James v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 1

James v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 1, No. WC19-6315 (February 11, 2020)

The employer and insurer appealed a determination that the employee suffered a compensable psychological work injury.  The WCCA affirmed.

The employee worked as a paraprofessional for approximately 25 years, working with special needs children, teaching academics, new behaviors, and coping mechanisms. In March 2017, the employee suffered two violent attacks from a student, suffering a concussion and permanent damage to her eye. The employee attempted to continue working for the school, but experienced psychological symptoms. She subsequently treated with Dr. Cronin, a licensed psychologist, where she was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, and major depressive disorder, which he attributed to the work-related assaults. Dr. Cronin determined the employee could not return to work with employer in any capacity.

At the request of the employer and insurer, the employee was evaluated by Dr. Arbisi, who diagnosed the employee with subjective complaints solely related to pre-existing major depressive disorder, and that she did not suffer from PTSD or any other psychological injury as a result of the work-related assaults.

At the hearing, the compensation judge identified the issues on the record, including “whether the employee sustained a consequential psychological injury…” Ultimately, the compensation judge found the employee developed PTSD, as well as a consequential psychological injury of aggravated depression, aggravated anxiety, and PTSD, as a result of the work-related assaults. The employer and insurer appealed.

The WCCA found that, in addition to the compensation judge identifying factors to support her opinion of accepting Dr. Cronin’s report over Dr. Arbisi’s report, the judge also noted that she found Dr. Arbisi downplayed the trauma the employee experienced, and that “Dr. Arbisi’s unrealistic view of the attacks calls all of his conclusions into question.”  The WCCA found that substantial evidence supports the compensation judge’s findings and choice of expert.

The employer and insurer also argued that the employee did not raise a consequential mental injury claim at hearing.  The WCCA found that the compensation judge directly identified a consequential injury as an issue.  Counsel for the employer and insurer agreed with the recitation of the issues. Therefore, the employer and insurer were not denied due process and had a fair opportunity to defend the consequential injury claim.

Takeaway:

The WCCA will uphold the compensation judge’s opinion on choice of experts, when such opinion was supported by substantial evidence.