There are some cases in which emotional injuries or psychological injuries may be compensable. For example, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled in the 1986 case of Hogan v. Forsyth Country Club that emotional injuries sustained due to workplace incidents may in fact be covered. To limit these claims for emotional distress, courts have ruled, would be against public policy.
When work-related, psychological conditions are the result of a work-related accident, workers’ compensation claims are not barred, courts have held.
It was under this legal theory that a nurse in Nebraska filed a workers’ compensation claim for mental injuries stemming from three separate patient assaults that occurred while she was employed by defendant in Hynes v. Good Samaritan Hospital. She sought permanent, total disability as a result of suffering major depressive order and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that rendered her unable to work and resulted in a 100 percent loss of earning power.
According to court records, plaintiff employee was a nurse at a hospital in April 2008 when she was “whipped” numerous times by a juvenile patient. The patient reportedly whipped her with a large vacuum cleaner cord and punched her in the jaw. This resulted in severe pain and bruising. It was the only incident for which plaintiff sought medical attention for physical injury.
After this, she discussed on numerous occasions with an employee assistance coordinator that she was having trouble sleeping and eating after the assault and said she did not feel safe returning to work. She also was tearful and described feeling sensitivity to noises and movements and suffered nightmares. In subsequent meetings, she described feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, bad dreams, flashbacks, strained communications and difficulty functioning in her personal, social and professional life.
Then, two months after that incident, she was again assaulted by another patient who bit her arm. She did not seek medical treatment for this.
Her symptoms worsened, and she described to her employer feeling general anxiety and depression, loss of appetite, social withdrawal and panic attacks.
Four days later, she was assaulted a third time, again by a male adolescent who grabbed her and threatened her with sexual assault. Again, she did not receive treatment for any physical injuries.
However, within three weeks, she called the employee coordinator late at night in crisis, saying she felt suicidal. She was admitted to a local psychiatric hospital and treated for a number of conditions, including major depression, anxiety and adjustment disorder. She was transferred to another hospital a week later and by two different doctors diagnosed with depression and PTSD.
She was released for a time, and then readmitted for “suicidal ideas and a plan.” She was again released, then readmitted, then released again.
She then began long-term outpatient treatment, but received numerous hospitalizations over the course of the next two years. She was given high doses of medications, underwent electroshock therapy thrice weekly and continued on this course at the time of her filing for benefits.
She alleged her mental injuries were so severe, she was unable to work. Employer disagreed, and while it contended the physical injuries she suffered in the first attack were compensable, refused to cover any of the rest, let alone concede her assertion of total disability.
A workers’ compensation panel granted her permanent total disability, and that was affirmed by an appeals court and, most recently, by the Nebraska Supreme Court.
The courts all found her to be a credible witness, and her explanation of the extent of her psychological injury was given significant weight. The employer was ordered to pay all plaintiff’s medical bills and pay $580 weekly in temporary total disability benefits for 142 weeks and $645 weekly for so long as she remained permanently and totally disabled.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
Hynes v. Good Samaritan Hospital, Sept. 4, 2015, Nebraska Suprem Court
More Blog Entries:
Permanent Total Disability Benefits Following Work Injury, Sept. 5, 2015, Charlotte Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog