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It’s beginning to seem impossible for a police officer to prove he or she was subjected to abnormal working conditions. In the latest case, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court denied a cop’s petition for benefits even though seven other officers testified that he suffered an extraordinary event. In order to secure workers’ compensation for a mental injury, a person must prove he or she experienced abnormal working conditions. But the courts have held police officers to a tougher standard because highly stressful situations are part of the job for them. According to the opinion written by Commonwealth Court President Judge Joseph T. Doyle, the incident at the center of in Rydzewski v. WCAB, occurred on June 16, 1993, when Philadelphia Police Officer Thaddeus Rydzewski answered a call for assistance from another officer. When he arrived at the scene, Rydzewski found that two officers had been shot. He helped to carry one onto a patrol wagon, where he saw a civilian pumping the officer’s chest. One of the officers eventually died from his injuries. The other was rendered partially paralyzed. Rydzewski began to suffer emotional problems that he attributed to the injury, including nightmares, difficulty in his relationship with his wife and children and the belief that he could not perform the duties of a police officer. Rydzewski sought help from the police department’s employee assistance program. He was soon removed from his position and placed on restricted duty for seven months while he worked in a position at the Police Administration Building. Eventually, Rydzewski was told that his injury was not considered work-related and he would have to use his sick time. Rydzewski then filed a claim petition for workers’ compensation benefits. The Police Department’s expert initially testified that Rydzewski suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the June 16 incident but later changed his opinion. Rydzewski’s expert testified that Rydzewski could not return to work as a police officer because he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. The WCJ accepted the testimony that Rydzewski suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had therefore proved that he suffered a psychic injury and was entitled to benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board reversed the decision, finding that the incident was not abnormal for a police officer. Rydzewski appealed to the Commonwealth Court, arguing that because seven different officers testified that the events he experienced were extraordinary, “it was not just his subjective belief that this shooting incident wherein one officer was killed and another paralyzed was highly unusual,” Doyle said. In his argument, Rydzewski tried to distinguish his case from Young v. WCAB, decided by the Commonwealth Court in 1999. In that case, an officer had a .44 caliber magnum pointed at his face for an extended period of time. The Commonwealth Court said the officer was not entitled to benefits because the incident was not so abnormal for a police officer. The Commonwealth Court in Young followed the state Supreme Court’s 1999 ruling in City of Philadelphia v. WCAB (Brasten), in which the justices split evenly to affirm the Commonwealth Court’s decision denying benefits to a police officer who shot and killed a man on the job. But the Young opinion said all six justices agreed that “the shooting incident itself was not an abnormal working condition for a police officer.” The Commonwealth Court followed the same line of reasoning in Rydzewski’s case. “Irrespective of the fact that, in the matter sub judice, the seven officers who testified stated that they had neither often nor ever experienced the death and/or maiming of other officers, we agree with the board that, as a matter of law, [Rydzewski] did not prove that he experienced a working condition that was particularly abnormal for a person in his line of work,” Doyle said.

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