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April 28, 2015

An employee, as an active participant in a work-related tragedy rather than as a bystander, is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits


An employee, as an active participant in a work-related tragedy rather than as a bystander, is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits
126 AD3d 1250

In this Workers’ Compensation case an employee [Claimant] alleged that she had  sustained a compensable work-related mental injuries after she responded to the suicide of a patient.

A Workers' Compensation Law Judge found Claimant had disabling depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder stemming from that incident. The Workers' Compensation Board affirmed, and the self-insured employer and its third-party administrator [Employer] controverted the Board’s decision and appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s ruling, explaining that psychological injuries caused by witnessing the aftermath of a suicide have been held to be compensable where "the claimant was an active participant in the tragedy," as opposed to a bystander, citing Wolfe v Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Co., 36 NY2d 505.

Here, said the court, a patient leapt from a window at the facility where Claimant worked.   Claimant was one of the first workers to reach the scene and, despite her lack of medical training, was directed by her supervisor to retrieve an oxygen tank for the patient.

In the words of the Appellate Divisions: “Claimant did so, but began to feel anxious and hyperventilate and ‘lost it’ altogether after she was ordered by facility officials not to speak to investigators about her prior interactions with the patient.”

This, said the court, constituted substantial evidence for the Board's finding that Claimant was indeed an active participant in the events surrounding the suicide and that the Board was free to, and did, “credit medical evidence indicating that [Claimant} developed disabling depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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