Can You Sue if You Get PTSD from Work?

Can You Sue if You Get PTSD from Work?

You may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim to recover for PTSD that was acquired at work. Illinois workers’ compensation laws prevent employees from suing their employers directly if they get PTSD from work. However, other sources of financial recovery may be available to workers with post-traumatic stress disorder.

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If a work-related accident caused you to develop PTSD, for instance, you may be able to recover compensation by filing a workers’ compensation claim. If you were in a serious car accident that caused your PTSD and were performing the duties of your job when the crash occurred, you may be able to sue the at-fault driver. In cases where another third party caused your PTSD, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against that party to recover compensation.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. As the name suggests, it is a psychiatric disorder triggered by a terrifying event, like a severe accident or sexual assault. People who have witnessed or experienced such adverse events often fall victim to PTSD.

Health experts use several symptoms to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder. These include:

  1. Intrusive Memories

An intrusive memory is a mental imagery-based impression that involuntarily intrudes into a PTSD patient’s mind. You can experience it as a nightmare, invasive image, or flashback. Your mind may not categorize an intrusive memory as something that occurred in the past and misleads you into believing it’s an active threat.

In simpler terms, intrusive memories force you to relive a traumatic event and may cause upsetting dreams and nightmares.

  1. Negative Thoughts and Mood

The second symptom covers negative feelings and thoughts that worsened or kicked in after a traumatic incident. That includes negative thoughts about yourself or others. It also addresses hopelessness regarding the future, difficulty recalling a traumatic event’s crucial aspects, and an inability to experience positive emotions.

  1. Avoidance

After experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, you may try to avoid discussing or thinking about the incident. Additionally, you may shun places, people, and activities that remind you of a traumatic experience. All these are textbook symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

  1. Changed Physical and Emotional Reactions

The signs of changed emotional and physical reactions include getting easily frightened or startled. These point to PTSD. Also, if you’re always on the lookout for danger or exhibit sudden angry outbursts and aggressive behavior, you likely have this mental disorder.

What Are Common Causes of PTSD from Work?

Many events and incidents in the workplace can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Below are the most common.

Exposure to Traumatic Events

Countless work-related traumatic events and workplace accidents can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. For instance, if you are a police officer, you may develop PTSD from work if you respond to a fatal car accident.

Several jobs have a high exposure to traumatic events. These include military service and law enforcement, where there’s an increased risk of getting shot or being held up with a weapon. Firefighters, too, face trauma while trying to save lives during tunnel emergencies, trench collapses, vehicle crashes, etc.

Other professionals that often expose themselves to traumatic events include construction workers, factory workers, healthcare professionals, photojournalists, and war correspondents.

Sometimes, the behavior of other workers can cause employees to get PTSD from work. These might include:

  • Physical assault: Physical assault occurs when an employee gets attacked by a colleague or another person. Hitting, kicking, pushing, shoving, stabbing, and similar activities are examples of physical assault that can cause PTSD.
  • Sexual harassment: Numerous behaviors qualify as sexual harassment, including unwarranted proximity, physical touching, and offensive verbal comments. Non-verbal elements like whistling and the display of pornographic materials also constitute sexual harassment.
  • Workplace bullying: Workplace bullying can take many forms. For example, a colleague may spread malicious lies or degrade your person with demeaning remarks. Most actions or verbal comments that physically or mentally hurt you constitute bullying.

Witnessing Traumatic Events

Besides experiencing a traumatic event yourself, witnessing it happen to someone else can also lead to PTSD. Commercial trucking accidents are one example.

In 2020 alone, 1,268 large trucks were involved in work zone accidents in Illinois. Injured truck drivers may be able to file a personal injury claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver, or they may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.

As a truck driver, witnessing a gruesome collision can also expose you to post-traumatic stress disorder. Such events often encourage feelings of grief, fear, and depression, leading to psychological issues.

Witnessing other types of events while you’re working can cause PTSD as well. These might include sexual abuse, natural disasters, building collapses, explosions, and falls from heights.

Chronic Work-Related Stress

Many high-stress occupations in the US, including phone operators, paramedics, judges, bartenders, surgeons, and acute care nursing jobs, can expose workers to situations that cause PTSD. For example, medical professionals in emergency rooms deal with life-and-death situations every day.

Prolonged exposure to high-stress levels at work can contribute to the development of PTSD.

If you work in a high-stress environment, experts may recommend that you try tracking your stressors and developing healthy responses. For example, as a surgeon, you can practice meditation before a major surgery. 

How to File a Workers’ Compensation Claim for PTSD from Work

If you developed PTSD from work, taking the following steps can help ensure you recover compensation for your medications, therapy, and a portion of your lost wages.

Step 1: Report Your Condition to Your Employer

If you suspect that you are suffering from PTSD because of working conditions or experiencing a traumatic event while you were on the job, report your condition to your employer right away. Your employer will file a report with the IWCC and provide you with a list of physicians. If you fail to report your injury to your employer, you could lose your right to recover compensation for your losses.

Step 2: Seek Diagnosis and Treatment

A health provider familiar with mental illnesses, like a psychologist or psychiatrist, can diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder. But for a PTSD diagnosis, you must have qualifying symptoms, including flashbacks and frightening thoughts, for at least a month.

Step 3: Let the Employer Report Your Case

After reporting your condition, the employer should provide a claims form that enables you to file for workers’ compensation benefits through the company’s insurer. Fill out the “employee” section and return it. Your bosses will complete their part and send the document to the insurance company.

Step 4: Talk to a Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Hiring a workers’ compensation attorney to review your workers’ compensation case and advise you accordingly is advisable for various reasons. First, work injury lawyers will investigate your claim, your condition, and the work-related issues that caused your PTSD. Additionally, your work injury lawyer can provide you with an estimate of the appropriate amount of compensation you should receive.

Most importantly, an attorney can help you overcome the challenges that often arise in these types of work injury claims. Your employer or the insurance company can deny your claim for numerous reasons, including a missed deadline. They may offer unfair compensation. When that happens, your attorney can help you file an appeal. With a lawyer’s assistance, your chances of winning increase.

Step 5: Return to Work

If your doctor releases you to return to work, and your employer can accommodate your work restrictions, you must go back to work. Refusing to return to work can cause you to lose your right to workers’ compensation benefits.

Proving that You Developed PTSD from Work

Although workers’ compensation is not a fault-based route to financial recovery, your attorney will still need to show that your condition arose out of the course of your work duties. To help your attorney satisfy this requirement, ensure you have the following:

  • A diagnosis of PTSD from a qualified mental health professional.
  • Evidence that a traumatic event during employment caused your PTSD, like incident reports or witness statements.
  • Evidence of PTSD’s effect on your ability to work. For instance, you can provide information about any time you had to take off from work due to symptoms of PTSD, like flashbacks.

Suing a Third Party for PTSD from Work

You can use a third party for PTSD from work if the traumatic event you witnessed or experienced was caused by the other party’s wrongdoing or negligence.

For example, suppose you are a builder, and while working, a subcontractor’s negligence causes an accident. If the incident causes PTSD, you may sue the subcontractor to recover compensation.

Workers' Compensation Attorney Stephen Martay

If you file a personal injury lawsuit, however, your case will only be successful if you can prove that the third party’s actions are the root cause of your PTSD.

An attorney can help determine if your case warrants a third-party injury lawsuit, or if you should work with a workers’ compensation lawyer to recover compensation. 

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David W. Martay

David W. Martay, a partner at Martay Law Office in Chicago, IL, is a top-rated workers’ compensation lawyer who represents injured employees throughout the state. Known as a highly-skilled advocate for his clients, David has recovered millions for victims of workplace accidents.

Years of Experience: More than 25 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active

Bar Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association

author-bio-image author-bio-image
David W. Martay

David W. Martay, a partner at Martay Law Office in Chicago, IL, is a top-rated workers’ compensation lawyer who represents injured employees throughout the state. Known as a highly-skilled advocate for his clients, David has recovered millions for victims of workplace accidents.

Years of Experience: More than 25 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active

Bar Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association