Not every medical condition is visible. Not all wounds are readily apparent when someone looks at you. They can be no less debilitating than physical afflictions; the problem is that people don’t see them as readily. People suffering from mental injuries feel the effects in every aspect of their lives, particularly when it comes to work.
But is this true, in a legal sense, if your condition prevents you from working? Does Florida workers’ compensation cover you if a mental injury affects your ability to earn income?
Murky Legal Waters
In 2016, a gunman killed 49 people and injured 53 others in an attack at Pulse, a club in Orlando. As atrocious as this crime was, those numbers do not include all the victims. First responders to scenes like this are often unnamed and unconsidered “casualties” of violence.
Officer Omar Delgado, responded to the mass shooting and pulled survivors to safety. He witnessed unspeaking carnage in doing so. This caused severe PTSD. But, at that time, his injuries were not covered under Florida workers’ compensation laws. They were not physical.
Let’s rewind: certain mental injuries are covered – but only in specific circumstances. According to Florida law:
A mental or nervous injury due to stress, fright, or excitement only is not an injury arising out of the employment… [The law does not] allow for the payments of benefits under this chapter for mental or nervous injuries without an accompanying physical injury requiring medical treatment. A physical injury resulting from mental or nervous injuries unaccompanied by physical trauma requiring medical treatment shall not be compensable under this chapter.
If your mental condition causes a physical injury, you are not covered unless the physical injury requires medical treatment. For example, if your work conditions are so stressful that you suffer a heart attack, you could receive benefits because you need medical treatment for that physical trauma.
The law also states that workers can receive Florida workers’ compensation benefits for mental or nervous injuries. But:
The compensable physical injury must be and remain the major contributing cause of the mental or nervous condition and the compensable physical injury, as determined by reasonable medical certainty, must be at least 50 percent responsible for the mental or nervous condition as compared to all other contributing causes combined.
Say you were working in a mill or factory and a finger was caught in machinery, leading to extensive damage, loss of use of your hand, or amputation. This is a “compensable” physical injury. Now, if, after that incident, you suffer from intense anxiety, fear, or depression as a result of the physical injury, your mental injury would be covered.
The physical injury must be the main cause of your mental injury. A licensed psychiatrist must evaluate you and document that you meet specific criteria. They will use the most recent edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
To recap, Florida workers’ compensation will cover you if:
- Your mental injury results in a physical injury that requires medical treatment.
- Your mental injury is caused primarily by a covered physical injury.
PTSD and Workers’ Comp
Back to Officer Delgado. His mental injuries – caused by witnessing the brutality of the Pulse shooting – were not accompanied by a compensable physical injury. He could not obtain benefits, even though he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
His “mental injury” caused him to miss work, to live with constant fear and anxiety, to be unable to make it out of bed some days. Ultimately, he was let go from his department.
Fortunately, however, lawmakers recognize the severe impacts of PTSD; recent legislation allows for PTSD to be classified as an “occupational disease.” Pulse first-responders played a critical role in passing this change in the law. They did not have physical injuries, but they did struggle with severe mental issues – and financial issues.
Attorney Geoff Bichler, who advocated for the law in the Florida House and Senate, said, “It is really a major victory. We had the medical coverage in place but without this lost wage compensation we just weren’t recognizing the nature and severity of the condition, so it’s very powerful.”
Officer Delgado said, “For a lot of my brothers in blue and every other first responder out there, it’s going to be a blessing. It would have been amazing if I would have been able to take part in it, but the past is the past.”
Fortunately for other first responders, Florida is moving into the future with this law.
Where Do You Turn?
Mental injuries can be as debilitating as physical injuries – and, in some cases, even more so. The law can be difficult to navigate, and this can add to your stress, anxiety, and worry. Consult a workers’ comp lawyer to help you find your way to proper compensation.
You may be able to receive workers comp benefits; if so, your workers’ comp lawyer will assist you in putting together a clear and compelling case, including obtaining the necessary medical/psychiatric evidence.
If Florida workers’ compensation is not an option – or is not the only option – your attorney can help you explore other avenues to ensure you have the ability to recover lost wages, cover medical expenses, and take care of yourself and your family.
LaBovick Law Group has decades of experience fighting for clients’ rights and successfully helping injured people receive the benefits to which they are entitled. Contact our team; we are here to protect you.