Are Mental Injuries Covered By Workers’ Compensation?

alzheimer_s_man_portrait_0-scaledEmployees are often exposed to stressful situations while at work, whether from unhelpful coworkers or understaffing. Under what circumstances are resulting mental injuries entitled to workers’ compensation? 

Diedre Emerson worked for Willis Knighton Medical Center as a certified nurse assistant on the cancer floor. One day, she arrived at work for her regular night shift. She found the prior shift had not completed a lot of their work, so she would have to do additional work. When she learned this, she became upset and mad. She said this was more of the same old behavior.

While working that day, she indicated that she felt something pop in her head but admitted nothing physically happened to cause the pop. After completing her shift, she went to the emergency room. The medical records from the visit did not show she complained about weakness on one side of her body or other neurological symptoms. Her primary complaint was hyperventilation and nervousness. Emerson was subsequently late in calling Willis Knighton to tell them she would not be able to work her shift. She was fired. 

About two months later, she went back to the emergency room, where she was found to have a blocked artery and stroke. Emerson filed a workers’ compensation claim for mental distress and stroke-like systems present at her first visit to the emergency room immediately after completing her shift. The workers’ compensation judge denied her claim, finding Emerson had not proven she had an injury under La. R.S. 23:1021(8) and had not connected any purported injuries to a work-related stress. 

La. R.S. 23:1021(8)(a) defines which injuries an employee is entitled to compensation for depending on the relevant circumstances. As defined, injuries only relate to the “physical structure” of the body. La. R.S. 23:1021(8)(b) defines mental injuries caused by stress. Such injuries are only compensable if the injury resulted from extraordinary sudden or unexpected stress related to employment.

Emerson admitted nothing physical had happened to cause her supposed “pop” in her head while on shift. She explicitly denied having bit hit or fallen. Therefore, she did not appear to have suffered a physical injury. With respect to a potential mental injury, Emerson said the occurrences the day at-issue at work were more of the “same old.” She had been anxious and stressed about work before that day. 

Emerson also did not establish a mental injury by providing a diagnosis from a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. Emerson also did not provide sufficient evidence of a heart-related conditions. Her medical records from the at-issue emergency room visit did not indicate she had been diagnoses with any heart-related condition. Furthermore, even if Emerson had suffered a stroke on the day she went to the emergency room immediately after her shift, the evidence suggested it was more likely caused by a preexisting condition than work stress. Therefore, the workers’ compensation judge did not err in denying Emerson’s claims. 

A knowledgeable attorney can help you navigate the workers’ compensation system, which has specific requirements to establish your mental injury is entitled to compensation. 

Additional Sources: Diedra Emerson v. Willis Knighton Medical Center

Article Written By Berniard Law Firm

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