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Psychic Injury Workers’ Compensation Claim

In the typical Pennsylvania workers’ compensation case, a worker has been physically injured on the job.  He or she may also suffer mental stress and receive benefits to address those additional injuries, but these conditions are typically related to a bodily injury claim.  In Pennsylvania, workers’ compensation benefits are also available to those who suffer from psychic injuries as a result of abnormal working conditions.  These are generally more difficult to obtain, since Pennsylvania law requires that the injury’s occurrence and cause be specifically delineated, that the record contains unequivocal medical testimony to establish the causal connection between the injury and employment, and that the injury is not a reaction to normal working conditions. 

A recent Commonwealth Court decision reviewed whether or not the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) and the Appeal Board erred in issuing and affirming an award of benefits to a worker suffering from depression related to abnormal working conditions.  The injured employee worked as a crane operator, or “rover,” for a company that manufactured steel products.  This employee was one of only two women who worked at the company, which employed around 200 employees.  She was the only African-American woman at the company.  After 20 years of employment, the woman began to experience several distressing incidents at work where other employees refused to work under her, she was taken off of an assignment because of the refusals, and she was denied overtime.

Two incidents were related to one co-worker, who used a racial slur in her presence.  This was addressed by other supervisors but was followed by the placement of a noose hanging in his office for several days, visible to many employees.  The co-worker claimed that it was a joke between himself and the foreman.  After these occurrences, another meeting was held to address yet another worker who refused to work with her.   This made the injured worker more upset, and she left the meeting crying.  She filed a a claim petition a few months later, seeking temporary total disability from the date of the last meeting, which was granted by the WCJ and affirmed by the Appeals Board.

In its appeal, the employer claimed that the award was not supported by substantial evidence.  The employer focused on the fact that the injured employee began to cry uncontrollably after the last meeting, and not after the noose incident or the use of the racial slur.  The employer also pointed to the absence of any connection to the incidents in the medical examiner’s letter about the employee’s condition and treatment.  The Commonwealth Court agreed with the employer’s arguments. It found that the stress experienced by the injured employee was general and not specifically tied to the racially charged incidents, which fell short of the legal requirements that the injury and abnormal workplace conditions be connected.

Workplace injuries take many shapes and forms, and it is important that you have knowledgeable Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorneys at your side to help you with your claim.  The experienced lawyers at Needle Law Firm are here to help you with your claim and maximize the benefits you deserve.  For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office today at 570-344-1266.

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