An Arizona Supreme Court ruling sets an important legal precedent for all first responders with PTSD across the state. The court determined that in regard to first responders and PTSD claims, the court needs to focus on specific events, instead of duties or training associated with the first responder’s position.
The court ruling is based on a 2017 incidence with John France, a Gila County Sheriff’s Office sergeant who spent 35 years on the job. France was denied workers’ compensation for PTSD after he was involved in an on-the-job shooting. He filed for workers’ compensation after he shot and killed a man who was pointing a shotgun at him and refused to drop it. France and another deputy were cleared of any wrongdoing, but France was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD and fought for years to get workers’ compensation because of it.
“Essentially what this ruling means is that employers/workers compensation insurance carriers cannot deny first responder cases for PTSD by arguing that they were trained for circumstances that may occur on the job,” said Matt Fendon, the Arizona Worker’s Compensation Attorney who represented Sgt. France.
The Arizona Supreme Court ruling concludes any first responders that have an “unusual, unexpected or extraordinary” event happen to them while on the job that causes PTSD will be covered by workers’ compensation insurance. This means first responders that meet these requirements will be eligible for medical benefits, wage replacement benefits, and permanent disability benefits going forward.
“In the case in question, having a 12-gage shotgun in your face and subsequently having to take someone’s life at point-blank range to save your own, does not come without its own share of trauma,” added Fendon. “Regardless of if you were trained for these types of incidents or not, if the stress from the job was significant and noteworthy enough to differentiate it from daily wear-and-tear of performing your job, the claim should be accepted.”
For most sheriff officers, shooting incidents are not part of a daily routine and thus meet the requirements of the statute. Because of this decision, France and future first responders, will be eligible for workman’s compensation benefits including temporary and permanent compensation and medical benefits.