Mark Turner, hereinafter “employee”, worked as a security guard for SMDC Medical Center, hereinafter “employer”. His job duties included entry control, monitoring security cameras, providing backup to other security guards and helping subdue disruptive and violent patients. On November 16, 2016, the employee and three other guards tried to control an aggressive patient. The patient bent the employee’s right little finger backwards until it touched his hand. There is no record of the employee receiving treatment for his finger after this hospital visit. The employee went to the hospital’s emergency room, and said that his finger had popped back into place. X-rays taken that day did not show any fracture or dislocation. The employee continued to work without restrictions and did not miss any time from work.
The employee testified that he became anxious about working in the behavioral health unit. He requested that his job duties be modified on December 14, 2016 but the employer could not accommodate the request. He did not return to work with the employer after that date. The employee treated with an internal medicine doctor, who diagnosed him as having anxiety as well as PTSD. He then saw a licensed independent clinical social worker, Jake Pierce Walsh, who diagnosed the employee as having adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood in addition to PTSD. There is no indication in these records that his physical injury was a factor contributing to his psychological condition. The employee retained an attorney, and at the direction of his attorney, he saw Dr. Mark Gregerson for an orthopedic evaluation of his right finger; there were minimal objective findings but this record does not mention any emotional problems following this incident.
The employee filed a claim petition in September 2017, alleging a work injury on December 14, 2016, entitlement to temporary total disability benefits from December 14, 2016 through present and continuing, permanent partial disability as rated by Dr. Gregerson, and medical expenses.
Dr. Scott Yarosh, a psychiatrist, performed an independent medical examination at the request of the employer. He found that the employee failed to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD and pointed out that the employee’s diagnosis was not made by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist as required by the statute. He diagnosed the employee as having preexisting anxiety and depressive disorder. He stated that the degree to which the employee claimed he was injured and the damages are far in excess of what is objectively equitable on mental health examination and on review of the records provided. He could not rule out malingering. He stated the employee may have had a temporary aggravation that lasted three months.
This case was heard before a compensation judge on October 2, 2018. The judge found that the employee did not have PTSD but his fear of returning to work represented a limitation on his ability to return to work. He was awarded temporary total disability benefits. DOLI/VRU had intervened; its claim was not addressed, so DOLI/VRU appealed. The employer cross appealed.
The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals, hereinafter the “W.C.C.A.”, reversed. Mental injury or disability resulting from work related stress is not compensable under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act. In this case, the employee is claiming a mental injury; this injury is not connected to a physical injury. There are no medical records connecting the mental injury to the physical injury. Dr. Yarosh’s opinion does not establish a causal relationship between he physical injury and his alleged mental injury. The compensation judge’s decision was reversed. Since the employee failed to establish a compensable claim, the W.C.C.A. did not address the issues raised in DOLI/VRU’s appeal, as the employee did not bring a compensable claim.
If an employee brings a claim for a psychological injury, make sure that there is a clear connection between the psychological injury and a physical injury before approving the requested care or treatment and paying indemnity benefits. Mental injury or disability resulting from work-related stress is not compensable unless there is a connection to a physical injury.