The old law did not allow PTSD claims which are based on cumulative psychological traumas which occur over time and combine to cause severe mental problems. This old law is still in effect, for all occupations in Washington State, except first responders.
This new law is a fix to the old law and exempts certain firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMT’s), and law enforcement officers from the L&I rule which disallows PTSD resulting from cumulative trauma.
To understand this new law, some detail of basic L&I law is required:
THE OLD L&I PTSD RULE
INJURY – The Law for all claims (first responders and everyone else too) is that PTSD caused by one stressful event is allowed as an L&I injury. RCW51.08.100 and WAC 296-14-300. A one time mental event, or one significant mental event in a series of events, is an allowable injury. For example, a bank teller who is witness to a bank robbery, and who develops PTSD, has an allowable L&I injury PTSD claim, subject to these guidelines:
“As an injury, stress resulting from exposure to a single traumatic event, such as actual or threatened death, actual or threatened physical assault, actual or threatened sexual assault, and life-threatening traumatic injury, may be considered an industrial injury. These exposures must occur in one of the following ways:
OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE – Under the old law, PTSD caused by repeated minor traumatic events has not been allowed as an occupational disease. L&I does not allow mental conditions caused by stress when they accumulate over time.
The new law does not change injury PTSD: this has been and continues to be an allowable L&I claim.
THE NEW LAW ALLOWS L&I PTSD CLAIMS CAUSED BY CUMULATIVE STRESS AS AN OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE FOR MOST FIRST RESPONDERS, (BUT NOT OTHER OCCUPATIONS) .
This means that first responders can now file a PTSD claim. With the new law it makes no difference for first responders whether it is a 1x injury (which was previously allowed) or the cumulative effects of numerous traumas,occupational disease, (which is now allowed for first responders).
THE NEW LAW GOES MUCH FURTHER. IT CREATES A REBUTABLE PRESUMPTION THAT PTSD CAUSED BY CUMULATIVE STRESS FOR FIRST RESPONDERS IS AN OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE.
This rebutable presumption is a huge benefit to first responders. HAVING an occupational disease is way to predictable because the very nature of first responder work causes PTSD. PROVING you have an occupational disease has always been expensive and difficult. This new law for first responders is very helpful because it doesn’t just allow a cumulative PTSD claim, it also makes it easier to prove that the PTSD is job related. This easing of the proof requirement is done with a rebutable presumption.
The new law for first responders creates a rebutable presumption. A rebutable presumption is a legal procedural rule designed to assist persons when they are proving a claim. As it applies to this new law, and subject to the limitations listed below, any occupational disease or inury PTSD to first responders will now be presumed to be work related unless proven otherwise.
First responders do the heavy lifting in the world of human tragedy. Every time they scrape up another lifeless body from a tragic accident, some of that tragedy rubs off on them. Every time they rescue and console a burned out family who has lost everything, it chokes them up too. Every time they risk their lives to restore law and order, their life thereafter is affected by that. Those experiences create real and lasting stressful changes in the first responders who experience them. Over time these stressful experiences add up to PTSD.
First reponders pay a price for what they do. The price they pay is on the job PTSD. They deserve L&I benefits and now they can get those benefits.