Pre-existing anxiety, large caffeine consumption sink compensation
Case name: Transport Service, LLC v. Allen, No. E2009-01268-WC-R3-WC (Tenn. 07/26/10).
Ruling: The Tennessee Supreme Court held that a driver did not sustain a compensable mental injury when he suffered from anxiety and depression after a work injury. The driver had preexisting anxiety.
What it means: Tennessee law permits compensation for a mental injury when it is caused by a compensable physical injury or by a sudden or unusual mental stimulus. When medical proof shows that a worker had a preexisting mental condition that was not affected by his work-related physical injury, he cannot receive compensation.
A tanker truck driver was injured when he fell while disconnecting a hose during a delivery. The driver had shoulder surgery. The driver returned to work on a light-duty basis in a position shredding outdated records. The driver testified that his fellow drivers harassed him by throwing gloves at him and telling him to be careful to avoid paper cuts. During another assignment, the fellow drivers hid rubber and wooden snakes where he would find them. The driver stated that he had a fear of snakes and the incidents caused him to have anxiety and depression. He began taking several antianxiety and antidepression medications. The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the driver did not sustain a compensable mental injury.
The employer argued that the driver's mental injuries were not compensable because they were not caused by the physical injury or by a sudden or unusual stimulus. The driver had undergone six years of psychiatric care prior to his work injury. The court gave greater weight to the opinion of one expert because she reviewed the driver's medical records from his prior psychiatric treatment. The doctor opined that the driver suffered from preexisting anxiety which was not affected by the work injury and that many of the driver's anxiety problems were the result of his consumption of extremely large amounts of caffeine.
The court also found that the driver did not have a meaningful return to work because his doctor never recertified his ability to drive. Additionally, the doctor expressed reservations about the driver's ability to climb a ladder to inspect the top of the tanks he transported, which was an essential function of his job.
The court found that the driver's impairment rating was correctly determined because the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment did not provide an impairment for the shoulder procedure the driver underwent.
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November 1, 2010
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