Case name: County of San Bernardino v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, No. E053173 (Cal. Ct. App. 02/29/12).
Ruling: The California Court of Appeal held that a technician was not entitled to benefits for his migraines that resulted from stress.
What it means: In California, an injured worker cannot recover for the physical manifestations that directly and solely result from a psychological injury suffered as a result of a good-faith personnel action.
Summary: An automated system technician for a county alleged that he sustained a work-related cumulative trauma injury to his psyche. He also claimed that he suffered from migraine headaches. He said his injuries arose out of and in the course of his employment due to on-the-job stress caused by friction with his supervisor. The county argued that the technician's psychiatric injuries were caused by lawful, nondiscriminatory, good-faith personnel actions so that any resulting disability was not compensable. The California Court of Appeal held that the technician was not entitled to benefits for his migraines.
The court explained that no case authority existed applying the good-faith personnel action provision to situations where work-related stress manifests itself in physiological symptoms, such as the technician's migraines. The court considered the public policy goals in determining whether an award of benefits was warranted. The legislature made it clear that it intended to limit claims for psychiatric benefits due to their proliferation and potential for fraud and abuse.
The court disagreed with the worker's contentions that the good-faith personnel decision defense applied only to psychiatric injuries, and migraine headaches are not a psychiatric injury. The court said that "seldom are the effects of stress limited to injury to the psyche without resulting physical problems." No evidence showed that the technician suffered any on-the-job stress other than that resulting from good-faith personnel actions. The court explained that its holding did not prevent compensation for physical injuries or conditions aggravated by work-related stress.
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April 23, 2012
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