The state’s workers’ compensation commission will need to
take a second look at a Homewood firefighter’s claim for coverage for post-traumatic
stress disorder, after a state appeals court ruled legal precedent exists to
support his claim and the commission was too hasty to toss his claims.
An arbitrator had found Lt. Scott Moran, a firefighter in suburban
Homewood, “did not sustain an accidental injury that arose out of and in the
course of his employment” when he claimed coverage for symptoms caused by PTSD,
and her decision was upheld by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Moran appealed, first to the circuit court of Cook County, then to the appellate court, which reversed
Moran is a 25-year veteran of the department. According to
two psychologists who submitted testimony in the case, his PTSD can be traced
to a house fire that took place on March 30, 2010. As the highest ranking
officer first on the scene, Moran served as initial commander in charge of the firefighting
effort, which involved multiple fire departments. He was preparing to enter the
house with another firefighter to rescue a person reportedly trapped inside
when a third firefighter, Brian Carey, offered to go in instead, leaving Moran
outside to continue command of the scene. While Carey and the other firefighter
were inside, the flames suddenly grew, injuring Carey.
Because Carey was the ambulance driver, Moran had to attempt
to find another ambulance to take him to the hospital. Carey later died of his
According to court documents, the fire department stopped
all operations for about 10 days after the fire, referring all of its calls to
other agencies. Firefighters were also given access to mental health services,
and first responders at the scene were not allowed to return to work until being
cleared by a psychologist. In April of 2010, Moran sought the help of a
psychologist, who diagnosed him a few weeks later with PTSD.
Moran was cleared to return to work nine months after the
fire, when his doctor found that he was able to control his symptoms.
The arbitrator for his workers’ compensation claim found
that Moran did not prove he had sustained accidental injuries that arose from
his employment. She noted that while he had “an adverse emotional reaction” to
the fire, he had not sustained a physical injury, did not witness Carey’s death
and was not involved in rescue efforts. She found the injury “was dependent on
his peculiar vicissitudes as he related to his work environment” and awarded
his employer a credit of more than $7,400 paid to Moran for temporary
The appellate court noted that the lower court had held
Moran’s injury to a different standard because he is a firefighter, arguing
that first responders face inherent stresses beyond those people in other
occupations face. The appellate court cited case law holding that “whether a
worker has suffered the type of emotional shock sufficient to warrant recovery
should be determined by an objective, reasonable-person standard.”
“The claimant’s presence outside the house does not preclude
the event from being traumatic,” the court wrote. It cited Moran’s feelings of
guilt and responsibility as the incident commander, and noted the fire
department had decided the event was traumatic enough to give all of the first
responders time off and access to mental health services.
“Clearly, this is not the kind of event that an employee
would be subject to during the normal course of employment,” the court wrote.
“The claimant’s psychological injuries stemmed from a single, traumatic event …
and he is entitled to recover for his psychological disability.”
Justice Bruce D. Stewart delivered the judgment of the
court. Justice William Holdridge and justices Thomas Hoffman, Donald Hudson and
Sheldon Harris concurred.