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In City of Philadelphia v. Civil Service Commission of the City of Philadelphia (Ryder) , the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Commonwealth Court’s decision granting City of Philadelphia Police Officer Howard Ryder benefits for the post-traumatic stress disorder he allegedly suffered as the result of a stand-off with an armed suspect. The three-judge Commonwealth Court panel affirmed a Philadelphia trial judge’s decision that Ryder had sustained his burden of proof and showed that his encounter with a heavily armed gunman caused his post-traumatic stress syndrome. Ryder, a 26-year veteran of the Philadelphia police force, responded to a call of a “man with a gun” in May 1996. He arrived at the house and intended to wait for back up; then he heard a woman screaming that her son had a gun. Ryder told the woman to go to the kitchen, but the woman told him that her disabled mother couldn’t be moved. The woman’s son, who was brandishing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, soon confronted Ryder. It later was discovered that the gun was loaded, and its safety was off. The standoff went on for about six minutes before the gunman went upstairs. Ryder got the woman into the kitchen and called for more back up. When the gunman came back downstairs, Ryder subdued him and put him in the back of his police cruiser. Back-up units showed up 12 minutes after the initial call. Ryder eventually learned that charges against the suspect were being dropped, and he became angry. Two months after the incident, he was transferred to another district. On Ryder’s first shift in his new district, he was overcome with “severe anxiety and stress,” convinced he was either going to die or going to have to kill someone. Two doctors diagnosed Ryder as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but the department refused to give him “injured-on-duty” status. Ryder appealed to the civil service commission and won. The trial court, and then the Commonwealth Court, affirmed. The intermediate appellate court said the standoff was abnormal, even under cops’ standards. ‘MARTIN’ TEST As the high court established in the 1990 case, Martin v. Ketchum Inc. , in order to recover for a psychological injury, a claimant must show that he or she has suffered a psychological injury and that the injury was more than a subjective reaction to normal working conditions. Such cases are extremely fact-sensitive. On appeal, the city argued the lower court did not consider whether the incident that happened to Ryder was abnormal. Instead, the Commonwealth Court relied on the fact that a single event could be identified as causing Ryder’s post-traumatic stress disorder. The supreme court agreed with the city that the Commonwealth Court’s focus was wrong. “Contrary to the Commonwealth Court’s analysis, there is not a different standard for analyzing whether a specific employment event constitutes abnormal working conditions depending upon whether the stimulus complained of occurred over a period of time or whether a specific incident can be pinpointed in time,” Justice Stephen Zappala said. “There is no dichotomy in the applicable standard based upon whether a specific event triggered the psychic injury.” Zappala said it has consistently been the court’s position that proof that a psychological injury was caused by employment-related circumstances is not enough to show that the injury was the result of abnormal working conditions. So it was the justices’ job to decide whether Ryder had met his burden of proof under Martin . Zappala cited two other recent cases that involved a police officer’s alleged job-related psychological injury. In Davis v. WCAB (Swarthmore Borough) , from 2000, the officer said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and specific work inhibition as the result of frequently stressful and life-threatening experiences while on the job. One incident the officer cited involved a gun being pointed in his face by a suspect. The high court concluded that the claimant did not prove his investigatory and patrol duties were abnormal for a police officer. In the 1999 case, City of Philadelphia v. Brasten , the justices affirmed a Commonwealth Court decision denying benefits to a police sergeant who shot and killed a man while on the job. The sergeant was indicted, tried and acquitted on the charge of involuntary manslaughter. After the trial, he sought compensation for psychological injuries, claiming post-traumatic stress disorder. The Commonwealth Court denied the benefits, and the Supreme Court, by splitting evenly, affirmed. The justices said the shooting incident was not abnormal, but the indictment was. Using the reasoning from those cases, Zappala said Ryder’s claim had to fail. “Applying the analysis underlying these decisions, we find that Ryder’s involvement in the standoff with an armed suspect did not rise to the level of abnormal working conditions for a police officer,” Zappala said. “Ryder was performing the investigatory and patrol functions expected of a law enforcement officer, and a confrontation with an armed suspect may be anticipated in the course of an officer’s duties.” Justices Russell Nigro and Sandra Schultz Newman both filed concurring opinions. Newman said in her opinion that she wanted to make it clear that she did not interpret the majority opinion as barring all psychological claims from police officers. “The finding of abnormal working conditions is a very fact-sensitive process,” she said. “Therefore, our decision today does not create a per se rule banning recovery by all police officers for psychic injuries caused by truly abnormal incidents involving armed suspects.” Nigro wrote with the sole purpose of reiterating his position in Brasten that “the claimant should have been entitled to recover benefits because the claimant proved that the indictment, prosecution, and publicity that he experienced as a direct derivation of his performance of his job were extraordinary events as well as abnormal working conditions.”

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