When the Job Causes Depression… Will Bad Facts Lead to Bruised Egos Becoming Compensable Injuries?
Kegler Brown Labor + Employee Relations Newsletter February 1, 2005
McCrone v. Bank One involved a bank teller who alleged she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after a robber approached her window and demanded money. She filed a workers' compensation claim that was initially denied because the Ohio workers' compensation statute excludes from the definition of an injury any "psychiatric condition" that does not result from a physical injury or occupational disease. This is often referred to as the "mental-mental exclusion." That is, in order to have a valid claim for a psychological condition, a claimant must also have some physical injury.
The bank teller appealed the disallowance of her claim to the Stark County Court of Common Pleas, which found the "mental-mental exclusion" unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Ohio Constitution because, in the court's words, "there was no rational basis to discriminate between psychological injuries arising from a physical injury to an employee or to a co-worker and those which were purely psychological in nature." The Court of Appeals later agreed, and Bank One has since appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
In a previous Ohio Supreme Court decision with a related wrinkle, the Court addressed the issue of a whether a psychological injury is compensable when the employee did not suffer a physical injury. In Bailey v. Republic Engineered Steels, Inc. an employee accidentally killed a co-worker while operating a tow motor. The employee filed a claim for depression and the claim was denied. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the Court allowed the claim, reasoning that the purpose of the Act is "to protect employees against risks and hazards incident to the performance of their work." The Court found that in order to achieve this purpose, the protection must extend to anyone that is "psychologically injured by causing or witnessing a work-related injury to another."
The Bailey case broadened the definition of a compensable injury, but it did not remove the requirement that there be a physical injury in order for a psychiatric injury to be compensable. When the Ohio Supreme Court decides the constitutionality issue in the McCrone case, the Supreme Court has the potential to again broaden the definition of an occupational injury. If the Supreme Court finds the "mental-mental exclusion" unconstitutional, this decision may open the flood gates for claimants to file claims for purely psychiatric conditions. This likely would have a catastrophic impact on Ohio employers – and would require prompt legislative adjustment.
We will issue an E-mployment Alert as soon as the McCrone case is decided.