Psychiatric Exclusion Does Not Violate Equal Protection

Psychiatric Exclusion Does Not Violate Equal Protection

Posted: January, 2006

McCrone v. Bank One Corp. (12/28/05), 107 Ohio St.3d 272, 2005-Ohio-6505.

Issue: Does R.C. §4123.01(C)(1) violate Equal Protection by excluding psychiatric-only claims from workers’ compensation benefits?

Background: McCrone suffered a psychiatric-only injury in the course of her employment. Her claim was disallowed administratively because R.C. §4123.01(C)(1) bars compensation for psychiatric claims without a physical injury.

McCrone filed an appeal to court from the Commission’s decision. The Court of Common Pleas and the Court of Appeals found that the psychiatric exclusion violated Equal Protection. The BWC appealed to the Supreme Court. The case was also certified to the Supreme Court by the Court of Appeals because the decision conflicted with decisions by other Courts of Appeals that had found the psychiatric exclusion constitutional.

Decision: Supreme Court reverses.

The Court applies a test called the rational basis test to consider whether the statute violates equal protection. Under this test, the Court considers whether a “valid state interest” exists. If such an interest exists, the Court then considers whether the method used to advance that interest is “rational.”

The Court determines that the state has a rational interest in preserving the validity of the workers’ compensation fund by barring psychiatric-only claims from coverage.

It is reasonable to expect government to protect the self-supporting nature of the workers’ compensation fund, to distribute available resources so that benefit payments are kept at an adequate level for covered injuries rather than at an inadequate level for all potential disabilities, and to maintain a contribution rate not unduly burdensome to participating employers.

Editor’s Comment: The Court only considered the Equal Protection challenge to this exclusion. It did not consider whether the exclusion violates Due Process or Art. II, Sec. 35 (which provides workers’ compensation coverage for injuries caused by employment).

A well-reasoned dissenting opinion from Justice Resnick explains that McCrone should be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits because she

was injured as a result of a bank robbery that occurred at her place of employment while she was the teller on duty. Her injury is real and disabling, and its existence is supported by competent medical evidence. It is work-related in every sense of the word.

As Justice Resnick points out, if McCrone had been pushed by the robber and stubbed her toe, the injury would be compensable. Justice Resnick then asks “[n]ow what kind of rational explanation or legitimate state interest could possibly justify distinguishing the compensability of one posttraumatic stress disorder from another under equivalent life-threatening circumstances based on the fortuity of a stubbed toe?”

Finally, Justice Resnick rebuts the reasoning of the majority opinion by pointing out

Moreover, the majority’s cost-cutting justification rings hollow. Since when is reducing governmental costs sufficient to nullify the basic protections afforded by the Ohio Constitution? Is there a specific dollar amount of savings that must be realized before ignoring the Equal Protection Clause is justified?

Justice Pfeifer also wrote an excellent dissenting opinion.

Information courtesy of the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Bulletin. Subscribe to the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Bulletin to keep informed about the Ohio workers’ compensation system.