Mental Health and Workers’ Compensation Claims

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One aspect of workers’ compensation claims that most people do not consider is how mental health injuries factor into the system. While not every mental health issue that an employee may develop will be deemed to be job related, many in fact have been.

The General Principles

As a general rule, mental health diagnoses that develop as a result of a person’s employment are covered by a company’s workers’ compensation insurance. For example, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disability that is considered to be incurable, and which can last for anywhere between many years to a person’s entire life. It is often brought on by either a horrible precipitating event, or long term exposure to extremely hostile environments. Workers involved in industrial accidents and similar events in the workplace have developed PTSD as a result, and review boards have found them to be compensable injuries.

A landmark case in South Carolina dealing with this issue is Jane Doe v. South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, 660 S.E.2d 260 (S.C. 2008). The plaintiff in this case worked for a state psychiatric ward that due to budget cuts began to take violent detainees, resulting in frequent assaults against both the staff and other patients. Due to her work environment, she developed several psychiatric illnesses that she felt should be covered by the state’s workers’ compensation insurance program. The Supreme Court of South Carolina agreed with her, holding that since the specific incidents that caused the plaintiff’s injuries were not “unusual or extraordinary” for an employee working with dangerous psychiatric patients, they were part of her regular job duties, and thus were required to be covered by workers’ compensation.

Similar cases across the country have also held that depression that was directly caused by work events are also compensable under workers’ compensation policies. Depression as a work related impairment, however, can be much more difficult to prove in court since showing that its cause was an actual event rather than related factors, or non-work-related causes can be problematic.

Stress

In certain cases stress, and stress related illnesses, can be compensable under a company’s workers’  compensation policies.  As a very straightforward example, there have been several instances of employees who have suffered heart attacks due to work related stress, which was held to be compensable. Stress can also be a precipitating factor of a variety of less severe medical issues, which an employee can also recover benefits from.

Except in cases that resulted in chronic medical complications, stress is generally held to be a short-term issue by workers’ compensation review panels.  While an employee can receive benefits for some period of time, they are generally expected to remove themselves from the situation by seeking other employment in a different environment. In some cases, employees who develop depression due to their employment are handled in a similar manner. Essentially if a medical problem is not a chronic condition, and can be mitigated by changing work environments, employees are generally expected to do so in the interests of their health.

Contact an Experienced Greenville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Today

The workers’ compensation system is designed to help you in your time of need, but it can sometimes be tricky to negotiate, especially if your employer, or their insurance company attempts to prevent you from receiving the compensation you are entitled to. If you or a loved one is struggling with a work-related injury or condition in or around Greenville, South Carolina the attorneys at the Dan Pruitt Injury Law Firm are here to help. Get an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer in Greenville on your side. Contact our office today to set up a no-cost consultation.

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