Schuette v. City of Hutchinson, Self-Insured/Berkley Risk Administrators Company, LLC.

Schuette v. City of Hutchinson, Self-Insured/Berkley Risk Administrators Company, LLC., 843 N.W.2d 233 (Minn. 2014)

The Minnesota Supreme Court decided this post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) case on March 5, 2014.

In Schuette, the employee, a police officer for the City of Hutchinson, responded to an accident at the local high school.  He administered CPR on a girl who had fallen out of the back of a pick-up truck and sustained serious head trauma.  The employee realized he knew the girl and her family.  The girl died from her injuries, and the employee brought a workers’ compensation claim after developing symptoms that were diagnosed as PTSD.

At the hearing, the employee and employer presented expert witnesses who presented divergent opinions on whether or not PTSD causes a physical injury to the brain.  After considering the expert reports and radiographic evidence, the compensation judge adopted the employer’s expert witnesses’ opinion, denied the claim, and found the employee’s PTSD represented a mental disability that was not compensable.

The WCCA unanimously affirmed citing Lockwood v. Independent School District No. 877, 312 N.W.2d 924 (Minn. 1981), which stands for the proposition that a mental injury resulting from mental stimulus is not compensable.  In order to be compensable under the Act, there must be a physical component to the employee’s claim and the physical symptoms must be independently treatable physical injuries. Because these symptoms were absent from the employee’s claim—no physical injury to the brain—the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed.

Due to a recent legislative amendment that took effect on October 1, 2013, there is now a clear distinction between how workers’ compensation judges will treat PTSD claims brought before and after that date (the claim in Schuette pre-dated the amendment).  The bottom line is that PTSD claims occurring after October 1, 2013 are now compensable.