Workers’ compensation law in North Carolina allows for compensation of occupational injuries and diseases that are either caused or aggravated by work-related conditions. That can in some cases include psychological injury or claims of workplace stress.
Often, these are cases wherein the physical injury results in a psychological injury, such as depression. However, emotional trauma or “pure stress” claims can be recognized as well.
Still, most employers will fight hard against these type of claims. Any hope of prevailing will require the help of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.
In the recent case of Gerdon v. Con Paulos Inc., recently before the Idaho Supreme Court, plaintiff was seriously injured in 2008 in a motor vehicle accident that arose out of and occurred in the course of his employment. His co-worker had been driving.
The accident caused plaintiff to suffer a left ankle fracture, disc herniation, spinal pain and complex regional pain syndrome. He sought workers’ compensation benefits and was awarded them in 2012.
Two years later, plaintiff asked for a hearing to determine whether he was also entitled to receive benefits for cover of his psychological injury. He reportedly suffered depression, which he alleged was caused by his industrial accident.
To support his position, he presented the testimony of a medical doctor certified in physical medicine, rehabilitation and pain medicine. He testified there was a direct link between plaintiff’s depression and anxiety and his work injury. The doctor listed a number of activities in which plaintiff could no longer engage, and said the extent of his pain as “completely turned upside down” his life. Everything plaintiff does, the doctor said, is limited by pain, which was caused by his work-related injury.
The defense countered with the testimony of a board-certified clinical psychologist who had also studied pain management. Half of his practice was treating pain patients, and he’d worked with workers’ compensation patients for about two decades. After conducting an exam, he testified he did not believe the patient’s psychological condition was related to his work injury. He opined plaintiff was a generally hostile person who had displayed patterns of cynicism and distrust. He also had anger issues, was prone to depression and was “at high risk to over-report his psychological and pain symptoms as a way to make a plea for help and to control others.” The doctor testified the patient’s depression was out of proportion to the stimulus he’d suffered. Aside from all that, the doctor testified the plaintiff does not trust doctors and therapists and likely would not respond to efforts to treat him. He theorized plaintiff would have needed psychological treatment at some point regardless of whether the industrial accident had occurred.
A referee took into account these two very different opinions and gave more weight to the latter, finding that plaintiff did not prove he was entitled to additional psychological care. The commission adopted those findings. Plaintiff appealed to the state supreme court, but that court affirmed as well.
Although the court noted plaintiff had presented evidence to support his case, the commission acted within its right to weigh evidence and determine credibility of experts who conflict.