Tea v. Ramsey County et al.

Tea v. Ramsey County et al., No. WC22-6493 (W.C.C.A. July 28, 2023).

The employee was a licensed social worker working as an adult mental health case manager. In February of 2020, one of her clients murdered his girlfriend. The employee learned of the murder the next day over the phone. In the days that followed, there were work meetings and conversations where they discussed the details of the murder in depth. She also started following news stories and collecting internet information, which was of course not part of her work.

She then filed a FROI claiming work-related secondary trauma related to the violent act committed by her client. She underwent a psychiatric evaluation with Dr. Robert Finn who diagnosed her with PTSD based on the DSM-5.

The employer initially accepted primary liability and began paying the claim. They then sent her for an IPE with Dr. Gratzer who found that the employee did not meet criteria for PTSD under DSM-5. The employer then discontinued benefits.

The employee had another psychological evaluation with Dr. Keller on May 10, 2022 and he agreed that the employee met DSM-5 criteria for PTSD as a result of her repeated exposure to the details of the murder. He also diagnosed major depressive and anxiety disorder. He specifically said that Criteria A4 was met when she initially learned of the murder and with subsequent repeated exposure to the details for the next several days.

At hearing, the compensation judge found the employee sustained work-related PTSD and major depressive disorder and awarded benefits. The employer appealed.

On appeal, the employer argued that the adoption of Dr. Keller’s opinion was erroneous and not supported by the evidence. The W.C.C.A. noted that the arguments with respet ot how and whether the facts fit the language of the DSM criterion A and C are compelling, but they cannot consider the merits of those arguments. Under Smith v. Carver County (2019), the W.C.C.A. cannot require that a compensation judge assess whether a doctor’s opinion conforms to the language of the DSM. So, here, since they cannot consider whether any particular doctor mis-applied the language of the DSM, they must affirm the compensation judge’s finding that Dr. Keller and Dr. Hung’s opinions are credible.

The W.C.C.A vacated the findings that the employee had major depressive disorder. That condition was not pled as consequential to the PTSD claim and major depressive order standing alone is not compensable. So, the judge could not find that as a work-related, compensable condition.

Takeaway: This case is an interesting example of what some doctors will find satisfies Criterion A. It seems that the W.C.C.A. agrees that simply learning of a murder and hearing about it subsequently maybe shouldn’t satisfy criterion A, but the court’s hands are now tied in terms of assessing whether a doctor properly applied the DSM-5 criteria.