Recently Introduced Legislation Could Lead to Increased Claims for Municipalities

By Christopher A. Gray, Esq.

A bill proposed in the Ohio Senate could have a significant impact on Ohio municipalities’ budgets going forward. Ohio Senate Bill 5 would create an exception to Ohio law allowing for police officers, fire fighters and other first responders to apply for and receive workers’ compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder.  Should the law pass, municipalities could see an increase in workers’ compensation claims and a corresponding increase in their BWC premiums.

Under existing Ohio law, employees can only receive workers’ compensation benefits for psychiatric conditions if the psychiatric condition is the result of an underlying physical condition. For example, an employee who injures his leg and then becomes depressed because of his physical limitations is eligible for benefits for his depression.  Contrarily, an employee who injures his leg and then becomes depressed because the accident itself, rather than his physical limitations, is not eligible for benefits for his depression. Ohio S.B. 5 would create an exception allowing for police officers, firefighters and first responders to receive benefits for PTSD occurring during and arising out of the course of their employment, regardless of whether or not they have a concurrent physical injury.

Should the law be enacted, there is a significant chance of increased workers’ compensation claims and costs. Badge of Life, a group that studies the mental health of police officers, estimates that between 4 and 14 percent of police officers suffer from PTSD.1  The National Fire Protection Association estimates that 37 percent of first responders exhibit signs of PTSD.2  No one disputes the immense stress and psychological impact police, firefighters, and other first responders are subjected to from their jobs.  If S.B. 5 becomes law, municipalities should be prepared to absorb the resulting increased workers’ compensation costs.

In addition, all employers should monitor the status of the legislation and consider the potential long-term effects of its passage. It is not unreasonable to believe that 911 dispatchers, emergency room personnel and other associated employees would push for the exception to apply to them as well.  This proposed legislation could be the first step toward a global expansion of covered psychiatric claims throughout the state of Ohio.