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Diaz v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

April 16, 2013

ISMAEL DIAZ, Appellant,
v.
THE ILLINOIS WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION et al. (The Village of Montgomery, Appellee).

Rehearing denied June 17, 2013

Held [*]

The psychological harm claimant police officer suffered as a result of a standoff with a citizen holding what appeared to be a handgun was compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act, since the officer suffered a sudden, severe emotional shock as a result of the standoff that arose out of and in the course of his employment, resulting in the development of posttraumatic stress disorder that was causally related to the incident, and in denying the claim, the Workers’ Compensation Commission applied an incorrect standard of proof by concluding that whether a worker suffered emotional shock sufficient to warrant recovery should be determined by a subjective standard taking into consideration the claimant’s occupation and training rather than an objective, reasonable-person standard.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County, No. 11-MR-377; the Hon. Thomas E. Mueller, Judge, presiding.

Craig S. Mielke, of Foote, Meyers, Mielke & Flowers, LLC, of St. Charles, for appellant.

W. Britton Isaly, of Ancel Glink Diamond Bush DiCianni & Krafthefer, PC, of Chicago, for appellee.

Presiding Justice Holdridge and Justices Hoffman and Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

STEWART JUSTICE

¶ 1 The claimant, Ismael Diaz, filed an application for adjustment of claim against his employer, the Village of Montgomery, seeking workers' compensation benefits for posttraumatic stress disorder allegedly caused by a work-related accident on May 29, 2007. The claim proceeded to an arbitration hearing pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2006)). The arbitrator found that the claimant sustained an accident that arose out of and in the course of his employment and awarded temporary and permanent disability benefits. The employer appealed to the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) and, in a 2 to 1 decision, the Commission reversed the arbitrator's decision and found that the claimant failed to prove that he sustained a compensable accident. The claimant filed a timely petition for review in the circuit court of Kane County, and the circuit court confirmed the Commission's decision. The claimant filed a timely notice of appeal to this court.

¶ 2 This case requires us to consider the proof necessary for a claimant to recover in a workers' compensation claim for a psychological disability in the absence of a physical injury, a type of case commonly known as a "mental-mental" claim. The sole issue raised by the claimant in this appeal is whether, as a police officer, he was improperly held to a higher standard of proof than workers in other occupations. We hold, as a matter of law, that the Commission applied the wrong standard to this claim. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Commission and remand for further proceedings.

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 4 Our recitation of the facts in this case is derived from the evidence presented at the arbitration hearing held on February 17, 2010. The claimant testified that he began working for the employer in 2004, as a patrolman. On May 29, 2007, he responded to a call about a disturbance between neighbors. While dealing with the original call, another neighbor became upset because the police squad cars were blocking his driveway and asked the officers to move the cars. The neighbor, who was later identified as a Mr. Ethridge, was told that the cars would be moved as soon as the police officers were done handling the original call. Ethridge became upset, went into his house, and came out holding what appeared to be a handgun.

¶ 5 The claimant testified that after seeing the handgun, he drew his weapon and commanded Ethridge to drop the gun. Ethridge did not comply and continued to walk toward the claimant and another officer. The claimant testified that "[w]hen he got approximately I want to say about 15 feet away from where I had taken cover behind a SUV, I saw that [the gun] had an orange tip–." The claimant stated that the orange tip indicated to him that the handgun might not be a real gun, that it was possibly a BB gun or some type of toy gun. He continued to command Ethridge to drop the gun. The claimant stated that while he believed Ethridge had a BB gun or some type of toy gun, he did not want to take any chances so he stayed behind cover. The closest Ethridge came to him while holding the gun was about 10 feet away. The claimant stated that 10 to 15 seconds elapsed from the time he saw Ethridge with the gun until he realized it was a BB gun or some type of toy gun. At the time he instructed Ethridge to drop the gun, there was just one other officer present. The claimant called for backup, and additional officers arrived within one or two minutes.

¶ 6 The claimant testified that Ethridge eventually retreated into his house at which point a standoff began. The Aurora special response team responded to the scene, secured the perimeter of the house, and brought in a negotiator to commence talks with Ethridge. The claimant remained on the scene until approximately 11 p.m., but left prior to the resolution of the standoff. Eventually the special response team used tear gas or smoke bombs to gain entrance to Ethridge's home and took him into custody.

¶ 7 Daniel Meyers, deputy chief of police for the employer, testified that he has supervised the claimant the entire time the claimant has worked for the employer. He stated that he was present at the incident on May 29, 2007, and that the original disturbance call came in at about 6 p.m. He received the call for backup at 6:13 p.m., and he arrived on the scene at 6:33 p.m. When he arrived, the claimant was behind a tree located about 40 to 50 yards from the house. The claimant briefed Deputy Chief Meyers on the circumstances leading up to the standoff. Deputy Chief Meyers testified that when he arrived, there were approximately 10 to 15 officers on the scene. He stated that the Aurora special response team was returning from training and that he asked for their assistance. The entire team of just under 30 members arrived to assist with the standoff. He estimated that there were more than 40 officers on the scene. Deputy Chief Meyers testified that even though there was a belief that Ethridge had a toy gun, there was still a concern by all the officers present that he was potentially armed and dangerous.

ΒΆ 8 The claimant testified that he did not immediately experience anxiety after the incident. He stated that he "was just wound up, you know, I guess like adrenaline." He went to work the next day and did not experience palpitations or anxiety. On May 31, 2007, he responded to an accident with injuries, and he felt ...


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