Case name: Hippely v. Lincoln Electric Holdings, Inc., et al., No. 96439 (Ohio Ct. App. 10/13/11).
Ruling: The Ohio Court of Appeals held that a welder was not entitled to benefits for his depression.
What it means: In Ohio, a long lag time between an injury and the appearance of depression can undermine a showing that the depression was caused by an injured worker's chronic pain.
A welder for an electric company was injured in the course of and arising out of his employment while repeatedly moving an I-beam. His workers' compensation claim was allowed for his lumbar and shoulder conditions. An orthopedic surgeon recommended that he have back surgery, but the welder refused the procedure due to the potential risks and side effects of surgery and his concern that he would be unable to return to work. He returned to work but was limited to light duty. The company accommodated his restrictions and gave the welder a job in the cafeteria, where he worked for six years. Later, the welder said that he was unable to continue working due to back pain. The welder was awarded temporary total disability benefits. The company terminated him. The welder sought an additional allowance for his major depressive disorder. The Ohio Court of Appeals held that the welder was not entitled to benefits for his depression.
The court found that the worker's compensable injury was not a proximate cause of his depression. The welder said that he first felt symptoms of depression when he started working in the cafeteria. He claimed he was embarrassed when confronted with former coworkers who "looked down upon his cafeteria job." His psychologist testified that his pain level and depression were related. The psychologist noted that there was no indication of the welder suffering from depression prior to his departure from the company due to his pain.
A psychiatrist opined that the primary cause of the welder's depression was his loss of work, continuing unemployment, and his negative feelings about the way his employment with the company ended. The psychiatrist did not relate the depression to the welder's chronic pain due to the seven-year time frame between the injury and the appearance of depression. The court said that reasonable minds could reach different conclusions based on the opposing expert opinions. The company provided sufficient evidence to support its position.
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December 1, 2011
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