(Originally published in the Jamestown Sun - September 9, 2014. Written by Mike Nowatzki.)
Police, firefighters and other first responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after experiencing an “extraordinary and unusual” event on the job would be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, but victims of violent crimes at work wouldn’t have the same option under a bill draft from North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance.
A consultant who presented a performance review of WSI to a legislative committee on Monday recommended that both groups be included if the bill is submitted to the 2015 Legislature.
But Bryan Klipfel, executive director of WSI and former commander of the North Dakota Highway Patrol, said WSI’s bill draft pertains only to first responders because that’s “an area that we felt there would probably be more acceptance for.”
State lawmakers scuttled bills in 2011 and 2013 that would have allowed for mental injury claims. The legislation introduced last year — which died on the House floor in a 20-71 vote, with one Republican voting for it — also applied only to first responders.
North Dakota is one of 15 states that don’t cover mental injuries where there is no physical injury, and it’s been a contentious issue in recent years. A bank teller who was handcuffed and held at gunpoint during a bank robbery in Gilby in 2009 sued WSI after it denied her PTSD claim. The North Dakota Supreme Court later upheld the agency’s decision.
Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc. of Roseville, Calif., which conducted the WSI review mandated by law every four years, recommended that WSI submit legislation this coming session to allow mental injury claims.
“In the event that legislation is submitted to cover workers who experience unusual and extraordinary events as the primary qualifying characteristic, we recommend that this language would be understood to include first responders and victims of violent crimes,” the consultant recommended.
Klipfel noted the bill draft isn’t final until the Workers’ Compensation Review Committee forwards it to the Legislature.
“They can put whatever they want into it,” he said.
Minnesota enacted a law in 2013 allowing PTSD claims. Based on estimates, the cost of a North Dakota PTSD law could be $1.55 million to $12.4 million annually, Sedgwick found.
Under WSI’s bill draft, disability benefits would be limited to 26 weeks and medical benefits couldn’t exceed $15,000. The law would expire July 1, 2017, requiring lawmakers to reapprove it.
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, asked Legislative Council to prepare the bill draft in its official form for the committee’s next meeting.