Workers’ Comp & Suing for Emotional Distress
It’s well established that working day in and day out can result in physical injuries—whether from an unexpected accident or the repetitive motions of the job.
Sometimes, however, it’s not the body that’s injured, but the mind.
Emotional distress and the resulting psychological conditions can be caused by the job itself or by the workplace environment. For example, you might experience stress, anxiety, depression, or another condition over the course of your job. Many jobs—including health care work, law enforcement, firefighting, and others—can be very stressful. Other conditions, such as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) may result from a traumatic incident in the workplace. Traumatic incidents can happen to anyone, from a health care worker dealing with death to a bank teller dealing with a robbery.
If you are experiencing emotional distress from your job, are you covered by workers’ comp? Can you sue for emotional distress?
Let’s talk about these important issues. Keep reading to learn more!
Are You Covered for Emotional Distress?
Workers’ compensation law varies by state. In many states, workers’ comp covers emotional distress and psychological conditions. Unfortunately, Ohio isn’t one of those states. Emotional distress and psychological conditions are not covered on their own by Ohio workers’ compensation.
A 2013 Ohio Supreme Court ruling found that an employee’s psychological or mental health claims are covered by workers’ compensation only if the mental-health injury is directly related to a physical injury. In this case, a truck driver tried to collect workers’ compensation for the physical and mental harm he sustained in a highway accident. The accident involved the death of the other driver, who drove into the back of his dump truck. As a result of the fatal accident, the truck driver alleged that he developed a stress disorder. Although the court allowed the driver to collect compensation for his physical injuries, it denied his claim that the accident and his stress disorder were linked.
The Supreme Court likely ruled this way because it’s more difficult for workers’ comp claimants to legally prove cause and effect for psychological conditions than for physical injuries.
Physical vs. Emotional Injuries
A physical injury from an accident at work is very definitive. There is an exact time and place that the accident occurred. You can file a report at your workplace and will have medical records and doctor’s visits supporting the claim. You may even have witnesses to the accident. Other physical injuries, like repetitive stress injuries, are somewhat harder to prove, but still easier than a psychological condition. If you are a typist, for example, you can prove that your wrist problems came about because repetitive typing motions on the job caused strain on your wrist joint.
Emotional distress, however, can be tricky to prove. It’s harder to specify and prove the exact cause of the condition. Many people don’t immediately recognize symptoms of stress and other psychological conditions. Anxiety, depression, and other conditions can go unnoticed until the condition is severe. Others even deny they have a condition: because of the stigma around emotional distress and mental health issues, they don’t want to seem weak or “crazy.”
This ambiguity around emotional distress and mental health conditions allows workers’ comp to argue that marital or family troubles, not the workplace, caused an employee’s health condition. Unfortunately, this lets the employer off the hook.
Can You Sue for Emotional Distress?
If you suffer from emotional distress caused by your job, you won’t be able to collect compensation unless you can prove that the condition is directly related to a workplace injury.
This is where having an experienced attorney on your side can be very beneficial. An attorney will have the knowledge and experience necessary to fill out all forms completely, gather all the evidence needed to prove your claim, and represent you effectively in court. Workers’ compensation is a complicated bureaucratic system to navigate on your own. The chances of success are higher with an attorney.
If you haven’t suffered a physical injury, you won’t be able to get workers’ compensation benefits. However, all is not lost! Other avenues might be available in your case, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or a lawsuit.
Social Security Disability Insurance
SSDI is available to individuals with a “medically determinable” (meaning able to be diagnosed by a doctor) physical or mental impairment. If your condition prevents you from working, temporarily or permanently, you may be able to make a claim under SSDI. Whether or not you qualify will depend on a few factors, including the number of years you have worked.
Applying for SSDI, like workers’ compensation is a task that is best undertaken with a Social Security Disability lawyer’s assistance.
Suing for Emotional Distress
In other cases, filing a lawsuit may be appropriate. For example, if you develop severe anxiety or depression due to workplace harassment, you may file suit against your employer for allowing a hostile work environment.
To learn if a lawsuit is appropriate in your case, it’s best to speak to an experienced attorney.
Contact Us Today
Psychological conditions are very real and very damaging to the people who suffer from them. Your emotional distress and pain deserves to be taken seriously.
You don’t have to go through this difficult process alone. We’re here to answer all your questions and help you determine whether a workers’ compensation claim or a lawsuit is appropriate in your case. Our firm has offices in Cincinnati, Dayton, Middletown, and Hamilton, Ohio, for your convenience.
Contact the workers’ compensation attorneys at Casper & Casper Law today.