PTSD claim upheld for worker in St. E’s hostage incident

By Peter H. Milliken


A St. Elizabeth Health Center technician who suffered a wrist injury while held hostage in her workplace by an escaping prisoner is entitled to workers’ compensation, an appeals court has decided.

In a ruling this week, the 7th District Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the decision by Judge James C. Evans of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court that Christine M. Jones is entitled to compensation for both her physical injury and for the psychological condition known as post traumatic stress disorder.

The claim stems from the assault on her by Billy Jack Fitzmorris, a prisoner who escaped custody and who repeatedly threatened to kill her while he was at the hospital for medical treatment April 2, 2007.

Fitzmorris, a federal prisoner at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, used a homemade knife to overpower and disarm a NOCC guard at the hospital.

Fitzmorris then took another guard and two hospital workers hostage. He took and changed into the first guard’s uniform before carjacking a visitor in the hospital’s parking lot and fleeing to the Columbus area, where he was captured.

In its appeal, the hospital’s parent organization, Catholic Healthcare Partners Inc., did not dispute the physical injury award, but it disputed the PTSD award, saying the treating psychologist never established the wrist injury solely and directly caused Jones’ PTSD.

The appeals court, however, cited the psychologist’s opinion that: “The anxiety and constant state of hyper-vigilance appellee [Jones] was experiencing due to her disorder was interfering with her interpersonal communication and her ability to concentrate and sustain focus, and the resulting level of suffering and distress prevented her from working.”

The court said the psychologist found that the physical injury was a cause of the PTSD, but not the only cause.

“She also suffers from the stress of being taken hostage. Both factors contributed to, and resulted in, her PTSD,” the court ruled.

The decision was written by Judge Cheryl L. Waite, with Judges Gene Donofrio and Joseph J. Vukovich concurring.

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