if they watch their partner get shot and die.”

A Business and Labor Committee amendment, adopted 37-0, defined a first-responder as a sheriff, deputy sheriff, police or state patrol officer, volunteer or paid firefighter or a volunteer or paid individual licensed in a subdivision who provides immediate medical care in order to prevent loss of life or aggravation of physiological or psychological illness or injury.

But several senators expressed concern that an expansion of workers' compensation to stand-alone mental injuries would be broadened in the future to include more than just first-responders.

Hastings Sen. Dennis Utter said hospital employees also might suffer emotional injuries.

“I think we're just a step away from including a lot more folks,” he said.

Sen. Charlie Janssen of Freemont opposed the bill, saying other states that cover mental injuries have time limitations and monetary caps on claims. Any change made to Nebraska's Workers' Compensation Act should be more limited in scope than LB780, he said.

Lathrop offered an amendment, adopted 36-0, which would sunset the bill's provisions by June 30, 2013. He said placing a time frame on the measure would allow senators to gauge the impact of expanding workers' compensation to stand-alone mental injuries.

“It will afford us the opportunity to have some experience with this bill,” he said. “It is important that we provide for those who are there for us in our communities.”

Senators voted 37-0 to advance the bill to select file.
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