Generally speaking, in order to establish a compensable psychiatric injury Labor Code section 3208.3 requires an employee to produce evidence that actual events of employment were predominant as to all causes of the psychiatric injury. In the context of first responders, for injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2020, section 3212.15 creates a presumption of compensability for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Is the predominant cause standard applicable to the PTSD presumption found in section 3212.15? According to a panel decision issued late last year the answer is no.

In Delgado v. County of Ventura, 2023 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 344, a District Attorney Investigator claimed PTSD as a result of cumulative trauma. The Panel Qualified Medical Evaluator, Dr. Spencer, opined that applicant suffered PTSD as a result of exposure that encompassed not only employment with the County of Ventura, but also previously with the City of Ventura. In fact, Dr. Spencer attributed only 20% of the injury to employment with the County of Ventura. The remaining 80% was attributed to the prior employer. One of many arguments considered was whether the predominant cause threshold must first be met before the PTSD presumption could attach.

More specifically, the defendant argued that section 3208.3’s predominant causation requirement was implicitly imported into 3212.15 because the latter section did not expressly exclude it. The court noted while neither party specifically raised the issue, where two statutes pertaining to the same subject cannot be harmonized the more specific statute controls. As relevant here, once there is a valid diagnosis of PTSD which develops or manifests itself during the applicable period, the presumption applies and the burden shifts to the defendant to rebut. The predominant causation threshold need not be met first. 

It should be noted this is a panel decision and does not have precedential authority. Nonetheless, all three Commissioners agreed and this case provides insight into how panel members would analyze similar situations in the future.