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Crime & Courts

Rapid City man appeals denial of disability for PTSD after head injuries

Crime and Courts
Joshua Haiar

The South Dakota Supreme Court is deliberating an appeal from a man denied total disability benefits. Justices heard arguments this week at their April term held at South Dakota Mines in Rapid City. The appellant sustained head injuries after he was assaulted by patients in a psych ward. The state says the man is still able to work certain jobs. But mental health experts say he cannot.

William Baker worked as an aid and technician at Rapid City Regional West Psychiatric Hospital, a facility now part of Monument Health.

In 2013 and again in 2014, Baker was assaulted by patients who struck him repeatedly in the head. He suffered a closed head injury in the first assault and a concussion in the second.

Eventually the physical injuries healed, but Baker was left with PTSD, manifesting with extreme paranoia, anger, anxiety, and problems with memory and concentration.

Jennifer Wosje (WAH-shee) represents Monument Health and Hartford Insurance.

At oral arguments, she told justices that claimants have the legal burden to show that they are disabled, but Baker has left a paper trail proving that he could work.

“Mr. Baker has the ability to file 48 pro se lawsuits, small claims suits, detailed letters to various agencies,” Wosje said.

She said Baker’s mental health problems are evident only when he’s dealing with his worker’s comp appeals.

But Baker’s attorney said otherwise. Michael Simpson told justices that Baker claimed in his copious filings and letters that he was going to be assassinated and that he had gone to the FBI seeking protection.

“To say that these writings are somehow evidence that he could be employable in the workforce—they’re exactly the opposite,” he said.

Simpson said Baker’s incoherent and rambling writing makes it clear that he is not able to hold a job, and that psychiatric evaluations and treatments support that finding.

Justices will deliberate and issue an opinion at a later date. Justice Patricia Devaney will not sit in on this case. She was one of the Sixth Circuit judges who handled appeals at the lower level, before she was assigned to the Supreme Court.