For many Floridians, a job is the most stressful part of their lives. Pressure on hours, wages, incentives, and job performance can lead to many physical and psychological symptoms which can adversely affect an employee's mental and physical health. If the employer's conduct is particularly egregious, an employee may have a legal claim against the employer. The employee may also be entitled to worker's compensation benefits for mental illnesses and symptoms which are sustained in the course of employment. For over forty-six years, the Dolman law group has been protecting the rights of injured workers in the Clearwater area. They fight hard for the legal rights of injury victims.
Who is Eligible for a Worker's Compensation Claim?
Most Florida employers have a legal obligation to either purchase worker's compensation coverage or contribute to state-funded worker's compensation coverage. In this manner, workers who sustain injuries on the job can then seek insurance coverage through the worker's compensation program in which their employers participate. Eligible injuries must be sustained “in the scope of employment.” Thus, an employee who is injured at home, or during the commute to or from work cannot be compensated for that injury through worker's compensation coverage.
But what constitutes an illness or injury? Many people imagine serious car accidents, loss of limbs, or paralysis when they imagine workplace injuries. But an illness or injury can be compensable even when it is not as obvious as a broken bone. The signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are far more subtle, but they can seriously affect an employee's mental and physical health.
Florida's Statutory Restrictions on Mental and Nervous Injuries Subject to Worker's Compensation
The Florida State Legislature has attempted to resolve some of the challenges with applying worker's compensation law to mental health injuries by enacting Section 440.093 of the Florida Statutes. This statute sets specific requirements and restrictions for eligibility of worker's compensation benefits for a mental or nervous injury. First, an injury due to stress, fright, or excitement only is not an injury by accident arising out of the employment, and thus not eligible for compensation. Next, mental injuries must be accompanied by a physical injury requiring medical treatment in order to be eligible for worker's compensation. But secondary physical injuries caused solely by the mental injury are not compensable. Example would include headaches, ulcers, or other physical symptoms which occur as a result of the mental injury. Rather, the mental injury must be the result of the physical injury which was sustained.
The Supreme Court of Florida examined this requirement in the case of McKenzie v. Mental Health Inc. (Docket No. 1D09-3922; decided July 23, 2010.) In this case, the worker was a nurse in a psychiatric unit who was attacked by a patient. The nurse suffered a laryngeal contusion (a bruised throat) and a vocal cord hematoma (blood clot). She also submitted a claim for psychological injuries as a result of the attack. Her employer accepted the claim for her throat injuries but denied the claim for psychological treatment. The nurse appealed this decision all the way to the state Supreme Court. The Court opined that the statute required the psychological injury to result from the physical injury. In this case, where the nurse presented no evidence that her psychological injuries resulted from her throat injuries, the Supreme Court held that the claim should be denied.
Claimants must prove their mental illness by evidence from a licensed psychiatrist. The evidence must also meet the “clear and convincing” standard, which is higher than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard which other worker's compensation claims must meet. These requirements place a heavier burden of proof on a claimant. The compensable physical injury must be at least fifty percent responsible for the nervous or mental injury. This rule shifts the focus away from mental injuries and sets it on physical injuries. Mental or nervous injuries are demoted to a secondary condition which is only compensable as incidental to the primary physical injury. While this rule does not speak highly of the Legislature's opinion of mental or emotional injuries, it does manage worker's compensation premiums by reducing the number of claims which are paid.
Finally, the statute invokes a time limit upon the payment of temporary benefits for a compensable mental injury. Such benefits may not be paid for more than six months after the date of Maximum Medical Improvement. This is the point at which medical treatment will not improve the injured employee's condition.
Other Sources of Compensation
As you can see, the Florida Legislature has seriously restricted the situations in which an employee may access worker's compensation for mental injuries. But this is not the only way in which workers can be compensated for work-related illnesses. Medicare or Medicaid benefits may be available to eligible taxpayers. Disability or unemployment benefits may be available to injured employees who are unable to work. Victims of particularly egregious workplace behavior may also have a civil claim against the employer.
When litigating a civil claim, it can, however, be difficult to prove that your mental illness occurred as a direct result of your employment. Mental health diagnoses are often a combination of many difficult events. When a worker is undergoing other stressful life events, such as a divorce or a death in the family, it can be difficult to prove that the illness occurred within the scope of employment. But it is not impossible. Egregious conduct on the part of an employer can help strengthen an employee's claim for worker's compensation. Belittling, intimidation, yelling, and other such behavior in the workplace can help establish this connection. Other aggravating workplace conditions, such as timers or monitoring or other excessive control, might also help prove the employee's claim.
The Right Legal Representation for your Work Claim
However your workplace injury occurred, you need an experienced personal injury attorney who will aggressively defend your right to be compensated for your losses. The Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA has over forty-six years of experience in protecting the rights of injury victims in and around the Clearwater area. Call (727) 451-6900 to schedule your free consultation with a worker's compensation attorney today. Injury victims across southern Florida trust our professional staff, comprehensive legal expertise, and superior customer service.Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 727-451-6900