A recent Illinois Appellate court had occasion to consider a mental-mental claim in Moran v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, 2016 IL App. (1st) 151366WC. The facts of the claim are as follows: the petitioner, a firefighter, responded to a fire with reports of a man trapped inside. Upon arrival to the scene, the petitioner was told by radio to take command of the incident. While in the petitioner’s command, a flash over occurred as firefighters were in the house. A firefighter was carried out of the house, suffered severe injuries, and later died at the hospital. Thereafter, the petitioner was told that he could not return to work until he was cleared by psychiatrists. The petitioner was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for which he began treatment within a month of the fire.
The claim went to arbitration. The Arbitrator found that the claimant did not prove that he sustained accidental injuries that “arose out of and in the course of” his employment with the employer and the petitioner was not awarded any benefits. The claim was appealed to the Commission who affirmed and adopted the Arbitrator’s decision striking one sentence. The claim was later appealed to the circuit court which confirmed the Commission’s decision.
Before we delve into the Appellate court’s decision, let’s first discuss the basics of a mental-mental theory of recovery. In such a case, an employee who suffers a sudden, severe emotional shock traceable to a definite time, place, and cause, which causes psychological injury or harm has suffered an accident within the meaning of the act, though no physical trauma or injury was sustained. A mental-mental recovery was first recognized by the Supreme Court in Pathfinder v. Industrial Comm’n, 62 Ill. 2d 556, 562 (1976). Since then, Illinois courts allowed recovery under a mental-mental theory.
Accordingly, using the standard enunciated above, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s ruling. The court found that the petitioner suffered an accidental injury as a result of the fire. It was of no consequence that the petitioner did not immediately seek treatment from a psychiatrist. The court found that although the claimant’s psychological injury was not immediately apparent, he suffered a sudden, severe emotional shock, which caused a psychological injury that manifested itself sometime after the shock. The court relied on Chicago Transit Authority v. Illinois Worker’s Compensation 2013 Il App. 120253WC, which held that if the claimant showed that he suffered a sudden, severe, emotional shock which caused a psychological injury may be compensable even if the resulting psychological injury did not manifest itself until sometime after the shock.
The Appellate court in this case is clear. When evaluating a mental-mental claim, the question of whether a petitioner’s psychological injury must be immediately apparent to recover for traumatically induced mental-mental injuries need not follow a rigid time line. Instead, courts should evaluate the circumstances surrounding the alleged accident. This fire and death that it caused in this case was a very traumatic experience. For the first time in the history of the fire department, the department ceased performing fire suppression emergency medical service operations and referred all calls to mutual aid companies for a period of approximately 10 days. In addition the petitioner was not permitted to return to work until cleared by the psychiatrist. Based up on all the evidence, the Appellate court ruled that the petitioner suffered a severe emotional shock that could be traced to the fire, and the resulting emotional shock occurred in a reasonable amount of time.