Stephen Hasner | Workers' Compensation | November 4, 2019
Although less visible to others, mental distress can be just as disruptive to your life as physical trauma. Sometimes stress and anxiety are related to a physical injury. Sometimes they manifest in response to other factors. This might be the case, for example, if you are in a toxic work environment or develop post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing an upsetting event.
Note that psychological injuries can do more than produce symptoms of stress and anxiety. They may also lead to depression, insomnia, panic attacks, and addiction to drugs or alcohol. But, while these can be distressing and even debilitating for the sufferer, they are typically not covered under the Georgia workers’ compensation program, unless they are accompanied by a physical injury.
Workers Compensation and Psychological Injuries
Note that under Georgia law, workers’ compensation does not cover what is known as a “psychic injury.” This means that an injury to your mental state alone will not make you eligible for benefits. For example, if your claim is that you are stressed because your boss imposes unreasonable deadlines and you are being bullied by your coworkers, this alone will not be sufficient grounds for you to collect.
However, if your mental stress is connected to a physical injury, it may be covered. The key consideration is whether the stress arose out of an injury that qualifies for workers’ comp. For example, let’s say you got into a car accident while on the job as a delivery driver. If you received a traumatic brain injury from the accident, which then produced severe anxiety requiring treatment, this may be covered.
By contrast, let’s assume that you witnessed your coworker being involved in the same accident. This might be incredibly anxiety-producing for you and lead to posttraumatic stress (PTSD). However, because you weren’t physically injured, you would not be able to collect workers’ comp.
Pre-Existing Stress or Anxiety and Your Workers’ Comp Claim
Now, you might be wondering what happens in cases where a worker already has a mental health condition prior to the accident occurring. In Georgia, courts have ruled that a physical injury need not be the “precipitating cause” of the psychic trauma. Instead, you need only show that it contributes to the continuation of mental distress.
This means that you can receive benefits despite having an anxiety-related diagnosis before an injury. Here, you would need to prove that the physical trauma caused your condition to worsen. However, this is not always easy to prove. Further, insurance companies are wary of people using this rule to get coverage for pre-existing conditions.
What Injuries Are Covered by Workers’ Compensation in Atlanta?
Remember, for your psychic trauma to be covered by workers’ comp, the underlying physical injury needs to also be covered. The first place to start to determine your eligibility is to look at whether your employer has a workers’ comp policy. In Georgia, all employers with more than 3 employees must carry workers’ compensation insurance.
Next, your physical injury must have occurred on the job. This means that accidents that happen while you are on a scheduled break or while you are commuting to or from work are not covered. Further, the injury must have happened while you were performing your job, and be a result of the job you were doing. For example, straining your back from lifting a box would be covered, while a random brain aneurysm occurring while at work would not.
Note that you must report the injury to your employer within 30 days of the accident. You must also obtain treatment from a medical provider that has been pre-authorized by your employer. An exception to this rule is in cases of emergency. If you need urgent care, you may go to the nearest ER. However, any follow-up care must be obtained by a pre-authorized physician and you must follow his or her advice.
How Do I Prove Psychic Trauma?
Keep in mind that mental distress can be much more difficult to prove than a broken bone or muscle sprain. Your diagnosis must be documented by an authorized provider and there must be agreement that you need treatment. In other words, mental health coverage will only apply if the provider recommends treatment.
Now, if you are unable to work because of stress or anxiety due to a covered physical injury, you may be eligible to receive income benefits as well. However, these benefits are rare due to the challenges involved in establishing a link between your ability to work and your mental health symptoms. For that reason, it can be helpful to reach out to an attorney for assistance with these types of cases.