The Workers Compensation Attorney Group is a highly recognized and experienced workers’ compensation law firm that serves clients in and around the Long Beach area. We can handle all cases related to psychiatric work injuries as well as all work related injuries. There are several possible compensations for a psychiatric work injury, including compensation for mental anguish suffered and for disability. Hiring an attorney will help you get the best deal depending on the extent of your injuries.

What are Psychiatric Injuries Under California Workers' Compensation Law

California law allows compensation for disabilities arising from mental stress caused by your job. Recent changes in the law have narrowed eligibility, and a high threshold of evidence is necessary when proving psychiatric work injuries. 

Under California workers’ compensation law, psychiatric injury refers to a mental disorder considered to be at least 51% related to work. The mental disorder should be severe, requiring medical attention. In some cases, the mental disorder may cause disability making the victim unable to perform specific tasks.

For you to qualify for compensation after a psychiatric injury, you must have worked for the employer for at least six months. It is important to note that the six months employment period with the employer does not have to be continuous. Also, if the cause of the injury was an unexpected or extraordinary occurrence, the six months requirement is not applicable. You have to prove that your work environment or the work duties were greater than 51% of the causes that led to psychiatric injury.

For compensation, the mental disorder should not be a consequence of a non-job related physical injury. You cannot file a psychiatric claim based on physical injuries sustained out of work. Sometimes, a mental health issue may result from a violent act. In this case, you only need to prove that 35-40% cause of the injury resulted from the violent action at work.

You must be a covered employee to benefit from workers compensation. Just because the injury sustained qualifies for compensation does not mean you are eligible. You have to be a legit employee of the company. Independent contractors may not receive compensation if they are hurt on the job.

Under California workers' compensation, the presence of a psychiatric injury is evaluated separately from permanent psychiatric disability as well as apportionment to other causes. The Global Assessment of Function (GAF) rates psychiatric injury on a scale of 1 to 100 on the permanent disability rating schedule. The results obtained are converted into a permanent disability percentage.

On the GAF scales, scores appear in ranges of 10 and evaluate the victims occupational, social, and psychological functioning. The various levels include:

  • 91-100- the victim portrays the ability to function correctly in a wide range of activities
  • 81-90- The victim shows minimal signs of distress such as mild anxiety but still manages to function properly
  • 71-80- The affected person exhibits temporary or mild symptoms of mental disorder especially on experiencing stressful situations
  • 61-70- The employee may have some difficulties working correctly and may have a depressed mood and mild insomnia
  • 51-60- The affected individual shows some moderate signs of mental disorder and may have conflicts with peers. They may also have a small circle of friends
  • 41-50- At this stage, the victim has several mental instability symptoms and may have symptoms such as inability to work or keep a job, suicidal thoughts, or mild criminal behavior
  • 31-40- Symptoms get worse at this stage as the employee may portray total lack of judgment and have difficulties functioning at work or in family relations
  • 21-30- The victim is delusional and shows constant signs of hallucinations and inability to work
  • 11-20- At this stage, the patient may cause harm to self or others around him
  • 1-10- Lack of personal hygiene is common at this stage, and the affected person poses a persistent danger to others and self

Unique Nature of Psychiatric Injury Claims

Psychiatric injuries are purely psychological and go by the name stress claims. After suffering mental and emotional injuries at work, an employee may have to take time off from work and may be unable to perform regular tasks due to the injury. The employee may have a hard time concentrating, communicating, and relating with other people.

The basis of psychiatric injuries is employees' internal experiences, including their thoughts and feelings. Useful objective tests to determine and measure employees' thoughts and feelings do not exist. Unlike in the case of a physical injury where objective tests such as x-rays and blood tests help, the situation is different for a mental disorder. It is hard for doctors to verify when an employee says he has suffered a psychiatric injury.

Psychological disorders may result from a wide range of factors, such as family and marital problems, financial troubles, and low self-esteem, among others. These factors have nothing to do with the workplace. For many years, insurance companies and employers argued that it was easy for an employee to fake a mental injury. They claimed that employees might claim that an emotional condition resulted from stress at work while in the real sense, it has other causes. To maneuver through the intricate process of making a psychiatric injury claim, you would need legal guidance. 

Apportionment to Other Causes

Under California workers compensation, apportionment splits the causes of an injured workers disability into work-related causes and external causes. Psychiatric permanent disability may result either from work or from other pre-existing conditions. Pre-existing conditions may consist of non-work-related-injuries, previous medical conditions, and previous work injuries. Apportionment reduces the victim's permanent disability and as a result, reduces the compensation received.

A doctor's report stating that you are permanent and stationary is not adequate to prove psychiatric disability. An apportionment procedure has to take place despite the availability of a medical report. The doctor provides a report and rates the mental disability. Permanent Disability Rating Schedule helps interpret the doctor's report. Despite the apportionment of disability to other causes, workers compensation must meet all the medical bills incurred by the victim.

Compensable Consequence Injuries

A psychiatric work injury may be a consequence of a previous work-related physical injury. You would have an easy time making a mental injury claim if you had suffered a work-related physical injury previously. For example, if you experience a physical injury at work, then you develop depression after a long period of being isolated and bed-ridden, it will be easy to prove that the mental disorder is work-related. It will be easy to link the emotional state with the work-related accident because it is common for depression to arise when you are experiencing suffering. Other examples of compensable consequence injuries include sleep disorder and anxiety. It is important to note, as outlined in Cal. Labor Code § 4600.1(c) (2018), you will not receive compensation for a compensable consequence of physical injury unless there is a proof that:

  • You were exposed to work-related violence, or you were a victim of a violent act at work
  • That the previous work-related physical injury was severe and catastrophic such as burning or head injuries
  • The said work-related physical injury occurred before 2013

Employer's Defense

On facing a psychiatric work injuries claim, an employer can defend themselves by arguing that a good faith personnel action led to the injury. Some valid personnel actions include reprimands and performance appraisals. Other legitimate measures include disciplining an employee, demoting, criticizing, or transferring an employee from one department or workstation to another. If an employee suffers a mental disorder after undergoing a performance review process at the workplace, the employer can deny liability based on good faith personnel action. American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, revised 3rd edition, comes in handy when evaluating psychiatric injuries. As long as the personnel action in question is lawful and non-discriminatory, it is not a cause of mental work injury.  

Under California workers compensation law- Cal. Labor Code § 3208.3(e), (h) (2018), in addition to a proof of a good faith personnel action, a psychiatric injury claim may also be denied if you filed the claim after receiving news that you were being laid off or fired. You may only get an exemption if your injury resulted from unforeseen extraordinary events in the workplace.

State Guidelines on Preventing Psychiatric Work Injuries

The State of California, Department of Industrial Relations-Division of Workers' Compensation offers some guidelines on preventing psychiatric injuries:

  • Employers are advised to hold critical incident training and debriefings for victims of frightening or traumatic events soon after the traumatic incidence
  • To avoid the stress that may arise from changes made in the workplace, employers should keep an open line of communication with employees.
  • Establishing internal dispute resolution systems and procedures for filing complaints in case of dissatisfaction in the workplace
  • Seeking the advice and ideas from employees on ways to make the workplace more conducive and reduce levels of stress
  • In the case of physical injuries in the workplace, employers should have in place a system to manage job-related physical injury cases. If not well handled, work-related physical injuries lead to psychiatric work injuries
  • Employers should identify employees who may have pre-existing mental conditions and stress issues that may be vulnerable in the workplace
  • Employers should introduce confidential employee wellness to help employees seek help, especially when faced with stress.
  • Managers and supervisors should adopt adequate supervision by ensuring that they set reasonable targets for workers. Managers should ensure that employees have all the resources needed to execute specific It is always prudent to update employees on personal performance and the employer's expectations. Should a supervisor spot a distressed employee, it is advisable to recommend assistance programs to him or her. Always appreciate and acclaim employees' good performance and adhere to legal guidelines against any form of discrimination of employee harassment in the place of work.

Ways of Inflicting Psychiatric Work Injuries

Infliction of emotional distress may be either intentional or negligent. Intentional infliction of emotional distress has such adverse effects on the victim. Elements of deliberate infliction of emotional distress include:

  • Bodily harm that accompanies severe emotional distress
  • Reckless and deliberate causes of distress
  • Outrageous and unreasonable behavior

If a psychiatric work injury has all the three elements, the person inflicting the distress is guilty of both severe distress infliction and infliction of bodily harm

Proof of Psychiatric Work Injury

Medical causation and legal causation serve as proof of mental illness. Medical causation consists of a psychiatrist's or a doctor's report indicating that the mental illness resulted from or got worse at the workplace. A legal causation burden of proof provided by the state, which means that the legal cause of depression was work. For legal causation, the burden of proof may vary from state to state. Some specific indicators of emotional distress include:

  • Duration- If the pain is persistent; it is an indication of severe emotional distress. A vital sign of recurring emotional distress is post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Degree of Emotional Anguish- The intensity of emotional anguish is a key indicator of the level of mental work injury
  • Visible Bodily Harm- Bodily afflictions such as ulcers, headaches, or other pains are easy indicators of emotional distress
  • Doctors Report- A psychiatrist's report is the best evidence showing that indeed you suffered a mental anguish

While proving your case, you have to incorporate several indicators of emotional suffering. 

Factors to Consider When Filing a Psychiatric Work Injury Claim

Getting compensation for trauma and stress is a complicated process. You will only benefit after meeting certain conditions. Some factors to consider before filing a lawsuit include:

When Did the Injury Occur? - According to the California Workers Compensation Law, you should file a claim within two years after undergoing the emotional distress-Personal injury: 2 yrs. Civ. Proc. §335.1. If you take more than two years before initiating the claim process, you may miss compensation.

Causal Connection- Emotional distress, whether caused intentionally or negligently, is compensable; however, you should access the underlying cause of your emotional distress and determine how strong it is. Extreme and severe the underlying cause of your emotional distress, the more likely you are to get compensation.

Physical Signs of Stress or Trauma- It is hard to identify signs of emotional distress. However, if you have physical signs such as migraines, ulcers, or any other bodily sign, it will be easy to prove and claim compensation for mental injury

Medical Examination- Before you start the claim process, it is crucial to seek medical attention concerning your condition. Medical diagnosis is particularly significant in emotional distress cases than in physical injury cases. It is the only tangible evidence you can provide to show that you indeed suffered mental distress.

Is it Prudent to File the Lawsuit? – It is essential to consider the worth of your psychiatric injuries claim and determine whether you should file a case or not. Are you seeking compensatory or punitive damages? Have in mind that claims require a great deal of patience, expenses, and energy. Ensure that you do not go it alone, instead, have an attorney to guide you.

What to Expect During a Psychiatric Injury Claim

Unlike in a physical injury claim, a psychiatric injury claim involves assessing the mental condition of the victim. The injured worker has to answer numerous questions, some of which may be very personal. Some questions may be private and embarrassing. The questions may focus on areas such as past abuse cases, relationship issues with family and friends, sex or romantic life, family history of mental illness, financial problems, and medical conditions. These questions may not be important in a physical injury case but are very crucial when evaluating a psychiatric injury case and are allowable by law.

You should be ready and expect to reveal some personal information in the claim process. You need to prove that other personal struggles and difficulties in your life are not the cause of your mental state. Your issues are no longer secret as the insurance companies, or private medical evaluators try to prove that your mental disorder resulted from other factors besides work. However, while walking hand in hand with an experienced workers compensation attorney, you do not have to worry. An attorney guides accordingly at every stage, ensuring that you do not feel harassed.

The Trial Process

The first step entails seeking a competent attorney who fully understands psychiatric work injuries to handle your case. Ensure that you furnish the attorney with all the information and details surrounding your case.

  • The attorney gathers all the necessary facts about your case. He or she will request to have documents such as injury report and medical record and proceed to prepare the paperwork for your trial
  • The attorney notifies your employer of your intention to sue and serve notice to your employer, and the employer is given time to respond
  • The parties involved; the attorney, victim, employer, and the insurance company may attempt to settle the case out of court through mediation or arbitration. If these procedures fail, the case proceeds to court.

How Long Does the Trial Take?

There is no definite time within which to complete a trial process. The time it takes to complete a case depends on several factors, such as the complexity of the case and the severity of the injury. Duration will also depend on the parties involved and their levels of cooperation. For instance, if your employer and the insurance company accepts liability and agrees to compensate you, the trial process may end early. However, if your employer defends himself and does not accept the charges, the court negotiations may take longer.

Mistakes That May Hinder Compensation

As you file psychiatric work injuries claims, several mistakes could make you lose the case:

  • Failing to Inform Your Employer

After noticing signs of mental injury, it is important to inform your employer immediately and also point out that the injury is associated with work. As you inform your employer, ensure that you give and documents as many details as possible relating to the injury. This way, the employer will have slim chances of dismissing your claim on the grounds of non-disclosure.

  • Delaying the Claim Process

Do not take too much time before you file your worker's compensation claim. It is advisable to file the claim within one year. Staying too long may hinder your chances of getting compensation.

  • Failure to See a Doctor on Time

You cannot prove an emotional injury without the report of a qualified doctor. Mental injury is hard to detect, and the only sure way of proving its existence is through a medical examination. Visit your doctor immediately you start experiencing negative feelings and emotions. Emotions are not constant, and the intensity of mental anguish may fade with time. Do not wait until all the mental distress signs disappear to see a doctor as this will compromise the strength of the doctor's report.

  • Failure to Adhere to a Treatment Plan

It is crucial to follow all the medical recommendations offered by your doctor, even as you carry on with the claim process. Failing to comply with a treatment plan may come out as malicious. If your doctor recommends special treatment or a rehabilitation procedure, you should follow his guidelines.

  • Failure to Go Back to Work

If your doctor advises that you should resume work despite suffering mental injuries, you should follow his counsel. You may have your employer redefine your duties in the workplace and allow you to handle easier tasks. 

Find a Workers Compensation Attorney Specializing in Psychiatric Work Injury Cases Near Me

Complex workers' compensation laws govern psychiatric work injury cases. To mount all possible evidences and get proper compensation for your case, you will need the assistance of a professional law firm like The Workers Compensation Attorney Group in Long Beach. We have attorneys who can help you fight uphill battles against skeptical employers as well as insurance companies and ensure that you receive compensation for your injuries. Call our Long Beach workers comp lawyer at 714-716-5933 to speak to one of our qualified attorneys about your psychiatric work injury case. You do not have to watch your claim get denied; let our attorneys guide you to victory!