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There are definitely certain situations in which a police officer is entitled to benefits for a work-related psychological injury, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has said, putting a rubber stamp of sorts on the issue. The state’s appellate courts have vacillated over whether police officers can ever be subjected to abnormal working conditions. The problem appears to be the fact that the nature of the job is to put one’s life on the line, making it difficult for the court to determine when an already unusual working situation becomes unreasonable. Therefore, the three-judge panel in City of Pittsburgh v. Logan took an opportunity to make a more official pronouncement than in the past that there are certain situations an officer can face that constitute abnormal working conditions. And the claimant in the case, Patrick Logan, met his burden of proving he was subjected to such conditions, at least according to two judges on the panel. The majority concluded he should receive benefits under the state’s Heart and Lung Act. “Although the life of a police officer is fraught by great stress, we nevertheless hold that, based on all of the credited testimony, [Logan's] work performance (as distinguished from a mere job description) was unusually stressful for that kind of job, and an unusual event occurred making the job more stressful [than] it had been,” Commonwealth Court Judge Joseph Doyle said in the court opinion. Logan, a City of Pittsburgh police officer, filed a petition on Oct. 21, 1998, claiming he suffered from work-related severe anxiety attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder. Logan sought full disability benefits and payment of his medical bills. During an arbitration hearing, the arbitrator found that Logan had been involved in seven shootouts, was stabbed three times, suffered multiple fractures and had been assaulted four separate times. During one shootout, in November 1993, an assailant shot at Logan’s face from point-blank range. During that incident, Logan and other officers responded by firing shots that killed the assailant. The assailant’s family or gang later placed a $50,000 bounty on Logan for his death. Logan was the only one of the eight officers involved in the incident to be transferred afterward. He was placed in the warrant office for his own safety for some time. Logan presented several medical experts who testified he had suffered a work-related psychological injury. An independent mental health examiner, however, testified Logan had no mental disability. The arbitrator concluded that Logan had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and a panic disorder resulting from abnormal work conditions. The Allegheny County Common Pleas Court affirmed on the basis of the Commonwealth Court’s 1998 ruling in City of Philadelphia v. Ryder. The Ryder court said a police officer was entitled to benefits because a stand-off he experienced with a heavily armed gunmen constituted abnormal working conditions. The state supreme court has since reversed Ryder. A claimant alleging a work-related psychological injury caused by a psychological stimulus, a mental/mental claim, may only recover if he or she can prove the injury is more than a subjective reaction to normal working conditions. Both the Heart and Lung Act and the Workers’ Compensation Act require a claimant to establish abnormal working conditions if there has been no immediate physical trauma. In essence, the city of Pittsburgh simply argued that Logan’s working conditions were not abnormal. The city cited a number of recent cases, but Doyle said abnormal working condition cases are extremely fact sensitive. Logan testified that after the standoff incident, there was a lot of media attention. Some newspaper articles called him a killer and a murderer, Doyle said, and not only was there a bounty on Logan, but his family was also threatened. Logan said his wife became “terrified” and saw a psychiatrist for six months because of the threats. Three gang members also cornered his son at school and threatened to kill him. Because of the threats, Logan had to take his son to and from school every day and the son stopped joining after-school activities. In 1998, Logan began seeing a psychologist after he received his fourth beating in six months. The beatings included “being beaten by an armed rap suspect while his fellow officers were not near enough to come to his aid, wrestling with an HIV-infected prostitute who scratched, spat and tried to bite the officers, and attempting to arrest a man who ‘knee dropped’ on his testicles, causing them to swell larger than lemons,” Doyle said. Logan said he had nightmares, could not sleep for more than a few hours a night and sometimes woke up in the middle of the night crying for no reason. At the arbitration hearing, Logan’s lieutenant testified the threat to Logan was the worst he had ever heard to an officer. The lieutenant also testified that “even when threats were made, it was not common practice to transfer an officer from one unit to another and that, in the course of his professional career, he had never heard of another instance where a bounty or a contract was placed on an officer,” Doyle said. The majority said that was clearly enough evidence to prove abnormal working conditions. Logan’s case was different from another recent case decided by the state supreme court involving a psychological injury to a police officer, City of Philadelphia v. Brasten, Doyle said. In 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. Doyle said the difference was that witnesses in the Brasten case testified the events the officer was involved in were normal, whereas in Logan, even his lieutenant said his experiences were abnormal. “In summary, it is our opinion that Officer Logan is entitled to benefits for a mental/mental injury where he proved not only that he suffered an unusual work event that resulted in a mental disability, but also that the cumulative effects of the unusual event were compounded by other factors, most notably, four violent episodes occurring no more than a six-month period,” Doyle said. “These factors were, of course, directly related to his duties as a police officer, and, all of them, most remarkably, the death threats, rose to the level of abnormal working conditions, even for a police officer.” Dissenting Judge Rochelle Friedman had a harshly different view of the case. She agreed Logan sustained a psychological injury as a result of the 1993 standoff, but noted that he received counseling and was never unable to work. She said the lack of available counseling after the 1998 recurrence of his symptoms was the real abnormal working condition Logan was subjected to. “This lack of counseling, which I consider an abnormal working condition, aggravated [Logan's] pre-existing psychic condition and caused [Logan] to become disabled,” she said. “However, the arbitrator failed to consider whether the evidence indicates that lack of counseling after May 1998 caused [Logan's] disability in September 1998; therefore, I would vacate and remand.” In Friedman’s opinion, none of the effects of the 1993 incident constituted abnormal working conditions under Pennsylvania law. Friedman broke her dissent up into several short sections, addressing each effect in the years after the incident. As for the media attention following the standoff, Friedman said Brasten involved similar circumstances and the high court’s affirmance of the denial of benefits showed those circumstances are not abnormal for a police officer. Case law has also established that death threats against an officer are not abnormal, Friedman said. In Davis v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, a 2000 state supreme court case, an officer testified that his chief had told him that unknown individuals had threatened to shoot him and his family. The high court said the officer was not entitled to benefits because there was no evidence that the officer’s experiences were abnormal, Friedman said. “The test for determining if an officer’s experience constitutes an abnormal working condition is whether the experience may be anticipated in the court of the officer’s duties,” Friedman said. “The task is not to determine how many times the experience has occurred in the past.” Between 1994 and 1995, Logan worked for some time in the warrant office while he grew out his hair and beard to disguise himself. When his hair was long enough, Logan was moved into the auto squad as an undercover detective. Friedman said none of those circumstances were abnormal. It was after Logan was moved to a new zone where he worked as a patrolman again in 1996, that the four beatings occurred. The majority found the beatings to be abnormal, but Friedman said the only testimony available relating to them was from Logan himself. Friedman said that because violent episodes are not abnormal for an officer, Logan’s testimony on that topic was not enough. “I point out that [Logan's] medical treatment after the first three incidents consisted of (1) oxygen and a towel, (2) a ‘wipe down’ and (3) nothing at all,” Friedman wrote. As Friedman explained, the city had instituted a Critical Incident Stress Debriefment program that allowed an officer to see a city psychologist after a stressful incident. Logan had taken advantage of the CISD program in the past, but it was not available during the 1998 recurrence of his symptoms. Friedman said that was abnormal. “Indeed, the employee anticipates that, when he or she needs psychological assistance as a result of the performance of his or her normal job duties, counseling will be available,” Friedman said. “Here, the city’s failure to provide counseling to [Logan] following a severe beating is such a deviation from the practice and procedures adopted by the city as to constitute an abnormal working condition.”

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