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The PTSD Presumption

The history of the PTSD presumption

This blogger greets you again, but with the topic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Labor Code § 3212.15 (the PTSD presumption). The PTSD presumption under Labor Code § 3212.15 is distinct from general psychiatric injuries under Labor Code § 3208.3 and was first introduced, passed, approved and chaptered in 2019 through Senate Bill 542 and was amended through Senate Bill 623 that was introduced, passed, approved and chaptered in 2023 which amended subdivision (f) and added subdivision (g) which extended its sunset expiration date to January 1, 2029 (previously January 1, 2025). Further, Senate Bill 623 added a reporting requirement on PTSD claims filed by “public safety dispatchers, public safety telecommunicators, and emergency response communication employees from January 1, 2020, through December 31, 2023”, due no later than January 1, 2025. Also, it added a reporting requirement on data regarding “the effectiveness of the presumption created by this section” due no later than January 1, 2027. Senate Bill 623 has been the only legislation changing Labor Code § 3212.15 (the PTSD presumption) since its inception in 2019.

Prior efforts to change the PTSD presumption (SB 284, AB 597, AB 1107)

Senate Bill 284 attempted to expand coverage to public safety dispatchers, telecommunicators, emergency response communications employees, The State Department of State Hospitals, The State Department of Developmental Services, The Military Department, The Department of Veterans Affairs and various other sworn peace officers but Senate Bill 284 was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 29, 2022 who explained, “Expanding coverage of the PTSD injury presumption to significant classes of employees before any studies have been conducted on the existing class for whom the presumption is temporarily in place could set a dangerous precedent that has the potential to destabilize the workers’ compensation system going forward, as stakeholders push for similarly unsubstantiated presumption.” Other proposed and pending Assembly Bills include Assembly Bill 597 aimed to cover emergency medical technicians and paramedics and Assembly Bill 1107 aimed to cover additional Peace Officers. Each are in “Referred to Com. on INS.” status as of 01/04/2024 (AB 597) and 03/02/2023 (AB 1107). Based on the new reporting requirements in Senate Bill 623, will the PTSD presumption come to an end? If not, who will be covered next? And who is covered now?

Covered employees

For a list of employees covered under the PTSD presumption, please review the most current version of Labor Code § 3212.15 subdivision (a) as this subdivision lists the classes of employees covered. At the time of writing this blog (2024), Labor Code § 3212.15 currently applies to:

(1) Active firefighting members, whether volunteers, partly paid, or fully paid, of all of the following fire departments:

(A) A fire department of a city, county, city and county, district, or other public or municipal corporation or political subdivision.

(B) A fire department of the University of California and the California State University.

(C) The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

(D) A county forestry or firefighting department or unit.

(2) Active firefighting members of a fire department that serves a United States Department of Defense installation and who are certified by the Department of Defense as meeting its standards for firefighters.

(3) Active firefighting members of a fire department that serves a National Aeronautics and Space Administration installation and who adhere to training standards established in accordance with Article 4 (commencing with Section 13155) of Chapter 1 of Part 2 of Division 12 of the Health and Safety Code.

(4) Peace officers, as defined in Section 830.1 of, subdivisions (a), (b), and (c) of Section 830.2 of, Section 830.32 of, subdivisions (a) and (b) of Section 830.37 of, Section 830.5 of, and Section 830.55 of, the Penal Code, who are primarily engaged in active law enforcement activities.

(5) (A) Fire and rescue services coordinators who work for the Office of Emergency Services.

(B) For purposes of this paragraph, “fire and rescue services coordinators” means coordinators with any of the following job classifications: coordinator, senior coordinator, or chief coordinator.

Qualifying injury

What type of psychiatric injury is covered under this presumption? Labor Code § 3212.15 subd. (b) explains “injury” includes “post-traumatic stress disorder,” as diagnosed according to the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association that that develops or manifests itself during a period in which any person described in subdivision (a) is in the service of the department, unit, office, or agency. Therefore, this statute specially applies to PTSD which is a distinct diagnosis (a critical factor). Another critical factor is whether the PTSD injury developed or manifested itself during a period in which the covered employee was in the service of the department, unit, office, or agency. Expert medical opinion framed in terms of substantial medical evidence is required under this section.


There are many technical rules involving the PTSD presumption for example, compensation shall not be paid pursuant to this section unless the person performed services for the department, unit, office, or agency for at least six months (the six months of employment need not be continuous); unless the injury is caused by a sudden and extraordinary employment condition. Upon a finding of compensability regarding the PTSD presumption, compensation includes full hospital, surgical, medical treatment, disability indemnity, and death benefits. The rate of pay and amount of pay (if any) are derived from a variety of factors and vary from case to case.

Date of injuries covered

Labor Code § 3212.15 subd. (e) states, “This section, as added by Section 2 of Chapter 390 of the Statutes of 2019, applies to injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2020.” And Labor Code § 3212.15 subd. (g) states, “This section shall remain in effect only until January 1, 2029, and as of that date is repealed.”

File a claim – you are not alone

If you suspect you have an industrial PTSD injury that developed or manifested itself during a period in which you were in the service of the department, unit, or agency and are an employee covered under the classes listed in Labor Code § 3212.15, subd. (a), file a claim right away without fear. Whether you wish to file a presumptive claim, or any claim in general, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate or otherwise discharge, or threaten to discharge, or in any manner discriminate against you because you filed or made known your intention to file a claim. See Labor Code § 132a. So don’t fear discrimination for filing a claim. And for PTSD in public safety, you are not alone. Senate Bill No. 542 Section 1 explained, “The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:

(a) Firefighting and law enforcement are recognized as two of the most stressful occupations. Only our nation’s combat soldiers endure more stress. Similar to military personnel, California’s firefighters and law enforcement personnel face unique and uniquely dangerous risks in their sworn mission to keep the public safe. They rely on each other for survival while placing their lives on the line every day to protect the communities they serve.

(b) On any given shift, firefighters and law enforcement personnel can be called on to make life and death decisions, witness a young child dying with their grief-stricken family, or be exposed to a myriad of communicable diseases and known carcinogens. Firefighters and law enforcement personnel are constantly at significant risk of bodily harm or physical assault while they perform their duties.

(c) Constant, cumulative exposure to these horrific events make firefighters and law enforcement personnel uniquely susceptible to the emotional and behavioral impacts of job-related stressors. This is especially evident given that the nature of the job often calls for lengthy separation from their families due to a long shift or wildfire strike team response.

(d) While the cumulative impacts of these aggressive, deadly events are taking their toll, our firefighters and law enforcement officers continue to stand up to human-caused devastation and nature’s fury, but they are physically and emotionally exhausted.

(e) Trauma-related injuries can become overwhelming and manifest in post-traumatic stress, which may result in substance use disorders and even, tragically, suicide. The fire service is four times more likely to experience a suicide than a work-related death in the line of duty in any year.

(f) It is imperative for society to recognize occupational injuries related to post-traumatic stress can be severe, and to encourage peace officers, firefighters, and any other workers suffering from those occupational injuries to promptly seek diagnosis and treatment without stigma. This includes recognizing that severe psychological injury as a result of trauma is not “disordered,” but is a normal and natural human response to trauma, the negative effects of which can be ameliorated through diagnosis and effective treatment.”

The PTSD presumption v. the good faith personnel defense

How does the defense in Labor Code § 3208.3 subd. (h) come into play which says, “No compensation under this division shall be paid by an employer for a psychiatric injury if the injury was substantially caused by a lawful, nondiscriminatory, good faith personnel action. The burden of proof shall rest with the party asserting the issue.”? For example, what happens if your PTSD injury was substantially caused by something your employer lawfully did to you (i.e. reprimanded you, threaten to fire you, demoted you, suspended you on a lawful basis)? Assuming an employee demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that actual events of employment were predominant as to all causes combined of the psychiatric injury (which arguably does not apply to the PTSD presumption but instead applies to other psychiatric injuries), will the court find that the specific PTSD statute under Labor Code § 3212.15 controls over the good faith personnel action defense found in Labor Code § 3208.3 subd. (h)? Afterall, it is well established that where a general statute conflicts with a specific statute, the specific statute controls over the general one. (See Bates v. County of San Mateo (2019) 84 CCC 648 at page 656 (panel decision) citing Fuentes v. WCAB (1976) 41 CCC 42. Therefore, it’s my legal position Labor Code § 3212.15 controls over Labor Code § 3208.3 which leaves the employer disputing the PTSD presumption only by “other evidence” that must be reasonably certain in view of all the circumstances.

Presumptive injury technicalities

For presumptive injuries (heart trouble, pneumonia, cancer, meningitis, blood-borne infectious disease, MRSA, tuberculosis, hepatitis, Lyme disease, biochemical substances, hernia, lumbar spine injuries, and yes, PTSD), this blogger disclaims a warning. Generally, no presumption is conclusive and presumptions are controvertible (rebuttable) and just because a presumption applies, that does not mean your presumptive claim will be automatically accepted. Here is how it work – once the employee demonstrates that the presumption applies, the burden shifts to the employer to negate it and disprove that the injury was related to work. The law does not require absolute certainty nor conclusive proof to overcome the presumption. All that the law requires is proof that is reasonably certain in view of all the circumstances. The evidence necessary to overcome a rebuttable presumption depends on the character and circumstances of each case, and no hard-and-fast rule can be laid down other than that proof to a reasonable certainty, such as would convince the mind of an ordinary person, must be presented.

A common misconception of presumptive injuries involves the mistaken belief that if a presumption applies, the claim should be automatically accepted. But that is incorrect. Afterall, if a claim is accepted (and not barred by the statute of limitations [see Labor Code § 5405 where accepted claims can turn into time-barred claims]), the employer could be responsible for a lifetime of medical care including other benefits that can become very expensive. So, in most cases, before a claim is accepted, discovery is allowed (typically while your claim remains denied) which often involves a deposition, subpoena of records and evaluations by a Medical-Legal Expert. But you don’t have to go through this process alone (and you shouldn’t).

Get help right away

Our attorneys have built a track record of success at trial and on appeal in state and federal courts across California. Founded on attorney-client privilege, we have been assisting police officers, firefighters and other safety workers for decades in matters ranging from internal discipline and criminal defense to wage and hour, disability and workers’ compensation claims. If agreed upon, our office can file your claim for you, direct you to treatment, give you the best advice and see you through your injury till the end. This blog is for educational purposes only. This is not legal advice. There is no substitute for competent legal advice tailored to your specific circumstance so give us a call us at (877) 212-6907 and see how our skilled attorneys can assist you or your organization. I hope you enjoyed reading this. Have a nice day.



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