Category Archives: Mental injuries

Mental Stress Claims: Time for the Higher Standard to Go?

Workplace stress is unavoidable. From continual deadlines to unreasonable employers to difficult co-workers, most everyone experiences levels of stress and frustration in their daily job. What if the “normal” situation escalates? An incessant, berating boss. A direction to engage in unethical or fraudulent activities.  Witnessing a crime—or even a death—on the job. Any of these events could cause significant psychological difficulties, medical treatment, and lengthy work absences. Is worker’s compensation available?

Wisconsin does recognize these non-traumatic mental stress claims (so-called “mental-mental” claims), although they are subjected to a higher standard than physical work injuries. (Note: psychological conditions arising from an underlying physical workplace injury—“physical-mental” claims—are handled differently). Under the rules established by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, “mental-mental” claims are subjected to an “extraordinary stress” test for compensability:

mental injury non-traumatically caused must have resulted from a situation of greater dimensions than the day-to-day emotional strain and tension which all employees must experience. Only if the fortuitous event unexpected and unforeseen [the accident or accidental result] can be said to be so out of the ordinary from the countless emotional strains and differences that employees encounter daily without serious mental injury will liability … be found. (School Dist. No. 1, Village of Brown Deer v. DILHR, 62 Wis. 2d 370, 215 N.W.2d 373 (1974)).

Despite litigation and statutory changes over the years, the School District No. 1 “extraordinary stress” standard remains the governing law of the land. One of the main underpinnings for the higher standard was the Court’s hesitancy in granting compensation for mental injuries. The restrictive standard reflected the Court’s worry that Continue reading

Long Hours Linked To Health Problems And Lower Productivity

Providing employees a chance to work in teams, and socialize during breaks actually increases productivity.

Today’s post comes from guest author Deborah Kohl from Deborah G. Kohl Law Offices.

In Wisconsin, mental disability claims have to meet a higher standard–an extraordinary stress test. Thus, these claims are more difficult to pursue in Wisconsin, but the suggestions about a better workplace are beneficial.

Today, we have a guest post from our colleague Deborah Kohl of Massachusetts. Many people are surprised to learn that mental disability claims due to workplace stress are compensable by workers’ compensation. Unfortunately, claims like these are on the rise as people work longer hours and feel the pressure of an increasingly competitive working environment. Recent studies on mental health and the workplace have led researchers to discover that, over time, conditions such as extended working hours and long periods of solitary workcan lead to decreased productivity, anxiety, and even major depression.

Employers can create conditions that are more supportive of mental health by taking simple steps like allowing workers to take breaks where socializing is permitted.

While it may seem initially counter-intuitive, studies show that in the long run, policies like these can lead to a more productive workplace. Here are a few tips workers can use to stay mentally healthy at work:

  • Form friendships in the workplace. A positive relationship with even a single colleague can make a big difference in combating loneliness and depression. A friend at your office could provide an ear when you really need to release some steam or just take a mental break from an intense task.
  • That said, make a distinction between work and leisure, and make time for social activities outside the workplace. Continue reading

If You Have Symptoms, Tell Your Lawyer Immediately!

We represent a client whose hands were directly injured a few years ago. The insurance company, as part of its defense, is raising a provision in the law which requires an injured worker to file a claim for a direct injury within two years of the accident (WCL § 28). While interviewing the client, we learned that she had been feeling symptoms in her hands years ago, at the same time as she began experiencing the symptoms to other areas of her body. But because she only mentioned that her hands hurt now, we may not be able to get her the compensation she deserves.

Our client told me that originally brought up the symptoms of numbness, tingling and weakness in her hands with her doctor, but he felt these symptoms were related to her neck, another

If you are hurt, tell your attorney everything, even if you aren’t sure if it is relevant.

area where she was injured. The doctor tried to treat her hand symptoms by treating her neck first. He Continue reading

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Is All Too Real

PTSD can be caused by traumatic events that happen anywhere – at war or in the workplace.

Today we have a guest post from our colleague Leonard Jernigan of North Carolina.

Margaret Anderson, a Park Ranger at Mount Ranier National Park, was killed by an Iraq war veteran who may have been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Her tragic death reminded me of several workers I have represented who had this condition after experiencing and/or witnessing horrific trauma in the workplace.

One was a 20 year employee of a public gas company who was heroically trying to fix a gas leak in a neighborhood when the gas line exploded and burned off most of his face. He healed but has flashbacks of the explosion, nightmares, depression and is constantly irritable. Before this event he was a great worker, a good family man and had a good sense of humor. He hasn’t been the same since.

Adjusters, employers, co-workers, attorneys and family members should understand that PTSD is a serious condition that needs immediate medical attention and that the failue to recognize and treat the condition can lead to tragic consequences.

Another client was on an assembly line in Raleigh, N.C. when an explosion sent a ball of fire racing through the plant. The ceiling caved in and a worker right next to her was crushed to death. Fortunately, because of workers’ compensation, these injured workers got timely medical and psychiatric care, but what about those workers who don’t get adequate and quick treatment? Continue reading

Workplace Stress Can Make You Sick

Today’s article is a guest post by our colleague Jon Rehm of Nebraska.

In this economy where hirings are seldom and lay-offs are frequent, the American workplace is becoming a tough territory to navigate. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention research says that Americans now work more hours than both Japanese and Western European workers.

And this is a serious concern, because workplace stress has been established to have a clear and direct link to negative health consequences.

A recent European study showed that people who work long hours(11+) are more than twice as likely to experience major depression than those who work 7-8 hours a day. In a different study, scientists discovered that the risk of heart diseases among stressed workers are 67% greater.  Meanwhile, Continue reading

Mental Injuries in Workers' Compensation

 From time to time, headline stories appear in the national news about workers claiming compensation benefits for “mental stress” injuries.  Most recently “former professor claims years of mistreatment by colleagues cause mental health breakdown – denied benefits”.  These stories often add fuel to the fire that workers are filing claims that do not have merit. Since objective standards such as x-ray and MRI do not exist in work-related mental injury cases, establishing causation has always been problematic, provoking some skepticism from the courts.

Wisconsin is one of a handful of States that recognize mental injury in all its forms: physical trauma causing mental injury (“Physical—Mental”), non-traumatic mental stimulus causing mental injury (“Mental—Mental”) and mental stimulus causing physical injury (“Mental—Physical”).  Continue reading