The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act provides for different standards and evidence required to prove psychological injuries, as compared to physical injuries. The most common type of work injury claim involves a physical to part of the body, caused by a physical event – such as by falling or lifting something.
Types of Psychological Damage Caused by Workplace Injuries
In a type of case characterized as mental-mental, the injured worker is seeking Workers’ Compensation benefits for a “mental” condition (such as depression, anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD) caused by a “mental” stimulus (such as sexual harassment, or being victim to a crime while at work). For decades, the Courts of Pennsylvania had been making it more and more difficult to succeed in any mental claim, regardless of the circumstances or the severity of the condition suffered. The injured worker was required to present sufficient, credible evidence to prove that they suffered a “normal reaction to abnormal working conditions.”
Even in cases where a Judge may have ruled in the injured worker’s favor, the appellate courts have Reversed those decisions, finding that either the injured worker had some sensitivity pre-disposing them to suffer a reaction to the events, or that the work conditions were not sufficiently “abnormal”. Several exceptional examples included police officers involved in shootouts Davis v. WCAB (Borough of Swarthmore), and recently, a PA liquor store clerk robbed at gunpoint and tied up with duct tape. PA Liquor Control Bd. V. WCAB (Kochanowicz). In each case, the Appellate Court found that the employees were trained about how to react to such events, and that regardless of how infrequently such episodes may occur, it was a reasonably foreseeable risk of the job. As the courts made the standard more and more difficult to satisfy, Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation attorneys became more and more selective in the cases they would accept, leaving many injured workers without representation – or recourse.
In 2013, the trend began to shift. In Payes v. WCAB (Commonwealth of PA State Police) the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Reversed the Commonwealth Court’s decision, which affirmed the denial of benefits. It was ultimately determined that the State Trooper’s PTSD was caused by an abnormal work event – witnessing a particularly horrendous car accident. The Supreme Court created a “new” standard for determining the compensability of mental-mental claims.
- The psychological condition must be objectively verified (by an expert medical opinion).
- The condition is traced to a specific identifiable event.
- That specific event – not comparable circumstances – is abnormal.
The Supreme Court then Ordered the Commonwealth Court to revisit their holding in Kochanowicz, given the new standard. The Commonwealth Court has now overturned their earlier denial of benefits, granting the liquor store clerk benefits. It now seems clear that a “reasonably foreseeable risk” is not relevant in determining a claimant’s entitlement to benefits. Although the standard remains “a normal reaction to abnormal working conditions”, the focus must be upon the facts of the specific claim presented, and not comparing experiences of other individuals in similar employment. Admittedly, employees subject to a particularly nasty supervisor or co-worker are not likely to reach the threshold. Nonetheless, the new “standard” means that there is now recourse – and equally important – available legal representation by a skilled workers compensation attorney – for those workers who suffer psychological conditions due to “abnormal work conditions”.
Schedule a Free Consultation with Our Media, PA Workers’ Comp Lawyers
If you have suffered an injury at work, you need the advice and assistance of an attorney skilled in the unique field of Workers’ Compensation laws. At Schmidt, Kirifides & Rassias, our dedicatedwork injury lawyers in Philadelphia stay abreast of every case decided by the Courts of Pennsylvania, to ensure that your interest is protected, and that you receive the maximum amount of compensation available. For a free, no obligation consultation call us at 484-679-5239 or contact us online. With offices in Philadelphia and Delaware County, Pennsylvania, we have a location convenient to serve you.