(CN) - A public servant whose post-traumatic stress disorder worsened in the wake Hurricane Katrina is entitled to workers' compensation, a Mississippi appeals court ruled.
Elisha Adcox began working as an agent for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety's Bureau of Narcotics in 1989. She was treated for PSTD one year later after her partner was shot in a drug raid.
She was assigned to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005. Her duties included rescuing survivors, providing security against looters and recovering the bodies of victims.
According to her testimony, Adcox suffered from panic attacks in 2006, along with flashbacks to the experience of death and guilt over having to deny giving survivors food and water.
An administrative law judge agreed with Adcox that her Katrina relief efforts caused her PSTD. The Workers' Compensation Commission and the Hinds County Circuit Court agreed.
Last week a divided three-judge panel of the Mississippi Court of Appeals also shot down the Bureau of Narcotics.
The opinion notes that Adcox worked "twenty hours per day, during which time she was surrounded by the smell of death and dead bodies."
"Adcox stated that she personally observed many dead bodies and, on one occasion, while climbing through the window of a house, stepped on a dead body," Judge Ceola James wrote for the majority. "She at first slept on the floor of the command center, and later slept in her car for fear of rats and snakes."
James cited the testimony of a doctor and therapist who both believed that Adcox's experience in the hurricane's aftermatch caused her PTSD.
The therapist, James wrote, "stated that Adcox presented one of the most severe cases of PTSD she had ever seen as a therapist, and that Adcox would probably never be able to hold a full-time or part-time job."
Judge Virginia Carlton wrote a dissenting opinion.
"Neither Adcox nor her family members or close associates were under direct threat of injury or death," Carlton wrote. "Along with a team of other MBN agents, Adcox assisted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She therefore helped after the life-threatening risk of Hurricane Katrina had ended."
"She did not suffer a direct threat to herself, a loved one, or a close associate in that effort as required for the diagnosis of PSTD," Carlton added.
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