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:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. OSHA also reports that nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of such violence each year. We are probably most likely to think of the horrible stories of violent acts that occur in the course of commission of a crime such as a robbery. These acts are committed by persons who have no legitimate reason to be there, with no relationship to the employer or employees. Many instances of workplace violence are also committed by upset clients or customers, students or patients. Family members, acquaintances, and persons who have personal relationships with employees may also be perpetrators.
What happens when someone is injured due to violence that occurs between co-workers, though? Are injuries sustained as a result of this violence compensable under Nebraska workers’ compensation law? The answer, like many answers to legal questions, is it depends. The fact that you can prove you were assaulted and injured on the job does not automatically mean you are entitled to benefits. It is always the injured workers’ burden to prove he or she suffered injuries because of an accident arising out of and in the course of employment. Here, too, an injured worker must prove the accident resulted from risks arising from within the scope or sphere of the worker’s job. The general rule for workplace violence in Nebraska law is that where an assault is purely personal, the victim is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. This means that if you are assaulted at work by a co-worker, and you are unable to show that the violence grew out of or was connected to the relationship as fellow employees or acts in the performance of work, you may not be entitled to compensation for your injuries.
Examples of cases where an injured employee was denied benefits include where a fight broke out over payment on a side job, where one employee assaulted another because he had a problem with that employee’s status as a registered sex offender, or where one employee shot and killed her husband (a co-worker) allegedly due to her fear of further domestic violence. The courts determined in these cases there was no causal connection between the employment and the accident and injury.
Whether an accident arises out of and in the course of employment must be determined by the facts of each case. As a practical matter, in many cases, a claim for injuries due to workplace violence may take more time than usual to process. Sorting through witness accounts and getting every side of the story will be a necessary and often complicated part of the workers’ compensation insurer’s investigation. Since finding out the reason for the incident is significant, benefits may be more likely to be delayed than in a more typical or common workers’ compensation claim. It is important to consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if you have questions about whether you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for an injury resulting from workplace violence.