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Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Psychological Injuries and PTSD for California Peace Officers?

Our Santa Barbara workers’ compensation attorneys at Ghitterman, Ghitterman & Feld know that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect anyone, inside and outside the workplace. Unfortunately, due to the nature of their jobs — and the distressing events that accompany their day-to-day roles — California police officers can suffer both single events that lead to PTSD and cumulative trauma that impacts their ability to do their jobs effectively.

PTSD in law enforcement can significantly impact an officer’s decision-making process and the ability to assess risks in stressful situations, impacting an officer’s ability to make critical life-or-death decisions.

A lack of emotional support, access to mental health resources, or a workplace culture stigmatizing seeking help for mental health issues can exacerbate the risk of psychological injuries in police officers. When they cannot perform their duties, workers’ compensation may provide the necessary benefits to get the help they need.

California Senate Bill 542 Allows Peace Officers to Claim Workers’ Compensation Benefits for PTSD

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 542 (SB 542) into law in October 2019.

The workers’ compensation reform bill creates a rebuttable presumption that certain public safety employees — including peace officers and other first responders — diagnosed with PTSD have a compensable industrial injury and are eligible for full workers’ compensation benefits.

These benefits include medical treatment, temporary disability benefits, permanent disability benefits, and vocational rehabilitation.

What are the Most Common Causes of PTSD and Psychological Injuries in California Peace Officers?

Police officers are often exposed to traumatic events, which can lead to PTSD.

Common incidents that may lead to psychological injuries include, but are not limited to:

  • Line-of-Duty Violence

Officers may be involved in violent encounters, including shootouts, physical altercations, and high-stress situations where they fear for their lives. Witnessing violence or being a victim of violence can lead to PTSD.

  • Witnessing Traumatic Events

Law enforcement officers often witness traumatic events, such as accidents, natural disasters, or crime scenes involving severe injuries or fatalities. Repeated exposure to such settings can contribute to PTSD.

  • Homicide Investigations

Investigating homicides and dealing with crime scenes involving murder victims can be emotionally and psychologically taxing.

  • Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Cases

Responding to child abuse, domestic violence, or crimes against vulnerable individuals can significantly impact an officer's mental well-being.

  • High-Speed Pursuits and Crashes

Car chases and crashes can be dangerous and traumatic, mainly when they result in injuries or fatalities.

  • Exposure to Victims’ Suffering

Officers may assist victims suffering, injured, or distressed, which can be emotionally challenging.

  • Cumulative Stress

The cumulative stress of dealing with multiple traumatic incidents over time can contribute to developing PTSD and other psychological injuries.

  • Critical Incidents

In addition to the daily stressors, critical incidents such as active shooter situations, terrorist attacks, and mass casualty events can profoundly impact officers' mental health.

  • Administrative and Organizational Stress

The job demands, including long hours, shift work, bureaucratic pressures, and organizational challenges, can lead to chronic stress and psychological strain.

Proving a psychological injury or PTSD can be challenging, as it involves demonstrating a direct link between job-related duties and the development of the condition. If you are a California peace officer suffering from psychological injuries or PTSD and are having trouble obtaining workers’ compensation benefits to assist with your challenges, we can help.

At Ghitterman, Ghitterman & Feld, our California workers’ compensation attorneys have six physical offices in Bakersfield, Fresno, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Ventura, and Visalia, and our top-tier technologies provide a virtual reach to serve clients throughout California. We offer free in-person, telephone, and virtual consultations to offer straightforward legal advice for your unique needs.

Contact us today to learn more about your legal rights and options to pursue the best outcome for your critical case.

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