Is Workers’ Comp Only for Physical Injuries?

It’s common to think of worker’s comp as being for physical injuries such as a broken bone, a sprained joint, a burn, or another type of injury where the medical care is fairly straightforward. But what about a psychological or mental injuries? How does workers’ comp work when there is a mental issue, not a physical one?

Psychological Injuries

“Psychological injuries can accompany physical injuries or stand alone,” says George Townsend, partner at HammondTownsend. He explains that in order for the psychological injury to count on its own, it must be as a result of an event that “shocks the conscience”. Examples of events that “shock the conscience” include watching a coworker get killed or getting robbed at gunpoint. You may not have been hurt by the accident that killed your coworker,but watching a violent death is not a usual activity and not one that you can shrug off.

If there is any type of claim for a physical injury, the claim for psychological injury gets examined less. So if a person robbing your store at gunpoint pushes you down, and you break your arm, your claim of mental injury will be helped by your claim of physical injury.

Difference for First Responders

First responders, such as EMTs, firefighters, and police officers, are often not able to claim workers’ compensation for psychological injuries. A shoe store worker doesn’t go to work thinking that they might have a gun pointed at them before dinner, but a police officer does. A factory worker doesn’t think in the morning that by the end of the day they will have witnessed their coworker dying, but a firefighter might.

Even though first responders usually cannot claim compensation, the psychological injuries they receive can accumulate gradually over time. Getting threatened once in your life takes a different toll on your mind and body then getting threatened every week for years. Sometimes the psychological injuries can be counted as an occupational disease, but recently the Court of Appeals in Virginia said that these types of events are part of first responders’ jobs, are expected, and therefore don’t count in the same way as they would for people who are not first responders.

In 2019 there was a bill in the Virginia General Assembly that would allow first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental illness caused by traumatic events, to receive workers’ compensation for their PTSD. Unfortunately the bill did not get out of committee, so first responders still cannot get help under workers’ compensation for their psychological injuries from work.

If you’ve experienced an event at work that “shocks your conscience” and you have had lasting effects, call HammondTownsend today at 888-580-9048 for a free consultation.

HammondTownsend is a workers’ compensation law firm with offices located in Manassas, Richmond, Roanoke, Fishersville and Charlottesville.

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