Safety and OSHA News

He accidentally killed co-worker: Workers’ comp for PTSD?

A forklift driver ran over a co-worker. The co-worker died, and the forklift driver was denied workers’ comp for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). How did a court rule? 

Samuel Jackson worked for Ceres Marine Terminals Inc. in Portsmouth, VA, as a longshoreman.

On March 28, 2011, Jackson was operating a forklift when he accidentally struck and killed Paula Bellamy.

Jackson veered the forklift to his left to avoid being struck by a truck that was backing up.

Bellamy was almost completely pinned under the forklift. Workers used another forklift to free Bellamy.

Her leg was wrapped around the axle of the forklift. It took 10 minutes for emergency vehicles to arrive. During the entire time that the first responders worked to save Bellamy, Jackson stood nearby with a clear view of her.

A series of doctors, including one retained by Ceres, diagnosed Jackson with PTSD and major depression. The doctor retained by Ceres believed Jackson was undermedicated for his condition, so another psychiatrist examined Jackson. That doctor ruled out PTSD, and Ceres terminated his temporary total disability payments.

Jackson filed for continuing coverage under the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). An administrative law judge and the Benefits Review Board ruled in Jackson’s favor.

Ceres appealed in federal court.

Zone of danger

Ceres argued Jackson didn’t suffer a compensable injury because he wasn’t in the “zone of danger.” In other words, Jackson couldn’t receive benefits for a psychological injury unless he suffered a physical injury or was placed in immediate risk of physical harm.

However, the court ruled the zone-of-danger test wasn’t applicable under the LHWCA. Federal courts had previously ruled that employees can get benefits for a work-related psychological injury without having suffered actual or threatened physical harm under the LHWCA.

Ceres also argued the opinion of the doctor who said Jackson didn’t suffer from PTSD should have been given more weight by the ALJ and the Board. But the court said it wouldn’t reweigh the evidence in the case.

For those reasons, the federal court ruled Jackson should get temporary total disability benefits for PTSD as a result of the forklift death he accidentally caused at work.

(Ceres Marine Terminals Inc. v. Samuel Jackson, U.S. Circuit Crt. 4, No. 15-1041, 1/27/17)

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