From a logical and moral point of view there is no reason why a convenience store clerk and a police officer shouldn’t be able to collect workers’ compensation for purely mental injuries from exposure to violent crime.
But while equal protection arguments can be useful in restoring rights to workers compensation, they are less helpful in creating new rights such as compensation for mental injuries. When addressing whether a law is constitutional, appellate courts usually decide first on what level of scrutiny to apply. The less stringent the scrutiny, the more likely the court will find the law to be constitutional.
This blog post is the next in a series that examines the basics of workers’ compensation. It gives information on the compensability of emotional or psychological injuries in Nebraska.
The Nebraska Supreme Court recently released a new opinion in Hynes v. Good Samaritan Hosp., 291 Neb. 757 (Sept. 4, 2015) concerning the causation standard for emotional or psychological injuries in workers’ compensation injuries. This is a favorable decision for injured workers in Nebraska, and very necessary progress in the recognition and legitimization of these types of injuries. It is also progress in the struggle against the stigma associated with mental-health issues in general.
The plaintiff in the Hynes case was attacked by patients on three separate occasions while working as a nurse. She suffered some physical injuries, but ultimately required extensive treatment for major depressive disorder and PTSD and was unable to work due to her mental injuries. This decision clarified that where there is sufficient evidence to find that a psychological injury is directly related to the accident and the employee is unable to work, the employee is entitled to compensation. Before this decision, plaintiffs were generally met with the burden of showing their mental injury was directly linked to ongoing pain from a physical injury.
Nebraska law does still require a work-related accident and physical injury for most injured workers (there is an exception for mental injuries unaccompanied by physical injuries for an employee who is a first responder). An injured worker must suffer some “violence to the physical structure of the body,” rather than an injury caused by a mental stimulus only. Additionally, even where an injured worker has suffered a physical injury, mental injuries entirely attributable to other factors – such as the stress of litigating a workers’ compensation claim, where there is no physical injury related to the mental injury – are considered an intervening event and therefore not compensable. Where a mental injury is attributed to both a physical injury and the psychological stress of issues such as immobility and inability to work, the claim may be compensable.
Just like most physical injuries, proving a mental injury is related to a work-related accident requires that an injured worker seek treatment and obtain an expert opinion from a doctor. The doctor must find that the injured worker sustained physical and psychological injuries as a proximate result of a work-related accident.
Working toward recovery from a mental injury can take as long as or longer than recovering from a physical injury, and the effects can result in vast negative repercussions for an injured worker and their family. Receiving medical and psychological care and other compensation while in the recovery process can make all the difference in the world to the ultimate outcome for an injured worker dealing with a mental injury. Determining whether you have a compensable claim, and obtaining this care and compensation can be complicated, so consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for help.
Please read the previous blog posts in the workers’ compensation basics series by clicking on these links:
Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn., is Exhibit 1 for why all states need to compensate first responders for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A few years ago, the Nebraska legislature passed legislation allowing first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits for mental disorders arising from their work even if they received no physical injury. The bill arose out of the horrible shooting at the Westroads Shopping Mall in Omaha. Recently the insurance industry has been asking to repeal the bill and the original sponsor, Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, has resisted successfully.