Psychiatric Injuries From Violent Events and Workers’ Compensation: What You Need to Know

California Workers’ Compensation Law treats Psychiatric Injuries caused by Violent Events differently from other Psychiatric Injuries. This article will explain the differences. If a Psychiatric Injury is caused by a Violent Event, the causation threshold for proving an injury is lowered. This means that it is easier to qualify to attain it. For ordinary Psychiatric Injury cases, the Injured Worker must prove that the injury was predominantly (50% plus) caused by the actual events at work. For Violent Events, the causation standard is lowered to a substantial cause. This means at least 35 to 40 percent. See Labor Code Section 3208.3.

What is a Violent Event?

The issue of “Violent Event” has become an issue of controversy within workers’ compensation law. Violent Events, on first impression, seems to imply some criminal act occurred such as an assault or a battery. Workers’ Compensation Law, however, has interpreted “violent event” in a more expansive fashion. In other Labor Code Sections addressing violent events, violent events have been described as “an act that is characterized by either a strong physical force, extreme or intense force, or an act that is vehemently or passionately threatening.” See Greenbrae Management vs. WCAB (20170 82 C.C.C. 1494 (writ denied) This language can be interpreted to describe a serious car accident or a fall from heights. Possibly, it could describe a trauma that results in an amputation such as a saw cutting off fingers.

woman suffering from stress and workers comp

Does Workers’ Compensation Law Differentiate Violent Events?

Yes. The Labor Code described two types of violent events. The difference is whether the Injured Worker was “victim” to the event as opposed to an Injured Worker who was “directly exposed” to a violent event.

The difference is that those who were directly exposed to a violent event (and presumably not a victim) are entitled to the lower psychiatric causation standard only it is found that they were directly exposed to a “significant” violent event. The question of law and litigation would be what is a “significant” violent event. For example, upon first impression, it could be someone witnessing a shooting in the workplace that would be considered a significant violent event.

What is the Causation Standard for a Psychiatric Injury Caused by a Violent Event?

The Labor Code specifically states that “in the case of employees whose injuries resulted from being a victim of a violent act or from direct exposure to a significant violent act, the employee shall be required to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that actual events of employment were a substantial cause of the injury.” Further, “[f]or the purposes of this section, substantial cause means at least 35 to 40 percent of the causation from all sources combined.”

Is there Any Other Law Which Can Impact a Violent Event Case?

Yes. There is the six-month employment rule which may bar the claim. This means that the Injured Worker must have worked six months in order to pursue a psychiatric claim. There is an exception with respect to it. Labor Code Section 3208.3(d) provides that “[n]otwithstanding any other provision of this division, no compensation shall be paid pursuant to this division for a psychiatric injury related to a claim against an employer unless the employee has been employed by that employer for at least six months. The six months of employment need not be continuous. This subdivision shall not apply if the psychiatric injury is caused by a sudden and extraordinary employment condition.” The question is whether a sudden and extraordinary employment condition can be a violent act is a controversy. For Law Enforcement and Safety Workers, within their first six months of employment, it is likely that they would experience or witness a violent event. Further, there is the question as to whether those instances would be considered as part of the day to day employment as opposed to a sudden and extraordinary employment condition.

Also, if the claim is filed post-termination, one of the exceptions to a bar on pursuing such a Psychiatric Claim, is that “[s]udden and extraordinary events of employment were the cause of the injury.” Again, if a Violent Event was the cause of the injury, an analysis can be done as to whether it would constitute a sudden and extraordinary event of employment.

Do QMEs and Treating Doctors get it wrong?

Yes. Violent Event cases are not frequently evaluated. Therefore, at times, QMEs and Treating Doctors fail to analyze them concerning the right causation standard. In those circumstances, the evaluating physician or psychologist may need to be asked to re-evaluate the case under the correct causation standard.

Are there any other sources of benefits?

The California Victim Compensation Board (CalVCB) can help pay bills and expenses that result from violent crime. Victims of crime who have been injured or have been threatened with injury may be eligible for help. Follow this website to CalVCB at http://victims.ca.gov/victims/.

If I am considering filing a “Stress Claim,” should I consult an attorney?

Yes. A knowledgeable attorney can provide a proper analysis as to whether such a claim is viable and should be pursued. There are times upon which I have recommended against filing a “stress” claim based upon the facts. “Stress Claims” can be emotionally demanding upon the injured worker pursuing one. They must be prepared in order to pursue the matter properly.

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation law, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.

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