Workers’ Compensation for Psychiatric Injury

Often when we talk about a work-related injury, we think about a physical injury to a worker’s body. For example, someone falls and injures their back. waterpuddle03

However, one can also legitimately suffer a mental injury as a result of an extraordinary circumstance at work. In those situations, both in North Carolina and South Carolina, the Workers’ Compensation Act does provide an avenue for recovery of benefits.

In South Carolina, the law allows employees who suffer mental injuries that are “induced by physical injury… or by unusual or extraordinary conditions of employment.” In North Carolina, psychological injuries may be compensable if they are a byproduct or result of a physical injury by accident or occupational disease. There have also been some cases in which a psychological injury resulting in a disabling physical condition may be compensable (i.e., a sudden traumatic event at work causes an immediate physical reaction).

In general, these cases can be trickier from a workers’ compensation standpoint, and that’s why it’s recommended only experienced work injury lawyers take them on.

In the recent case of Travelers Cas. & Surety Co. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Board, the issue was whether a psychiatric injury could be compensable where it arose out of a physical injury at work, but employee had worked there little more than two months and it was disputed the injury was caused by an event that was uncommon, unusual or completely not expected. (Note that these requirements are characteristics of California law, where this case unfolded. Specifically, California Code section 3208.3(d)).

According to court records, plaintiff was lived on site and worked as a supervisor for an apartment complex back in 2009. He was walking in the rain from one building to another on site when he slipped and fell on a slick concrete walkway. He had been employed by the company for little more than two months at the time of the incident.

As a result of the fall, he suffered numerous serious injuries. He broke his pelvis. There was also damage to his knee, leg, shoulder and neck. Long-term, he also suffered a limp. He was also plagued with a sleep disorder and serious headaches. He underwent surgery for the pelvis fracture and later for his knee and then again for his right foot, ankle and toes.

He later sought workers’ compensation for psychiatric injury arising. A medical evaluation concluded plaintiff suffered psychiatric disability as a result of the work accident, including panic attacks, depression and trouble sleeping.

The administrative law judge decided worker’s injury did arise out of the course and scope of employment. However, the judge denied the claim for psychiatric injury because it was reportedly barred under California law. Specifically, plaintiff had worked at the site for less than six months and his psychiatric injury wasn’t the result of a “sudden and extraordinary employment condition.”

Upon reconsideration, the board reversed and found the injury was caused by an extraordinary employment condition and therefore wasn’t barred by law. Specifically, worker had been “surprised” by the fact the surface on which he fell was slippery when nearby surfaces were not.

However, the California Court of Appeals, First Appellate District, Division Four, annulled that decision. The court noted this “sudden and extraordinary” condition requirement typically relates to extremely unusual events – i.e., a gas explosion or workplace violence – that would be expected to cause psychological disturbances. A slip-and-fall, the court ruled, does not fall into that category.

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

Additional Resources:

Travelers Cas. & Surety Co. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Board, April 22, 2016, California Court of Appeals, First Appellate District, Division Four

Additional Resources:

Clark County v. McManus – Workers’ Compensation Appeal, May 2, 2016, North Carolina Injury Attorney Blog

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