The Pennsylvania Courts have issued two important decisions awarding workers compensation benefits to two employees who suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as the result of traumatic events that occurred at work. PTSD without any associated physical injury is deemed to be a “mental injury” under Pennsylvania law. In order to recover workers compensation benefits for a purely “mental injury”, a worker in Pennsylvania must show that he or she suffered the “mental injury” as a result of an abnormal working condition. An employee who suffers a physical injury only needs to prove that the injury occurred while in the course and scope of employment and does not need to prove the additional burden of an abnormal work event.
In 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided Payes v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Commonwealth PA. State Police). In Payes, a state trooper’s claim for workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD was first denied by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. The trooper had struck and killed a woman who purposely ran in front of his patrol car while he was travelling to his barracks to begin a shift. The Commonwealth Court denied benefits stating that fatal car accidents and responding to such accidents were a “normal” part of a police officer’s job and not an abnormal working condition. The Supreme Court disagreed noting that “normal” working conditions for those in law enforcement included accidents, bodily injuries and death but in this particular instance, “a mentally disturbed individual running in front of a Trooper’s vehicle…for no apparent reason…[is] extraordinary and unusual,” and constituted an abnormal working condition. The State Trooper was granted workers compensation benefits.
In a very recent decision, a manager of a Bucks County state liquor store, who had worked for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (LCB) for approximately 30 years, was robbed at gunpoint while inside the store. During the robbery, the employee had a gun pointed at him and placed against the back of his head. The employee was also verbally threatened and bound with duct tape. As a result of this encounter, the employee developed PTSD and was unable to return to work. The employee filed for workers compensation total disability benefits under Pennsylvania law.
Workers compensation disability benefits were initially awarded to the employee. However, the LCB appealed the award of workers compensation benefits and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court stopped the benefits. The Commonwealth Court noted that the employee had attended training and was provided written materials addressing what to do in the event of a robbery. Thus, the Commonwealth Court concluded that the employee should have known and been prepared that a robbery was a “normal” working condition of his job.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated the findings of the Commonwealth Court and ordered the employee’s workers compensation benefits reinstated. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court remanded the matter back to the Commonwealth Court for further findings in light of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Payes. The Commonwealth Court issued a new decision in December of 2014. In that decision, the Court found that the robbery which the employee encountered was not a “normal” working condition of his job and thus was a compensable work injury.
Mr. Stanzione has over 25 years of experience representing those injured while in the course and scope of their employment. He also has over 25 years of experience representing those injured in car, bicycle, pedestrian, and construction accidents, as well as slip and fall accidents. Mr. Stanzione is a partner at Lamb McErlane PC and is Chair of the Chester County Workers Compensation Section.