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Legal precedent set in on-the-job psychiatric injuries case

Because of a Court of Appeals decision in another state, both employees and employers here in Michigan may want to take notice.

A male employee who had been working for his employee for a mere two months sought workers' compensation benefits from his employer for neck, back, teeth and psychiatric injuries. He was picking fruit from 35-foot-tall trees at the top of a 24-foot-ladder when he fell and also suffered "serious and obvious" head trauma. The employer's insurer initially denied liability for the psychiatric injury because the man had not worked for the employer for at least six months; a term defined by state law.

However, a worker's comp judge argued that the employer was liable because the injury was caused by a "sudden and extraordinary employment condition." After much finger-pointing and legal wrestling, the employer appealed to the state's Court of Appeals. While the employer agreed that the fall was "sudden," it wasn't particularly "extraordinary," and therein lies the rub.

The legal definition in these cases is that the event has to be unusual, uncommon, or occur unexpectedly. The appeals court found that in this particular case, the fall from a ladder while picking fruit was not extraordinarily rare, nor even unexpected when you take a job like that.

In addition, the court said the burden of introducing evidence proving that an on-the-job-accident was not merely an industry hazard, but a sudden and extraordinary employment event (like a gas main explosion), lies squarely on the shoulder of the employee.

Attorneys who are well-versed in workers' compensation cases and interpreting the law to further their client's interests will now have to work that much harder to achieve their rights of benefits for injuries that happen while at work.

Source: compensation.blr.com, "CA Court: Psychiatric Injury Wasn't Covered for New Worker," June 28, 2012

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