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A Residential Program Worker, in a group home setting with mentally and physically handicapped young adults, has the burden of proof to establish a mental/mental psychic injury, in the claim petition proceedings. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the WCAB reversal of a WCJ award. The underlying facts reflect the Employee had 7 years experience and received training in behavior management of combative residents. The claim was for total disability arising from a diagnosis of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder. This condition was alleged as a result of two work incidents, the first involving "calming down" a resident who was combative with others and the second involving restraint of a combative individual, without physical injury.
Employee argued a physical/mental standard should apply. This point was rejected. There was physical contact, but no physical injury to Employee in the work incidents. There was no physical injury that cause the mental disability. In these circumstances Employee must proceed with a mental/mental theory of disability. This standard requires proof of abnormal working conditions as the cause of psychic disability. A subjective reaction to "normal" work conditions is not sufficient.
The Court reasoned that Employee had 7 years experience and training for such incidents. The actual work conditions, in the context of this employment, were not abnormal. She was exposed to the situations, which were foreseen, anticipated and trained for in this occupation. On this basis, there is no evidence of abnormal working conditions, to support the claim. The WCAB reversal of the WCJ award was affirmed.
PRACTICE POINTER: In mental injury claims, it is essential to interview the employer representatives to develop a factual background regarding the employment duties and work environment, in order to assess what is "normal" in the claimant's position.
In mental/mental injury claims, the employee must meet the more difficult burden to prove the existence of abnormal working conditions. The burden to establish a physical/mental claim only requires the physical stimulus to cause the mental injury. Importantly, the physical stimulus must result in some degree of physical injury, not merely physical "contact", without any degree of physical injury. This case further clarifies the discrete burden of proof upon claimants.