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In Pennsylvania, to establish a so-called “mental-mental” injury claim, the employee must demonstrate that the injury resulted from "abnormal working conditions.” Announcing that the Commonwealth Court had “strayed beyond certain foundational precepts,” in a divided decision, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently reversed a decision by that lower court that denied workers’ compensation benefits to a state trooper who claimed he sustained a PTSD injury following an incident in which a woman dressed in all black, including a black hat or cap, suddenly ran in front of, and was struck by, the trooper’s patrol car. The trooper attempted to give the woman mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as she bled from the mouth. At that same time, he had to divert oncoming traffic from hitting him and the woman. The WCJ found that, although state troopers may expect to encounter or be involved with violent situations, the particular work-related mental stimulus here was not one normally encountered by or expected of a state trooper. The WCJ accordingly found that the trooper's mental injury was caused by an abnormal working condition. The WCAB reversed and the Commonwealth Court affirmed that reversal. Stressing that psychic injury cases are highly fact-sensitive, the majority of the high court indicated that the Board and the Commonwealth Court had set aside a finding of fact by the WCJ without a determination that such finding was arbitrary and capricious, as was required to set it aside. Moreover, the majority indicated that the abnormal-working-conditions analysis did not end when it was established that the claimant generically belonged to a profession that involved certain levels or types of stress. Case law in the area of mental-mental injuries was developed simply to ensure that the Act's requirements that compensable injuries are truly work-related and objectively established are met, said the majority. Looking back at the findings of the WCJ, the majority indicated that the trooper did not have a "subjective reaction to [the] ordinary vicissitudes" of his job, but rather a reaction to a highly unusual and singular event. The majority of the high court accordingly held that the Commonwealth Court erred by not accepting the well-supported facts found by the WCJ.
Reported by Thomas A. Robinson, J.D.
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See Payes v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd. (Commonwealth PA St. Police), 2013 Pa. LEXIS 2588 (Oct. 30, 2013) [2013 Pa. LEXIS 2588 (Oct. 30, 2013)]
See generally Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 56.06 [56.06]
Source: Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, the nation’s leading authority on workers’ compensation law.
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