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Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Reviewing Board Allows Injured Officer to Continue Pursuit of Benefits for Psychiatric Injury

Injured Massachusetts employees may be surprised to learn that workers’ compensation includes benefits for psychiatric injuries. Compensable psychiatric injuries can be caused by hostile supervisors, bullying by coworkers, or traumatic events. Anxiety and depression stemming from a physical injury can also be compensated. Claims for psychiatric benefits are discussed in a recently issued Reviewing Board decision (Bd No. 0061111-12), which looked at whether or not the administrative judge erred by ceasing all claims for benefits after May 2013.Padlocked fence  The injured worker was a court officer whose duties included transporting prisoners and providing security in the courtroom. In 2012, the employee was injured by a prisoner and taken to the hospital to care for harm to his ribs, right arm, and wrist. The officer also experienced headaches and vertigo months after the incident.

The self-insurer accepted liability for the physical injuries. Benefits for those were resolved in 2013. At this conference, the employee added claims for psychiatric counseling, PTSD, and further indemnity benefits. The insurer objected, disputing the liability for the neurological injury and PTSD claim. The insurer asserted there was no causal relationship between the psychiatric injury and the workplace.

In his decision and denial of benefits, the administrative judge adopted the expert testimony opinion the employee did not have an objective neurological impairment related to the inmate altercation in 2012, as well as the opinion of another expert who determined the injured employee did not have a psychiatric condition limiting his ability to work. The judge found that the employee’s physical injuries had resolved by May 2, 2013 and that he was able to perform the full range of activities consistent with employment.

On appeal, the injured worker argued the judge failed to list or discuss the medical reports provided by a different witness. The record did not reflect whether the judge reviewed the extra submissions, and the injured worker noted this type of failure requires a recommittal for a consideration of the issues. While case law does not require the judge to necessarily comment on all of the evidence presented, an administrative judge must consider all of the evidence properly admitted. Since the record was silent on whether or not the evidence was considered, the Reviewing Board recommitted the matter to the judge for a consideration of the additional medical evidence.

The injured officer also argued the disability findings were not consistent with the evidence adopted. The parties stipulated the physical issues were resolved from May 2, 2013 onward. For the psychiatric issues, the judge adopted differing dates from the opinions of two expert witnesses. The judge found the employee could return to full duty on June 7, 2013 but also found there were no psychiatric issues beginning on June 27, 2013. The reports from these experts were actually dated April 11, 2014 and June 7, 2013, respectively. The insurer argued an inference can be made that the judge ordered the insurer to pay incapacity benefits from March 22, 2012 to June 7, 2013, or there was a mistake in the transcription. The reviewing board disagreed with the insurer’s suggestions, asserting the date chosen by the judge to terminate or modify benefits must be based on a change in the employee’s vocational or medical condition. The reviewing board said no evidence had been provided for the dates chosen. The reviewing board vacated the judge’s decision and recommitted the case for further findings of fact that align with the board’s decision, allowing the injured employee to continue his pursuit of workers’ compensation benefits for his psychiatric injury.

An experienced workers’ compensation attorney knows when a set of findings falls short of the standards set by statutes and case precedents. If you’ve been injured during the course of your employment and suspect you may also have suffered psychiatric injuries as a result of the accident, contact our Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys today at 508.822.6600.

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