Hart v. Federal Express Corp. – Work-Related Psychological Injury Award Upheld

Workers’ compensation awards for psychological injuries in North Carolina can be tougher to prove than physical injuries. However, they are no less compensable. packagedelivery

Our dedicated Greensboro workers’ compensation attorneys understand that trauma to one’s psyche can be just as damaging and crippling as a physical injury. We will carefully analyze each case to determine whether this also should be considered in a client’s efforts to secure workers’ compensation benefits.

In the recent Connecticut Supreme Court case of Hart v. Federal Express Corp., benefits awarded to an injured worker for both physical and psychological injury were challenged by the employer. Ultimately, the benefit award was upheld.

According to court records, the case arises from an incident in which plaintiff suffered heart problems associated with psychological injuries that occurred during the course of his employment as a courier for defendant employer. He was awarded total incapacity benefits for 46 weeks. However, the employer appealed to the state supreme court, arguing neither the claimant’s physical nor psychological injuries were compensable or, in the alternative, that the award for benefits was excessive.

The state supreme court disagreed and affirmed after careful review of the following facts:

Claimant had worked for the company from 1987 to September 2009, which is when the alleged injury occurred. His work as a courier involved delivering packages to customers along a certain route. He was required to inspect the vehicle, inventory the parcels and load them onto the vehicle. He would then make his stops and deliver the packages.

He was 47 at the time of injury and avid about physical fitness – waking at 4 a.m. each day to work out for sometimes as long as two hours before his shift – weightlifting, cardio and long runs. On an average work day, it was not unusual for him to work a 10 or even 12-hour shift. By all accounts, he was hardworking and had an unblemished employment record.

However, in 2009, he came under the direction of a new manager and demands on him increased. He was required to make 12.5 stops per hour. That meant less than five minutes, on average to get to and complete each delivery. He asked for help from employer, but was told nothing could be done.

Although he normally had a one-half hour lunch break each day, but employee could no longer take it due to the increased demands. Often, he said he was unable to stop for a bathroom break. His employers were made aware the route had become unworkable, but did nothing to fix it.

One day in June, he became aware that while refueling, he forgot to put the cap properly back on and realized a small amount of fuel had spilled out of the pipe. He reported it to a manager, who the fire department, police and ultimately hazmat team were called. Claimant, who believed this was a severe overreaction, was sent home. He was later reprimanded for this. At the same time, he was given a written warning about time he took off the month earlier, saying he had exceeded the amount of scheduled overtime. Claimant noted this was because of the way the company classified “bereavement leave” of only three days instead of five that he took off when his mother had died.

Having always enjoyed his work and been a good employee, all of this distressed claimant. He was getting more written warnings and dealing with higher demands – which were disproportionate to the other drivers.

Then on the day in question, claimant started with an inventory of parcels. After doing so, he concluded the number of packages was simply too many – 15 stops an hour, or one every four minutes. He reported the stop count to his manager, and asked if any could be assigned another driver. This request was refused.

It was a hot day and the temperature inside the non-air conditioned vehicle was high. There were a number of problems, as customers weren’t available to sign for packages, others weren’t happy with where he left them, he was made to drive back in some locations. He had no food or drink or use of the restroom during this time. He encountered traffic delays and he was a full hour behind schedule. As he rushed through his stops, his heart began to flutter. He grew short of breath. He felt light-headed and ill. But he kept pushing himself, knowing he couldn’t afford another reprimand. But he finally determined he couldn’t finish his route.

He stopped at a fire station, called for a substitute driver and organized his remaining parcels before going into the fire station. His heart rate was dangerously high. He was rushed to the hospital. He had an irregular heartbeat (more than 300 beats per minute), plus he was severely dehydrated.

He remained overnight at the hospital and was ordered to stay off work while doctors monitored his heart.

He later sought workers’ compensation benefits for ongoing heart problems and anxiety.

Ultimately, the commission and later the supreme court affirmed his right to collect workers’ compensation benefits for both his physical and psychological injuries.

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

Additional Resources:

Hart v. Federal Express Corp., April 19, 2016, Connecticut Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Whicker v. Compass Group USA et al. – Joint Employee and Lent Employee Doctrines, April 12, 2016, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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