Rachel Glisk, the Employee, was attacked by a physically large and disruptive student on January 29, 2016. As a result of the attack, the Employee was diagnosed with PTSD by David Kearn, M.A., L.P. In August 2017, the parties entered into a full, final, and complete settlement of the January 29, 2016 injuries. The settlement expressly listed injuries to the spine, legs, and torso, as well as consequential PTSD and depression. In the fall of 2017, the Employee returned to working full-time. In March 2020, in-person classes were discontinued due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Employee continued working by distance teaching through the 2020 school year. By April 2021, the Employee was required to return to in-person classroom teaching. On May 14, 2021, the Employee was transported to the Fairview MHealth emergency room and was told that she had suffered a seizure. She returned to work until the end of the school year but continued having spells that she described as seizures. On June 17, 2021, the employee was hospitalized for seven days to evaluate and monitor her seizure condition. The Employee’s symptoms were determined to be psychogenic and nonepileptic.
On August 20, 2022 Jack Hinrichs, M.A., LMFT assessed the Employee with PTSD and opined that the Employee’s return to classroom in 2021, “was a substantial contributing factor causing her need to stay away from classroom teaching.” Mr. Hinrichs explained that the Employee’s PTSD symptoms improved when she left the classroom in 2020 and worsened when she returned to classroom work in April 2021. On December 24, 2021, Steven Lesk, M.D., diagnosed the Employee with PTSD. In narrative reports of July 31, 2022, and October 27, 2022, Nicole Slavik, Psy.D., L.P., opined that the Employee met the DSM-5 criteria for PTSD as a result of the 2016 injury. With respect to the events of 2021, Dr. Slavik opined that the Employee’s return to the classroom setting in April 2021 was a substantial contributing factor that caused, aggravated or accelerated her symptoms of PTSD and the nonepileptic seizures. Dr. Slavik concluded that the Employee was disabled from employment as of June 17, 2021, due to her continued trauma-related symptoms. On May 13, 2022, the self-insured employer retained a psychiatrist, Thomas Gratzer, M.D. He opined that the Employee did not develop PTSD in 2016, in that she did not meet the criteria of the DSM-5 for PTSD. He opined that the Employee similarly did not develop PTSD in 2021, again because she did not meet the DSM-5 criteria. He noted that PTSD is typically not associated with pseudoseizures, which he concluded were unrelated to her work activities as a teacher. In his view, the Employee was “deliberately exaggerating her pseudoseizures as a way of extricating herself from an unsafe work environment.”
The Employee filed a claim petition claiming that on June 17, 2021, she sustained an occupational disease, in the form of PTSD, which resulted in ongoing medical treatment and temporary total disability. The self-insured employer denied primary liability, arguing that the Employee’s claims were barred by the 2017 stipulation for settlement. The matter was heard before a compensation judge on December 23, 2022. Relying on Dr. Gratzer’s expert opinion, the judge determined that the Employee did not develop PTSD arising out of the work activities on or about June 17, 2021. The judge reasoned that since the medical records, the expert medical opinions, and the Employee’s own testimony related her current claims to the 2016 incident, the stipulation precludes those claims. The compensation judge found that the Employee did not develop PTSD in 2021 as a result of her work activities, and that the 2017 settlement barred the Employee’s claims for PTSD-related benefits. The judge denied the Employee’s claims. The Employee appealed, arguing the compensation judge erred in finding that the Employee did not develop PTSD on June 17, 2021 and substantial evidence does not support the judge’s denial of the PTSD claim since nine medical experts supported the Employee’s position, while only the employer’s medical expert supported a contrary position.
The Worker’s Compensation Court of Appeals (W.C.C.A.) noted any consequential PTSD claim flowing from the original 2016 injury and any claim related to it had been closed out by the stipulation for settlement. To prove a PTSD claim as a new injury, the Employee had the burden to prove her case as a mental-mental occupational disease under Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subd. 15(a) and (d). The compensation judge reasonably determined that the Employee failed to prove that she met the requirements of the statute. Therefore, the judge did not err in finding that the Employee’s 2021 claim was barred. The Compensation Judge’s opinion was affirmed.
If an Employee is alleging a PTSD claim flowing from an original claim that has been closed out by a stipulation for settlement, then Employee must prove the PTSD claim as a new injury as a mental-mental occupational disease under Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subd. 15(a) and (d) or else it is barred by the stipulation.