Monday, May 5, 2008

Plaintiff awarded wage-loss benefits for depression that resulted from work injury

In Bartholetti v. WCAB, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled a plaintiff was entitled to wage-loss benefits for a period of depression where her psychologist clearly opined that the depression was a result of plaintiff’s injury at work and also caused the Claimant to lose time for work.

Tara Bartholetti was an elementary school teacher who was punched and bit by a student when she attempted to stop a fight. She filed a claim petition alleging she suffered severe anxiety and depression from abnormal work conditions arising from the incident. After Bartholetti’s psychologist testified she suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of the altercation, the WCJ awarded her wage-loss benefits. The WCAB, however, reversed this award, finding Bartholetti failed to prove the disabling nature of her work injuries.

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court found the WCJ’s findings rest on the competent evidence presented by Bartholetti’s psychologist and must not be disturbed. Accordingly, the denial of wage-loss benefits was reversed.

Most of time, the main issue in these cases is whether the work incident was "abnormal" for that particular profession. Common sense dictates that breaking up a fight between two kids is pretty normal for a teacher. However, being punched, kicked and bitten when you're an elementary school teacher might be abnormal. It truly depends on the evidence presented during the hearings-- whether the claimant can show that what happened to them rarely or never happened, and then proving that the incident caused a psychological injury.

For example, there is an older case that holds that a police officer who was involved in a gun battle (and later suffered from post traumatic stress disorder) was NOT abnormal.

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