Social worker's testimony fails to prove emotional distress claim
Case name: Kieckhafer v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office of the State of Colorado, No. 11CA1801 (Colo. Ct. App. 07/19/12).
Ruling: The Colorado Court of Appeals held that a nurse was not entitled to benefits for her mental and emotional distress.
What it means:
In Colorado, the testimony of a licensed physician or psychologist is required to establish a claim for mental impairment.
Summary: A nurse for a mental health facility became frustrated with aspects of her job and began experiencing work-related emotional distress. She sought psychological help and filed a workers' compensation claim for her "mental/emotional distress." The Colorado Court of Appeals held that she was not entitled to benefits.
The state law defined "mental impairment" as a "permanent disability arising from an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of employment" when the accidental injury consisted of a psychologically traumatic event. The nurse argued that the words "permanent disability" in the definition placed too high a burden on workers. She asserted that this definition rendered claims compensable only after a worker completed treatment at her own expense and reached maximum medical improvement.
The court disagreed, stating that the phrase "permanent disability" sought to limit recovery to those permanent mental impairments that had a disabling effect on a worker. A worker did not have to prove entitlement to permanent disability benefits. The court said that under the nurse's interpretation a worker would have to meet a lesser burden of proof to receive benefits or an employer would have to forgo litigating a claim until the worker reached MMI.
The nurse failed to introduce evidence from a mental health professional showing that she suffered a "disability arising from a psychologically traumatic event," as required to establish a claim for mental distress arising out of a nonphysical event. The court explained that the testimony from a licensed social worker and a physician assistant was not sufficient to establish her claim. The requirement for testimony by a licensed physician or psychologist is intended to reduce the incidence of fraudulent claims.
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September 20, 2012
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