"It is important that people involved in these traumatic events receive treatment," Cummings said. "However, the business community is very concerned that extending workers' compensation benefits as proposed could once again lead to misuse and unintended consequences may result."
Joel Faxon is the police commissioner in Newtown, as well as a partner in the New Haven personal injury law firm Stratton Faxon, said the lives of people hurt by workplace violence are worth the expense. He disagrees that emotional injury claims would "open up the floodgates" or lead to abuse, because the claims would have to survive on their legal merits, like any other.
"You still have to prove that the injury was caused by work," Faxon said. "Even if you had a lot of people filing these claims, they would still need to meet the legal threshold of proving work caused the injury."
Two weeks ago, his police board voted unanimously in favor of asking the legislature to expand the workers' comp law to include workers who "might have sustained physical or emotional injury" as a result of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The law change, Faxon said, would extend such emotional trauma benefits to all workers in comparable situations. "There is, in many peoples' opinion, a void in workers' compensation laws relative to emotional injury," he said. "Given that fact, and what the members of this [police] department have done in terms of their response, we feel it's important that the law is changed to address the problems that these first responders and others encounter, what they have encountered, and will encounter going forward."
Al Desrosiers, a workers' comp attorney who lives in Newtown and has an office in Stratford, was handling mental injury benefits cases for more than a decade before the law changed. Those sorts of cases, he said, "were pretty rare."
A mental injury claim required the same burden of proof as a physical injury claim; attorneys had to show the injury occured out of and in the course of the employment, Desrosiers said. At the same time, the cases really revolved around the testimony of the medical professionals who examined the workers. It was a battle between the doctors, Desrosiers said. "You still have to prove there was an injury."
After the law changed, he said, he got occasional calls from people who claimed they were emotionally harmed at work. "I've had people come in to me and say they're all stressed out and seeking therapy, but there isn't a physical component, an accident or an event that caused physical injury to go along with it," Desrosiers said. "So we don't pursue those claims."
He would like to see the law changed to allow workers the ability to pursue them.
"I'd like to see the law go back to the way it was before 1993," Desrosiers said. "Especially for these poor people of Newtown, the emergency responders and the teachers, who have been through so much."