Court says workers' comp may cover stress Ruling favors paramedic who became ill on the job

March 05, 1997|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

In a decision praised by police and firefighters, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that employees who develop post-traumatic stress disorder on the job may collect workers' compensation.

The state's highest court ruled that Doreen Kay Means, a former Catonsville paramedic, may be entitled to compensation for work missed because of the stress she developed in 1987 after treating victims of a car accident that killed three teen-agers.

The appeals court unanimously reversed a 1995 decision by Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cadigan, ruling that "psychic trauma" can be just as damaging as physical injuries.

"We have come to appreciate that a mind may be injured as well as a body maimed the inability to work and the loss of earnings are the same," Judge Irma S. Raker wrote, quoting an earlier decision.

Harry W. Blondell, Means' lawyer, said the ruling opens the door to similar claims from other firefighters, police officers and anyone else diagnosed with job-related post-traumatic stress.

He said Means' case will be returned to a state workers' compensation panel, which must decide whether her post-traumatic stress was related to her job.

Means, who is assigned to Baltimore County's Westview Fire Station, said she appealed her claim for 110 hours of missed work because she was convinced it was valid. "I'm just glad if it'll help other people," said Means, 33, of Westminster.

The decision was lauded by police and fire unions, which have sought legislation to qualify members with post-traumatic stress for workers' compensation.

Kevin O'Connor, president of Local 1311 of the Baltimore County Firefighters Association, said he had asked the Maryland General Assembly to set up a task force to study the effects of post-traumatic stress on firefighters, paramedics and police. The measure was killed by a Senate committee Friday, he said.

"This is very welcome news," he said of the appellate ruling.

Means requested a demotion to firefighter and accepted a $3,100 pay cut in 1992 after a series of calls brought on post-traumatic stress, according to court records.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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