Juntunen v. Carlton County and MCIT

Juntunen v. Carlton County and MCIT (W.C.C.A. December 28, 2021).

The employee worked as a deputy sheriff for the Employer. During the course of his career he encountered many tragic and traumatic events. Shortly after his former partner’s suicide in 2016, the employee sought treatment for emotional symptoms. The employee was initially diagnosed with depression and an adjustment disorder in 2016. The employee returned in February 2018 and a diagnostic test was administered suggesting he suffered from PTSD.

The employee was evaluated by Dr. Keller in August 2019 and diagnosed with PTSD, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder. He opined one of the substantial contributing causes was the employee’s work as a law enforcement officer. The employee reported the PTSD diagnosis and the employer filed an NOPLD denying primary liability pending review by an IME of their choosing, but did not schedule one at that time. The employee completed PERA paperwork in September 2019 and was approved in January 2020. He filed a Claim Petition at that time.

The employer had the employee evaluated by Dr. Arbisi in July 2020. In his report, Dr. Arbisi did not state whether he was evaluating the employee for a PTSD diagnosis at the time of the examination or when the employee went off work in September 2019. In his report, Dr. Arbisi did not indicate whether he agreed or disagreed with Dr. Keller’s 2019 opinion. The employee was sent to another psychological evaluation by a licensed psychologist in February 2021. She found the employee met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.

At Dr. Arbisi’s deposition he testified as to why he felt the employee did not meet the criteria for PTSD. He also explained that he looked at the 30-day window of time immediately preceding his evaluation before determining if the employee met the criteria. He opined the employee did not suffer from PTSD at the time he evaluated him.

At the hearing, the compensation judge found the employee did not sustain PTSD arising out of his employment and denied the employee’s claims. The employee appealed to the WCCA.

The court analyzed the presumption, finding the first step is to determine whether the employee has satisfied the prerequisites required by the presumption. When those are met, the fact presumed by the statute has been proven absent rebuttal with substantial proof to the contrary. The WCCA found the employee met the prerequisites. When turning to the rebuttal of the presumption the WCCA found the employer failed to rebut the presumption. They found that because Dr. Arbisi’s opinion was based on the 30 days preceding his evaluation in July of 2020, that he failed to address the issue of whether the employee had a diagnosis of PTSD in September of 2019.