If Psychological Trauma Is a Workplace Hazard, Can You File a Workers’ Compensation Lawsuit Because of It?

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As the medical profession and the public gain a better understanding of mental health and mental illness, the law should reflect this knowledge.  One in five Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some time in their lives, and the more people talk openly in their personal and professional lives about their struggles with mental illness, the more it helps to remove the stigma and increase awareness.  

A gray area that remains is the question of whether workers’ compensation should be paid to workers who suffer from clinical depression, clinical anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental disorders as a result of trauma suffered at work or because the stress levels at work are so high as to make diagnosable clinical anxiety an occupational hazard.  In theory, it is possible to be paid workers’ compensation benefits because of work stress-induced mental illness, but plaintiffs have an uphill battle in demonstrating that their employers should be held financially responsible for the plaintiff’s mental illness.


Can Mental Illnesses Be Occupational Diseases?

Workers’ compensation originally only covered traumatic injuries, such as broken bones, caused by accidents at work, mostly at manual labor jobs. Over time, though, more workers began to submit claims for injuries that were not the cause of a particular accident such as a fall or the malfunction of a piece of machinery; rather, these injuries and illnesses were a natural result of workers performing their jobs under normal work conditions over an extended period of time.  

Famous examples of occupational diseases include the lung diseases suffered by coal miners and by workers whose jobs required them to install or remove asbestos. These diseases develop slowly over time, but the evidence showed that the workers’ jobs were the direct cause of the disease.

What happens when work conditions lead to a mental illness like PTSD?  A few states have introduced laws enabling police and other first responders in highly traumatic situations such as mass shootings to get workers’ compensation for PTSD that developed as a result of these traumatic events they experienced while performing their work duties.  Of course, there is a world of difference between trying to rescue people from a mass shooting and the ordinary workplace stress of dealing with an ill-tempered boss.

If you are trying to prove that PTSD and other mental health conditions are an occupational hazard of your job, unless you can point to an extremely traumatic event (as in, a life-threatening situation), it is unlikely that you will be able to convince the court that your employer owes you compensation because of your mental illness.  Proving that you have a mental illness is not difficult; your medical records can easily show this. The challenge is proving that your job, and only your job, caused this mental illness.


Contact Walton Telken Attorneys at Law About Workers’ Compensation Cases

If your workers’ compensation claim has been denied, a workers’ compensation lawyer can help you recover damages for your work-related illness or injury.  Contact Walton Telken Attorneys at Law in the St. Louis area to discuss your case.

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