Aug 2021

PTSD Legal Dispute in R.I. Highlights Challenges Workers Face

PTSD Post Traumatic Stress written on the puzzle.

A recent legal battle involving the city of Pawtucket, R.I., and a city police detective diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) due to his work highlights the challenges workers face in workplace accident cases that involve mental trauma.

The case began when a Pawtucket police detective requested injured-on-duty leave due to mental trauma associated with his work, which frequently involves investigating serious crimes, according to The Boston Globe. The city’s police chief denied the detective’s leave request. In response, the detective filed a grievance with the city.

Four medical experts determined that the police detective was traumatized by his work. As a result, an arbitrator sided with the police detective, saying the city had violated the police union’s collective bargaining agreement by not granting the detective’s leave request due to mental trauma. The arbitrator also ordered the city to grant the detective’s leave request and restore vacation time and sick time used by the detective for mental trauma reasons.

Instead, the city recently announced it was planning to fight the arbitrator’s decision in Superior Court in Pawtucket. The city’s lawyer claims the police detective “exaggerated his experiences” and that mental stress is part of the job.

Understanding PTSD and mental trauma

The legal battle involving the Pawtucket police detective and the city illustrates the misunderstanding of PTSD and mental trauma that’s associated with certain professions. Some people might think that PTSD occurs shortly after a traumatic incident. But in many cases, people diagnosed with PTSD experience mental trauma long after a traumatic event.

Some people who suffer from PTSD experience it due to what’s described as a cumulative effect, according to Professor John Violanti, a retired New York State Police trooper who studies police suicide and PTSD among law enforcement personnel. The more traumatic events a police officer is exposed to, the higher the risk of developing PTSD, Violanti says.

Even so, Violanti says some judges and juries still question claims made by police officers over mental trauma.

“The officer has to prove the experience of the traumatic event was beyond traumatic, the worst that could possibly happen,” Violanti told The Boston Globe.

But Violanti and others insist the effects of PTSD and mental trauma on the job are real. Violanti co-authored two studies about the effects of PTSD on police officers. One study found that police officers with PTSD have higher chronic disease rates than the general public. Another study found that police officers with PTSD have difficulty making decisions, which can affect public safety if the officer is ordered to return to work. An on-duty police officer with PTSD, for example, might have “difficulty in making a decision, which affects not only safety of the public but safety of the officer as well,” Violanti said to The Boston Globe.

How a workplace accident lawyer can help

Workers suffering from PTSD and mental trauma should seek support and treatment for their medical condition, but going down that road alone often means you’ll end up encountering a lot of hurdles. That’s why you need an experienced workplace accident attorney on your side to guide you, every step of the way.

The dedicated legal team at the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl in Providence has years of experience helping workers dealing with complicated legal cases. We thoroughly understand the ever-changing state and federal laws that apply to workplace PTSD and mental trauma. We know which strategies can be the most effective. We also never take anything for granted. We take the time to thoroughly investigate each case and know how to find the evidence needed to build the strongest possible legal case.

Learn more about how our law firm can help you. Contact us and schedule an appointment at one of our three office locations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. We handle workplace injury and workers’ compensation cases in both states.

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