Pickett v. Advance Auto Parts – PTSD and Workers’ Compensation Following Store Robbery

An employer must provide workers’ compensation benefits to an auto store clerk who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a gunman robbed the store.sad1

The decision was handed down by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in the case of Pickett v. Advance Auto Parts. Interestingly, a similar case was also recently decided by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. That case involved a liquor store employee who was robbed at gunpoint and soon after diagnosed with PTSD. Although the employer in that case tried to argue that robbery was a “normal working condition” for which plaintiff should not be reimbursed, the court disagreed and awarded benefits.

So too did the North Carolina appellate court. 

According to court records in Pickett, worker was employed as a salesperson and a driver for defendant at a Greensboro store. One morning in September 2012, shortly before 9 a.m., a man walked into the store, pointed a gun at the employee and demanded money. While the gunman had his firearm trained on employee, the general manager, the only other person in the store that morning, took case from several registers at the front of the store and put the bills on the counter. The gunman grabbed the money and fled.

Immediately after the incident, the employee complained of a chest pains and a throbbing headache. However, the assistant manager required him to stay and finish the rest of his shift. Employee didn’t come back to work after that day.

Soon thereafter, the worker sought treatment from his primary care physician, as well as from a psychologist and several other medical professionals. His symptoms included:

  • Vision loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Chest pain
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Arm weakness
  • Discomfort
  • Various psychological issues

Both the psychologist and the primary care doctor diagnosed the employee as having suffered from PTSD as a result of the in-store robbery.

An employer representative completed a Form 19 which involved reporting the worker’s injury to the Industrial Commission. The employer indicated it knew of the¬†injury, documented the days worked by employee and his earnings. Worker then completed a Form 18 and initiated his workers’ compensation claim, alleging psychological injury resulting from the robbery. Employer denied the claim, stating it hadn’t received any records indicating the medical benefits were causally related to the robbery incident.

In a hearing before the deputy commissioner, both the primary care doctor and psychologist testified, gave their diagnosis of the patient and stated with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, this diagnosis was the result of being victimized in the store robbery. Commissioner agreed and awarded benefits.

Employer appealed. Employer argued the employee wasn’t credible, that he’d exaggerated the details of the robbery, he omitted evidence of pre-existing psychological conditions and that he hadn’t causally linked the robbery to his mental injuries. Employer further asserted the doctors’ testimony wasn’t credible because they both relied on employee’s statements. Commission affirmed, and employer appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

The appellate court affirmed.

The court stated it would not reconsider the employee’s credibility because that is within the discretion of the commission. The commission found the worker credible, and thus the fact that doctors relied on his statements meant their findings were credible also. Employer had challenged the education and credentials of the psychologist, but the court found those arguments unpersuasive.

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

Additional Resources:

Pickett v. Advance Auto Parts, Feb. 2, 2016, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Russell v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. – SC Appeals Court Favors Workers’ Comp Plaintiff, Jan. 28, 2016, Greensboro Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog

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