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PTSD of Employee Who Witnessed Deaths at Work Is Compensable

The man was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in June 2008 after experiencing anxiety and crying spells on various occasions, and he filed for workers' comp benefits in June 2009.

June 14, 2012
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The Tennessee Supreme Court says a man who witnessed the deaths of two co-workers should receive workers compensation for his post-traumatic stress disorder claim, even though it was filed more than a year after the accidents.

Steven Ratliff worked as a melt shop attendant for Joliet, Illinois-based Gerdau Ameristeel Inc. according to court records. He saw the body of an Ameristeel employee who died after falling from a platform in February 2008, and saw the body of another co-worker who fell to his death in a different area of the Ameristeel plant in April 2008.

Ratliff was "distraught" after the men's deaths but declined grief counseling from his employer, records show. He was diagnosed with PTSD in June 2008 after experiencing anxiety and crying spells on various occasions, and he filed for workers' comp benefits in June 2009.

A Tennessee chancery court ruled that the statute of limitations began after the first co-worker's death in February 2008, and that Ratliff's claim was not timely. However, an alternate review by the same court determined that Ratliff could not have filed for benefits until his June 2009 diagnosis, and that the statute of limitations had not run out.

In a unanimous decision on June 7, the Tennessee Supreme Court said the statute of limitations could not begin on Ratliff's claim until he was diagnosed with PTSD.

While Tennessee workers comp law requires claims to be filed within a year "after occurrence of (an) injury," the high court said "occurrence" refers to the time when an injured worker becomes aware of his or her disability.

The high court remanded Ratliff's case to the chancery court, where he is to be awarded permanent partial disability benefits.

Sheena Harrison writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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