Understanding the PTSD Presumption for First Responders in California

Firefighting and law enforcement are among the most stressful and hazardous occupations. The nature of their work exposes these brave individuals to traumatic events that can lead to significant mental health challenges, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Recognizing the unique risks faced by first responders, the California Legislature enacted Senate Bill 542 (SB 542) to support firefighters and peace officers suffering from PTSD by introducing a rebuttable presumption under workers’ compensation law.

What is SB 542 and How Does it Help First Responders?
Senate Bill 542, signed into law on October 1, 2019, and effective from January 1, 2020, added Labor Code section 3212.15. This law states that for specified active firefighters and peace officers, the term “injury” includes PTSD. If PTSD manifests during their period of service, it is presumed to arise out of and occur in the course of employment. This presumption shifts the burden of proof to the employer, who must demonstrate that the PTSD is not work-related to deny workers’ compensation benefits. This presumption remains in place until January 1, 2025.

Why is the PTSD Presumption Important?
The PTSD presumption is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Reduced Stigma: It acknowledges PTSD as a natural response to traumatic events, encouraging first responders to seek timely diagnosis and treatment without fear of stigma.
  2. Ease of Claim Approval: Shifting the burden of proof to the employer makes it easier for affected first responders to receive the benefits they need.
  3. Support for Mental Health: It underscores the importance of mental health support for those who risk their lives daily to protect the public.

Real-World Implications and Effectiveness
According to research by RAND, this legislative change has significant implications for the mental health and well-being of first responders. By providing a clear pathway for workers’ compensation claims related to PTSD, SB 542 helps ensure that those affected receive the necessary support and treatment. This, in turn, can reduce instances of substance abuse and suicide, which are tragically common among those with untreated PTSD.

Questions First Responders Should Consider

  • Are you experiencing symptoms of PTSD such as flashbacks, nightmares, or chronic anxiety?
  • Have you encountered traumatic events in your line of duty that could contribute to PTSD?
  • Do you feel your mental health has been impacted by your work experiences?
  • Are you aware of the benefits and support available to you under SB 542?
  • Have you discussed your symptoms with a healthcare professional?

Seeking Help and Filing a Work Claim when you get PTSD
If you are a first responder experiencing symptoms of PTSD, it is vital to seek medical attention and consult with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney. As a Workers Compensation Attorney in the Bay Area, West Coast Workers Compensation attorneys are here to help you navigate the complexities of filing a claim under SB 542. Here’s what you can expect:

  1. Initial Consultation: We will discuss your symptoms and work experiences to determine if you have a viable claim.
  2. Medical Evaluation: You will need a diagnosis from a qualified mental health professional.
  3. Filing the Claim: We will help you file your workers’ compensation claim and gather the necessary documentation to support your case.
  4. Employer’s Burden of Proof: We will work to ensure that the burden remains on your employer to disprove the work-related nature of your PTSD.
  5. Ongoing Support: We will provide continuous support throughout the claims process to ensure you receive the benefits you deserve.


The PTSD presumption for first responders in California is a critical step toward recognizing and addressing the mental health challenges faced by those who protect and serve our communities. As a Workers Compensation Attorney, Brittany Huynh, is based in San Francisco, and dedicated to supporting first responders in their time of need. If you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD due to work-related trauma, contact us today for a consultation.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, visit our website wcwca.com or call us at 415-218-5634. Let us help you secure the compensation and support you deserve.