Workers' Compensation

Larson’s Spotlight on Recent Cases: Mental Injury Claim for Witnessing Suicide

Larson's Spotlight on Mental Injury, Odd-Lot Theory, Unwitnessed Death, and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress. Larson's surveys the latest case developments that you need to know about. Thomas A. Robinson, the staff writer for Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, has compiled the list below.

WI: Deputy Sheriff's Mental Injury Claim Sustained Where Deputy's Actions Led to Suicide of Suspect in Deputy's Care

Because of perceived potential abuses in the establishment of mental injury claims, a number of states either exclude coverage altogether or require some sort of heightened level of proof in order for the employee to prevail.  For example, Wisconsin bars coverage for mental claims if the employee did not experience an event that "was so unexpected and unforeseen that it constituted unusual stress of greater dimensions than the day-to-day emotional strain and tension experienced by similarly situated employees" [see School Dist. No. 1 v. DILHR, 62 Wis. 2d 370, 215 N.W.2d 373 (1974), see also Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, ch. 44, §§ 44.05, 56.04].  Construing that rule, a Wisconsin appellate court recently affirmed an award in the mental injury claim of a deputy sheriff who witnessed a person who he was transporting inflict fatal wounds on himself. The deputy had examined the wallet of the suspect, who was to be transported to a mental health facility, and saw a small foil packet.  Thinking it was some sort of bandage, the deputy returned it to the suspect.  In fact, the packet contained a miniature scalpel that the suspect used to cut his own throat.  The suspect died from the self-inflicted wounds before medical assistance could reach him.  The appellate court agreed that the facts met Wisconsin's "unexpected and unforeseen" criteria.

See County of Washington v. LIRC, 2013 Wisc. App. LEXIS 26 (Jan. 9, 2013).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 44.05, 56.04.

IA: Physician's Mononucleosis Claim Results in Permanent Disability Award on Odd-Lot Theory

An Iowa appellate court recently affirmed a trial court's decision that in turn affirmed an award of permanent disability benefits and extensive medical benefits to a family practice physician who contracted mononucleosis after treating two patients with the condition, one of whom vomited on the physician's hands during an examination.  The court agreed initially that the employer was judicially estopped from contesting liability since early on it had undertaken medical care and other benefits.  It also held that there was substantial reliable medical evidence to support the conclusion that the physician's mononucleosis and subsequent chronic fatigue syndrome arose out of and in the course of her employment and that substantial evidence also supported the conclusion that the physician was permanently and totally disabled as an odd-lot employee. The court reversed a decision ordering the employer to pay for the physician's bariatric surgery because there was not substantial evidence to support the conclusion that the surgery was reasonable and beneficial.

See Mercy Hospital Iowa City v. Goodner, 2013 Iowa App. LEXIS 100 (Jan. 9, 2013).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, §§ 51.03, 83.01.

TN: Widow Fails to Carry Burden of Proof Related to Husband's Unwitnessed Death on the Job

A Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel of the Tennessee Supreme Court recently affirmed a judgment of a state chancery court that found that a widow had not sustained her burden of proving that her husband's death was caused by his employment.  The employee was found dead at a work site.  His duties consisted of emptying grease traps at restaurants and hotels-a task that routinely required that he lift and manage rubber hoses weighing some 25 pounds.  He was found unconscious in a hallway between the kitchen of one of the restaurants and its loading dock.  Noting that the employee was six feet two inches tall, but weighed 377 pounds and that the autopsy listed the cause of death as "cardiomegaly [enlarged heart] of undetermined natural etiology" and "morbid obesity" as a contributing cause, and that the trial court had to weigh the testimony of three medical experts, it was for the trial court to weigh the evidence and make a decision.  The evidence did not preponderate against the trial court's finding that the employee's widow failed to carry her burden of proof of causation.

See Read v. Hill Services, Inc., 2013 Tenn. LEXIS 11 (Jan. 10, 2013).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 130.05.

NC: Court Vacates $450,000 Verdict in Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Case Against Former Employer

A North Carolina appellate court recently vacated a judgment entered upon a $450,000.00 jury award to a former employee for her claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), holding that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because of the exclusive remedy provisions of the state's workers' compensation law.  The plaintiff claimed that her supervisor had harassed her and that the supervisor's actions had been intimidating, but not physical in character.  Acknowledging that under Woodson v. Rowland, 329 N.C. 330, 407 S.E.2d 222 (1991), when an employer intentionally engaged in misconduct knowing it was substantially certain to cause serious injury or death to employees and an employee was injured or killed by that misconduct, that employee, or the personal representative of the estate in case of death, could pursue a civil action against the employer, but noting further that the court was "unaware of a single litigant in any case which [had] been subject to appellate review who [had] successfully pursued a Woodson claim since the exception to the exclusivity provisions was set out in 1991, the appellate court held that the defendant employer's conduct was not enough to sustain a Woodson claim and thereby qualify as an exception to the exclusivity provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act.

See Shaw v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 2013 N.C. App. LEXIS 54 (Jan. 15, 2013).

See generally Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, § 103.04.

Source: Larson's Workers' Compensation Law, the nation's leading authority on workers' compensation law.

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