Court: Mental, Emotional Injuries of Workplace Violence Compensable

Emotional and mental turmoil resulting from workplace violence can be debilitating, in some cases manifesting in the form of a chemical dependency. As such, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in Kim v. Gen-X Clothing, Inc., that the resulting treatment for such dependency should be compensable.
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Asheville workers’ compensation lawyers recognize this ruling as important because it represents a shift in attitude with regard to our understanding of chemical dependency. Specifically as it pertains to workers’ compensation, treatment for chemical dependency can be covered when the claimant can show it is directly related to a traumatic workplace incident.

That’s not to say it will be an easy win, but this case shows it is possible.

Here, according to court records, the claimant worked as a manager for a retail clothing store in Omaha when the store was robbed. The manager was shot numerous times. The incident was reportedly revenge for an earlier robbery at the store. Following the shooting, those involved reportedly made numerous phone calls to the wounded manager, warning him that he, his mother and son would suffer further violence if he cooperated with authorities.

A few months after the shooting, the manager sought help from a mental health practitioner, who diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and chemical dependency. Before the shooting, the manager conceded he drank alcohol and occasionally used drugs recreationally. However, his alcohol and drug use had increased since the incident. He would later testify that he used alcohol and drugs to help him sleep and to help cope with what had happened to him.

Soon after, he suffered a severe panic attack after awaking from a nightmare, and ended up in the emergency room. Medical providers at that point recommended inpatient treatment, as they feared he might suffer potentially fatal withdrawals if he were to attempt detoxification on his own. He entered treatment a short time later.

Even after that treatment was completed, the claimant indicated he suffered nightmares of harm to his family every other night. He rarely ventured outside. He bought a gun and carried a pocketknife with him. He and his son moved out of his mother’s home for an extended period of time. He suffered insomnia, panic attacks and severe anxiety.

He filed a claim for workers’ compensation to have his medical bills pertaining to his chemical dependency covered. His treating psychiatrist testified that the patient’s drug and alcohol use prior to the shooting would not have met any of the criteria for dependency.

The employer attorney argued that the psychiatrist couldn’t know that because he hadn’t treated the claimant prior to the shooting.

The workers’ compensation court found that the worker should be awarded temporary total disability benefits amount to $400 weekly, and that certain medical expenses – including nearly $20,000 in treatment for the chemical dependency – should be covered by the employer.

The employer appealed, but the state supreme court affirmed. There was a causal link established between the shooting and the emergency room visit prompted by a severe panic attack. Same with the inpatient chemical dependency treatment. Although the clothing store attorneys argued that as a lifelong drug abuser, the claimant would have needed inpatient treatment regardless of whether a shooting took place, the state supreme court ruled otherwise, finding that the drug use had spiraled from recreational to dependent as a direct result of the workplace shooting.

In North Carolina, there are no occupational safety and health standards pertaining to workplace violence. However, the Workplace violence Prevention Act, N.C.G.S. 96-23 holds that an employer can file an action for a civil no-contact order on behalf of a worker who has suffered violence at work.

Workers should be trained to help reduce the potential for workplace violence by:

  • Learning to recognize, avoid and diffuse tension-filled situations;
  • Alerting supervisors to safety concerns and report all incidents immediately;
  • Avoid traveling to unfamiliar locations or situations alone whenever possible;
  • Carry or have access to only minimal amounts of money.

If you have been injured at work in Asheville, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Kim v. Gen-X Clothing, Inc., April 11, 2014, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawy Blog

More Blog Entries
Noisy Worksites Make for More Accidents, April 20, 2014, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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