The New York State Workers’ Compensation Board allows, in certain circumstances, for stress related mental injuries to be found compensable.
Excessive work related stress which results in psychological injury, usually diagnosed as depression and/or anxiety, will be treated just as a physical injury caused by an accident at work. In order for a psychological condition to be compensable, it does not have to arise out of a single traumatic incident. Instead the work related stressors can be ongoing and progressive over the course of time.
“Stress” cases are often complicated and required extensive litigation before a formal ruling is made by the Law Judge regarding compensability. A claimant’s prior psychological history will almost always be brought into question, however, the fact that a claimant may have had prior treatment for a similar condition does not automatically defeat the stress claim.
Workers’ Compensation Law Section 2(7) states that a stress claim will not be established where it “is a direct consequence of a lawful personnel decision involving disciplinary action, work evaluation, job transfer, demotion, or termination taken in good faith by the employer.” This means that if the stress claim results solely from a legitimate personnel decision it will fail.
Given the existence of Workers’ Compensation Law Section 2(7), insurance carriers and employers will usually try to pigeon hole their defense in attempting to demonstrate that the stress is a result of a legitimate, lawful personnel business decision.
The difference between a strictly mental injury and a consequential psychological injury is important to note. A “consequential” injury is one that results from a physical injury. For example, many claimants begin to experience depression and anxiety following the work related injury as a result of their inability to work, inability to earn their regular wages, as well as difficulties with dealing with the severe pain and discomfort associated with their injuries. A claim for consequential anxiety is somewhat common. Our experience has been that claims for consequential anxiety are not as aggressively defended as mental only injuries.