Minnesota Supreme Court reinstates trial judge’s determination denying employee’s claim for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

On July 17, 2019, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued its decision in Smith v. Carver County, A19-0199 (Minn. 2019).  Smith claimed he sustained PTSD from numerous traumatic incidents he experienced while working as a deputy sheriff. Carver County denied liability.  PTSD is a compensable workers’ compensation condition in Minnesota if it meets the specific criteria set forth Minn. Stat. § 176.011.  For an employee to recover workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD, the employee must prove a psychiatrist or psychologist has diagnosed him or her with PTSD and the professional based the employee’s diagnosis on the latest version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association).

 

At trial, Smith presented medical evidence of his PTSD diagnosis via report and deposition transcript of a psychiatrist (Dr. Keller).  The County countered with an expert report and deposition transcript of their own, Dr. Arbisi (psychologist), who opined Smith did not have PTSD but did diagnose Smith with somatic symptom disorder and adjustment disorder (not compensable diagnoses).

 

The judge adopted the opinion of Dr. Arbisi, finding it persuasive and noting Dr. Keller was unpersuasive.  The WCCA reversed, holding that the trial judge must confirm the expert’s reports are in line with the precise wording of the DSM.  Effectively, the WCCA’s decision would require judges to “lay each expert’s report on the desk next to the DSM-5 and assess whether the medical professional’s opinion confirmed with the precise wording of the DSM-5 as the compensation judge interprets those words.”

 

The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed with the WCCA, noting nothing in the PTSD statute “even remotely suggests that such an exercise is required.”  Because Dr. Arbisi’s opinion had adequate factual foundation, the trial judge’s choice of experts is to be affirmed.  Smith’s claim for PTSD related workers’ compensation benefits was denied.

 

https://mn.gov/law-library-stat/archive/supct/2019/OPA190199-071919.pdf