Can You Get Workers’ Compensation for Mental Stress Injuries in Pennsylvania?

Companies all across the country are becoming more sensitive to and more aware of mental health injuries as a result of stress in the workplace. However, when most people think about an injury in work they neglect to think about mental health and the negative effects of stress on the body. Regardless of how an employer thinks of an injury, Pennsylvania recognizes that emotional, mental, and psychiatric conditions may develop as a result of an accident or another traumatic event, and that this may entitle a worker to Workers’ Compensation benefits.

However, proving a mental or psychiatric injury can be tough and is incredibly fact-based, that is why one of the most effective things you can do to ensure that you receive the Workers’ Compensational benefits you may be entitled to is to work with an experienced attorney. The attorneys at Lerner, Steinberg & Associates understand how difficult it can be to go through the Workers’ Compensation process when your employer is telling you that you are faking your injury.

Contact us online or call us at (215) 355-6400 for a free consultation with one of our Workers’ Compensation lawyers about your rights and the value of your work-related injury claim.

Workers Compensation in Pennsylvania

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Injuries at work are some of the most devastating injuries a person can sustain because they often affect your very livelihood. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act allows those workers who have been injured during the course of their employment a means to recover for their medical expenses. In addition, if you are injured at work the Workers’ Compensation Act can provide a means for you to recover for the money you would have earned while you are recovering. The benefits of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act are available to almost every Pennsylvania worker, and employers are required to provider Workers’ Compensation coverage for all of their employees, even if they are seasonal or part-time. Even small businesses, nonprofit corporations, and even employers who only have one employee are required to follow the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act.

Mental Stress Injuries in the Workplace

Mental health is becoming a focal point for not only the medical community but also the workforce. It has taken a considerable effort on the part of doctors and psychiatrists to begin to understand the fragile connection between mental stress and injury and physical disorders. One of the biggest mental stress injuries stems from job-related stress. Stress-related mental health injuries have been shown to increase workers missing days from work, decreased productivity and depression. That is partially the reason why companies all across the country have begun investing millions of dollars every year in creating and maintaining “stress management programs”

Pennsylvania recognizes three distinct types of mental stress injury cases each with their own burden of proof:

  • Physical/Mental – wherein a physical stimulus causes a mental injury. In this type of mental injury case the worker, who is the claimant in a Workers’ Compensation claim, must demonstrate that their evidence is merely more convincing than not.
  • Mental/Physical – where a mental or emotional experience causes physical consequences. As with a physical stimulus that results in a mental injury, if a worker has a mental or emotional experience that subsequently affects their physicality they will only need to prove that there is evidence that makes it more likely than not that they have been injured.
  • Pure mental/mental cases – where a mental or emotional stimulus causes purely emotional consequences. While the above two mental injury case types require that an injured worker demonstrate merely that there is evidence that makes it more likely than not that their injury was related to a working hazard, in this type of case the claimant will have to prove more than just sufficient evidence. A worker who has sustained an emotional or mental stimulus that subsequently results in a mental injury will have to prove that there was the presence of abnormal working conditions.

Regardless of the type of mental injury you have sustained, you will have the burden of proving the injury which can be incredibly fact based and difficult to prove. That is why we suggest working with an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney.

What are Abnormal Working Conditions?

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Workers who suffer from depression or anxiety as a result of workplace stress may be wondering if they are able to file a claim for Workers’ Compensation. While it is true that Pennsylvania law recognizes a purely mental injury case, the claimant may have a difficult time proving their case. That is because in these types of cases a worker who has been injured will have to show that there was an abnormal working condition.

An abnormal working condition is not always easy to prove, and the courts have been uniformly reluctant to grant these cases because stress is an inherent part of working. However, abnormal working conditions can typically be found where a mental disability or injury is directly caused by a violation of law, such as discrimination based on sex, age, race, or disability. In addition to these discrimination categories where a claimant can demonstrate that there is or was a workplace event that is wholly and totally unexpected then this may a sufficient basis for the court to find there was an abnormal working condition.

At times the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has found that workers were entitled to Workers’ Compensation based on a mental stimulus that resulted in a mental injury. Notably, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that Workers’ Compensation benefits were proper when a coal worker with a documented history of a pre-existing post-traumatic stress disorder was knowingly subjected to the same stimulus from his supervisor over the course of a few days in the case of RAG & (Cyprus) Emerald Resources v. WCAB (PA Supreme Court 2007). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court went on to say that the facts of this case were sufficient to demonstrate there was a “course of conduct on the part of the supervisory employee, clearly calculated to cause severe emotional distress.”

Our Workers’ Compensation Attorneys Can Help

However, while this case demonstrates that a purely mental event which results in a mental injury may fall under the Workers’ Compensation system, workers should be aware that these cases are incredibly fact based. At Lerner, Steinberg & Associates, we will listen to the details of your case, explain your options, and be there with you every step of the way. Contact us online or call us at (215) 355-6400 for a free consultation with one of our Workers’ Compensation lawyers about your rights and the value of your work-related injury claim.