Smith v. Carver Cnty., A19-0199

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Writing for the CourtTHISSEN, Justice.
Citation931 N.W.2d 390
Parties Chadd A. SMITH, Respondent, v. CARVER COUNTY and Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, Relators.
Docket NumberA19-0199
Decision Date17 July 2019

931 N.W.2d 390

Chadd A. SMITH, Respondent,
CARVER COUNTY and Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, Relators.


Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Filed: July 17, 2019

Mary E. Boyce, Ashley N. Biermann, Meuser Law Office, P.A., Eden Prairie, Minnesota, for respondent.

Timothy P. Jung, Katie H. Storms, João C.J.G. de Medeiros, Lind, Jensen, Sullivan & Peterson, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for relators.

Jeffrey J. Lindquist, Gries Lenhardt Allen, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota Defense Lawyers Association.


THISSEN, Justice.

931 N.W.2d 392

This case requires us to interpret a 2013 amendment to the Minnesota Workers' Compensation Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 176.001 –.862 (2018), which expanded the Act to allow injured workers to recover workers' compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that arises out of and in the course of employment. The amendment permits recovery for a "mental impairment," see Minn. Stat. § 176.011, subd. 16, defined as "a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist," id. , subd. 15(d). " ‘[P]ost-traumatic stress disorder’ means the condition as described in the most recently published edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association," id. , which in its current version is commonly known as the DSM-5. See Am. Psychiatric Ass'n, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed. 2013).

Respondent Chadd Smith, a former deputy sheriff for relator Carver County, seeks workers' compensation benefits for PTSD, which he claims resulted from numerous traumatic incidents that he experienced while working. The County denied responsibility. Two licensed psychologists assessed Smith—one diagnosed Smith with PTSD; the other did not. The compensation judge found the psychologist who did not diagnose Smith with PTSD to be more persuasive, adopted that psychologist’s report, and dismissed Smith’s claim petition.

The Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals (WCCA) reversed. Smith v. Carver County , No. WC18-6180, 2019 WL 235685, at *1 (Minn. WCCA Jan. 4, 2019). The WCCA determined that the 2013 amendment requires that a compensation judge conduct an independent assessment to verify that the diagnosis of a psychologist

931 N.W.2d 393

or psychiatrist conforms to the PTSD criteria in the DSM-5 before accepting the expert’s diagnosis. See id. at *5. We reverse the decision of the WCCA and reinstate the compensation judge’s decision.


Smith worked as a deputy sheriff with the Carver County Sheriff’s Office for nearly 10 years, from July 2006 through June 2016. Before working as a deputy sheriff, Smith had never been diagnosed with, treated for, or had any restrictions related to PTSD. Before beginning his work with the County, Smith underwent a pre-employment examination and was deemed physically and mentally fit to work as a deputy sheriff.

As part of his job as a Carver County deputy sheriff, Smith witnessed numerous situations involving death and injury, including graphic crime scenes, vehicle accidents, homicides, suicides, shootings, assaults, and domestic abuse situations. It is difficult for a person who is not a law enforcement officer or first responder to overstate the traumatic nature of the situations Smith faced. For example, Smith responded to a vehicular accident where a driver was crushed by a 100,000-pound rock crusher and helped to recover the victim’s remains for the medical examiner. Smith was called to the scene of a suicide; upon arrival, he realized that the victim—who had died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head—was his high school classmate. Just months after that case, Smith was tasked with reporting the death of a different high school friend to the friend’s next of kin, an experience he understandably described as "extremely distress[ing] and overwhelm[ing]." Smith has responded to a vehicular accident where a part of the victim’s body came off in his hands while administering first aid; a vehicular fire where he and other emergency personnel were unable to control the blaze and were unable to save the victim trapped in the vehicle; a house fire where the victim’s remains were severely burnt; and an incident of a deceased male whose body had been outside and decaying for several days. During all of this, Smith also experienced stress at home: his wife was diagnosed with cancer and his daughter was diagnosed with a genetic disorder.

Of the events reported by Smith, he deemed two to be the most significant. The first occurred in 2007, soon after he started with Carver County. Smith responded to a vehicular accident in which a young woman had been ejected from the vehicle. Smith reported that, when he approached the woman to administer first aid, he heard her make a sound he referred to as the "death gurgle," which indicated that her injuries were beyond his ability to help. Smith was forced to move on to other victims at the scene. The second event occurred in 2012 when Smith responded to a call involving an infant who had choked to death on a marshmallow. Smith was tasked with taking photos of the child and attending the autopsy. This death was particularly difficult for Smith because his wife was pregnant with their daughter.

During his tenure as a deputy sheriff, Smith experienced physical and mental ailments on a frequent basis. He reported difficulty sleeping, recurrent dreams and night terrors, and intestinal problems. In 2014, one medical professional diagnosed Smith as suffering from PTSD; several others diagnosed Smith with other mental conditions but not PTSD.

Smith resigned as a deputy sheriff in June 2016. Following his resignation, Smith began working as an insurance adjuster.

In July 2016, about a month after his resignation, Smith was evaluated by Dr. Michael Keller, a licensed psychologist. At

931 N.W.2d 394

the time, Smith was still experiencing intestinal and sleep problems. Dr. Keller noted that, during the examination, Smith presented with mild memory impairment and appeared "extremely tense," "quite anxious," and "significantly depressed." Dr. Keller also noted that Smith had difficulty concentrating, was "physically shaking throughout the entire interview process," "was frequently tearful and emotionally distressed," and was "hyper-vigilant." To evaluate Smith’s mental condition, Dr. Keller reviewed Smith’s medical history and administered several diagnostic tests (the PTSD Checklist (PCL-5), the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS-5), the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), and the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI-IV)). Dr. Keller diagnosed Smith with PTSD, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder under the DSM-5.

On August 15, 2016, Smith notified the Carver County Sheriff’s Department of Dr. Keller’s PTSD diagnosis and asked the County to file a First Report of Injury with the Department of Labor and Industry. The County denied responsibility. In December 2016, Smith filed a workers' compensation claim petition with the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry seeking workers' compensation benefits for his PTSD.

On May 11, 2017, at the request of Carver County, Dr. Paul Arbisi—also a licensed psychologist—performed an independent psychological evaluation of Smith. He noted that Smith reported hypervigilance and withdrawal symptoms and that he felt less engaged and less outgoing. He also noted that Smith was experiencing mood swings, irritability, insomnia, a distinct lack of energy, and physical discomfort. To evaluate Smith’s mental condition, Dr. Arbisi administered the CAPS-5 and MMPI-2 tests. Following these tests, Dr. Arbisi diagnosed Smith with somatic symptom disorder and adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood. Dr. Arbisi concluded that Smith did not have PTSD under the criteria set forth in the DSM-5.

The workers' compensation judge held a hearing on Smith’s claim petition. Smith and an investigative lieutenant for Carver County were the only live witnesses. All medical evidence was offered in written form, which included records from several medical providers, the reports of Drs. Keller and Arbisi, and the transcripts of the depositions of Drs. Keller and Arbisi. Following the hearing, the compensation judge dismissed Smith’s petition. The judge adopted Dr. Arbisi’s opinion and diagnosis, tersely finding that Dr. Arbisi’s medical opinion was persuasive and that Dr. Keller’s medical opinion was unpersuasive. In his memorandum, the compensation judge stated that he "carefully considered the entire record in this matter, including the testimony at trial, documentary evidence submitted, and also the arguments ably presented by counsel for each of the parties." The judge "concluded that the evidence supports his Findings as to the issues before him in the present proceeding; no further comment or explanation is necessary."1 Because Smith had failed to meet his burden to prove that he

931 N.W.2d 395

was suffering from PTSD arising out of and in the scope of employment, the compensation judge denied Smith’s request for benefits and...

To continue reading

Request your trial
4 cases
  • Chrz v. Mower Cnty.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • March 8, 2023
    ...benefits for work-related mental injuries unless the mental injury caused or arose from a physical injury. See Smith v. Carver County, 931 N.W.2d 390, 395 (Minn. 2019). However, in 2013, the Legislature amended the Workers' Compensation Act by redefining "occupational disease" to include "m......
  • Conn v. Bic Graphic USA Mfg. Co.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Minnesota
    • September 23, 2019
    ...N.W.2d at 232. Likewise under the MWCA, professional judgments of medical professionals are presumptively valid. Smith v. Carver County, 931 N.W.2d 390, 397 (Minn. 2019). The district court properly granted summary judgment because of Conn's failure to identify jobs she could perform. We ar......
  • Juntunen v. Carlton Cnty.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • December 21, 2022 opinion offered by the employer. This is an issue of statutory interpretation, which we review de novo. Smith v. Carver County , 931 N.W.2d 390, 395 (Minn. 2019). This is also an issue of first impression.Under the workers’ compensation statute, a "mental impairment" is a compensable......
  • Juntunen v. Carlton Cnty.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • December 21, 2022 opinion offered by the employer. This is an issue of statutory interpretation, which we review de novo. Smith v. Carver County, 931 N.W.2d 390, 395 (Minn. 2019). This is also an issue of first impression. Under the workers' compensation statute, a "mental impairment" is a compensable......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT