Possible PTSD Haunts Capitol Mob Emergency Responders

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Fallout continues from the tumultuous election-related Washington, D.C. riots, as two distraught emergency responders died by suicide.

35-year-old Jeffrey Smith panicked over several “shots fired” radio calls and also injured his head. Doctors sent him home with pain pills. For the next several weeks, Smith exhibited classic PTSD symptoms, yet he returned to work. Police eventually found him dead in his car. 51-year-old Howard Liebengood also took his own life under similar circumstances just three days after the demonstrations. Now, the families of both individuals want the sacrificial nature of their deaths to be recognized.

D.C. police union chairman Greggory Pemberton promised a “thorough investigation” into the matter, but cautioned that it was “premature” to say that Smith and Libengood died in the line of duty.

A Closer Look at Brain Injuries

Many people, including many doctors, believe that a Traumatic Brain Injury, like falling on one’s head, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are very different injuries. But they are essentially the same. They are both physical brain injuries.

From a physical standpoint, TBIs are often straightforward. A sudden impact causes bleeding and swelling. There’s another dimension as well. Research indicates that sudden loud noises, like explosions, trigger shock waves that permanently disrupt brain functions. 

PTSD is a physical injury as well. Extreme stress, like combat stress or a large, angry mob, erodes the cerebral cortex. This part of the brain controls logical responses. When this part of the brain shrinks, the amygdala grows. This part of the brain controls emotional responses. This imbalance explains PTSD symptoms like:

  • Depression,
  • Loss of interest,
  • Hypervigilance,
  • Sudden emotional outbursts, and
  • Flashbacks.

Think about the amygdala and cerebral cortex as a horse and rider. If the rider is slightly incapacitated, the horse often runs wild.

TBI treatments have improved significantly in the twenty-first century. But PTSD diagnosis and treatment continues to lag. That’s probably one reason why police officers have an unusually high suicide rate.

PTSD and Workers’ Compensation

Normally, PTSD symptoms, especially severe symptoms, like suicidal tendencies, occur slowly over time. Therefore, if doctors diagnose these conditions promptly and properly, help is available. If severe symptoms develop in just a few days, the victim probably had a pre-existing condition which made the work-related PTSD worse. 

Georgia workers’ compensation lawyers deal with these issues quite frequently. Hearing loss, which is perhaps the most common occupational disease, is a good example. Most people do not just hear loud noises at work. In their off-work hours, they ride trains, mow their lawns, and turn the TV up too high. Prolonged exposure to these noises could also cause hearing loss.

Generally, full compensation is available in these situations. The eggshell skull rule prohibits insurance companies from using a victim’s vulnerabilities to lower the amount of compensation in a case. So, if previous exposure to extreme stress contributed to work-related PTSD, full compensation is usually available.

This compensation usually includes lost wage replacement and medical bill payment. As for wage replacement, if the victim is temporarily disabled, workers’ compensation usually pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of that disability. If the disability is permanent, a lump sum payment is usually available.

Is Additional Compensation Available in PTSD Cases?

Maybe. If available, this compensation usually includes money for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment in life, emotional distress, loss of consortium (companionship), and other noneconomic losses. 

To bring a claim outside the system and obtain additional compensation, work-related PTSD victims usually must prove two things. 

Initially, they must show their employer knew, or should have known, about a prior PTSD or other pertinent diagnosis. This knowledge triggers a duty to take extra precautions. If the employer failed to take such precautions, such as medical treatment or assignments in calm environments, the employer might have been negligent.

These victims must establish negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not.

In wrongful death cases, survivors might also be entitled to compensation for their own grief and suffering, under a theory like negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Work-related PTSD usually involves the same issues as any other work-related injury. For a free consultation with an experienced Georgia workers’ compensation lawyer, contact the Gearhart Law Group. We have offices throughout Georgia.

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