While on duty, a police officer was assaulted when a manic gunman aimed a shotgun at the officer’s face and chest before being killed by the officer and his partner. The officer was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) as a result.
The officer filed for workers’ compensation for mental injury under A.R.S. § 23-1043.01(B), which requires employment-related mental injuries arise out of “unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress.” The employer and its insurer agreed the officer had suffered employment-related PTSD but both disagreed that the injury arose out of “unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress.”
The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) likewise found that the officer’s injury did not meet the statutory standard. She reasoned that, based on the training and responsibilities of law enforcement, the gunman’s attack was not “unexpected, unusual or extraordinary” because there was nothing about the incident that set it apart from the normal duties of officers.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that the ALJ incorrectly focused on whether the event rather than the stress was “unexpected, unusual or extraordinary.” The Court also clarified that an employee is not required to show that the injury-causing event was not contemplated as part of his or her job responsibilities. Instead, the correct inquiry is whether the injury-inducing stress caused by the claimant’s employment was sufficiently significant and noteworthy to differentiate it from non-compensable, general stress caused by the work regimen or general daily wear and tear of living. The Court found that although the incident causing the officer’s injury may have been routine, the stress he suffered as a result was “unexpected, unusual or extraordinary,” thereby setting aside the ALJ decision.
Judge Jones authored the opinion; Judge Thumma and Presiding Judge Brown joined.
Posted by: Payslie M. Bowman