Massachusetts Reviewing Board Holds Employee’s Psychological Disability was not Causally Related to Earlier Work Events

In an appeal before the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents Reviewing Board, an employee’s claim for psychological disability caused by work events ten years prior was denied, affirming the judge’s findings that the employee had not met his burden of showing that his mental disability has been caused by his industrial injury.  The employee’s most recent claim for § 34, or alternatively § 34A, benefits from March 30, 2012 and continuing had been denied based on findings of three previous decisions.  While finding the employee incapacitated, the judge had not found a causal relationship to the work-related accident of 2003. On appeal, the employee sought to show that non-work related events, such as his divorce and unemployment, had been triggered by the work-related injury and related depression.

The employee’s case had a heavy procedural history, and his initial claim was founded on an alleged psychiatric injury suffered while working as a maintenance mechanic aide for his employer.  In 2003, the employee suffered anxiety, which led to his inability to work. Other life events took place, including a divorce and financial difficulties.

On appeal, the employee argued that the judge had not considered the evidence that related his 2003 industrial injury to his life activities after a 2009 hearing decision.  The employee’s argument was that his financial difficulties, divorce, and abandonment were all caused by his work injury. He also argued that those activities were foreseeable stresses that re-awakened the compensable injury.

The employee was to show, according to the standard of proof for his “pure mental” claim, that his total disability was predominantly caused by work events in 2003.  This is in accordance with Massachusetts’ worker’s compensation law, specifically, G.L. c. 152 § 1(7A), which holds that personal injuries include mental disability when they have been predominantly caused by a work-related event.

The Board stated that the employee had acknowledged there had not been evidence or findings that his life activities post-2009 had been caused by his work injury in 2003.  In fact, the Board stated that the medical evidence had specifically disagreed with the employee’s argument that his work injury caused his financial difficulties.

Regarding the foreseeable, ordinary life events that led to “life changes” for the employee due to his industrially-related psychiatric condition, the Board stated the employee’s argument was not in accordance with evidence necessary to prove the causal relationship.  In physical disability cases, the court stated the first step is to use expert medical evidence to determine whether there is any causal relationship between a work accident and the disability that follows from a non-work related event.

Next, after a judge finds that a causal relationship exists between the industrial accident and the disability following non-work-related events, then the question is whether the later event was an intervening cause. If that intervening activity is a normal, reasonable one, then the insurer is responsible for paying compensation.

Here, the employee’s argument was that the harassment he suffered at work continued to play a role in his depression following March 30, 2012.  But the Board stated that verbal harassment, as had occurred in this case, carries a higher burden of proof than the physical injury that caused emotional disability.  Here, the question was whether the employee’s disability, since 2012, was caused by his 2003 industrial accident.

Again, the Board stated that the employee had the burden of providing expert medical evidence that his psychological disability from March 30, 2012 and after was causally related to his work accident in 2003. He failed to do so, particularly because the medical evidence did not support a finding that the employee’s psychological disability had been caused by earlier work events.

The Massachusetts attorneys at Pulgini & Norton help people pursuing workers’ compensation benefits for their physical or mental disabilities suffered in an industrial accident. After a work-related accident, you may be entitled to compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, and other benefits.  Contact our office today to discuss your claim and receive a complimentary consultation with a skilled attorney. We can be reached by calling (781) 843-2200 or completing our online form.

More Blog Posts:

Massachusetts Reviewing Board Finds Harmful Error in Inconsistent Findings Regarding the Cause of Employee’s Psychological Harm, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Blog, December 15, 2016

Massachusetts Reviewing Board of Industrial Accidents Affirms Dismissal of Employee’s Claim for Psychological Impairment from Injury when Employee Failed to Pay Share of Medical Examination as Agreed, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Blog, August 25, 2016

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