Massachusetts Court Affirms Benefits After Workplace Incidents Trigger Employee’s PTSD

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently affirmed a decision of the Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board, In re Wicklow’s Case, 32 N.E.3d 369 (2015), which found that an employer’s acts caused the exacerbation of an employee’s pre-existing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As such, the employee was awarded workers’ compensation benefits under § 34 for temporary total incapacity.

The employee had a tragic history. Due to a traumatic personal background and family life, she suffered from PTSD and was diagnosed in the late 1990s. She started working as a dialysis nurse for her employer in 2000. Although the employee had been hospitalized in the past when her PSTD was triggered on other previous, non-work-related occasions, by 2005 her condition was stable.

A new supervisor was appointed in 2006, and the employee became distressed after several triggering workplace incidents occurred involving her new supervisor. In May 2009, the employee received a three-day disciplinary suspension, and she took six weeks of medical leave. She then filed for § 34 benefits, alleging that she sustained work-related emotional injuries as the result of at least 10 encounters with her supervisor, beginning in 2006 through May 2009.

Personal injuries for purposes of workers’ compensation do include mental and emotional disabilities, in which the predominant contributing cause is an event occurring within the individual’s employment duties. G.L. c. 152, §1(7A), however, contains a “personnel action exception,” providing that no mental or emotional disability arising out of a bona fide personnel action is deemed a personal injury within the meaning of workers’ compensation, although they may occur within the employment and be a contributing cause of injury.

In In re Wicklow’s Case, the employer argued that the personnel action exception barred the employee’s benefits. The appeals court disagreed, finding that both the administrative hearing judge and the reviewing board carefully considered 10 encounters between the employee and her supervisor, and they did not err in finding that the incidents were not personnel actions. Specifically, the judge found that the behavior of the employee’s supervisor exceeded the limits of appropriate workplace conduct, which included screaming at the employee, acting in retaliation, and making the employee a scapegoat so as not to bear any responsibility for an incident involving an erroneous dialysis. In addition, the judge noted that the employee had no previous disciplinary action under her prior supervisors. Finally, the court noted the abundance of evidence from an impartial medical examiner appointed pursuant to G.L. c. 152, § 11A, which supported the fact that the events at work were the predominant cause of the exacerbation of the employee’s PTSD.

If you have suffered a mental or physical injury while working, you may be entitled to compensation for your injury and lost wages. The Massachusetts attorneys at Pulgini & Norton assist clients in evaluating their options under the law and pursuing workers’ compensation benefits. To discuss your claim with an experienced attorney, contact our office at (781) 843-2200 or online and schedule a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Appeals Court Sides with Injured Correctional Officer in Workers’ Compensation Case, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published June 26, 2015

Mental Injury Benefits from Workers’ Compensation, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published June 12, 2015

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