Monday, September 22, 2008

Unseen Crash Not Abnormal Working Condition

A claimant can prove that he suffered a psychological injury (just like a physical injury) that was caused my work. However, the law states that he/she has to prove that the incident that caused the injury was an abnormal working condition.

In the case of Norton v. J.B. Hunt Transport, PICS Case 08-1569 (Pa. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board Aug. 28, 2008), the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board dealt with this very issue. In this case, the facts were as follows:

On Sept. 16, 2005, a tandem, or a pair of wheels bolted together, separated from the rear of the truck he was driving for J.B. Hunt. Norton said he noticed passing a New Jersey State Police car and then a short time later heard yelling over the citizens band radio that someone's tandem had hit a police car. When Norton heard that the wheels had come from one of J.B. Hunt's trucks, Norton "instantly started panicking," according to the opinion. He stopped in a rest area and checked his truck. When he saw that it was missing a set of wheels, Norton called a police dispatcher. Police arrived and took Norton to a police barracks where he was kept for five or six hours. There, police told Norton that the officer had been air lifted for medical treatment. Norton testified that he believed the officer had been killed. Norton testified that when he returned to work three days later, he felt very uncomfortable driving his tractor-trailer and began having a panic attack. Norton sought psychiatric treatment the following day but continues to suffer nightmares, headaches and panic attacks, which he believes are a result of the accident.

The Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, in their infinite wisdom, ruled that this occurrence was NOT an abnormal working condition. Therefore, given their logic, they believed this type of thing happened to truck drivers often.

The appeal board cited prior case law for the holding that incidents involving death and serious injury may not be abnormal working conditions in certain types of work. "In this case, it is difficult to conclude that a situation where an object falls from a truck and causes an accident with another vehicle constitutes an abnormal working condition for one employed as a truck driver," Commissioner Robert A. Krebs wrote in an opinion for the board. The board found further fault with the driver's argument in the fact that he did not personally witness the wheels of his truck strike the parked police car, which "further removes him from any alleged abnormal working condition," Krebs wrote.

Go to Pennsylvania Law Weekly to see the entire article.

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