Safety and OSHA News

Worker injured by electrical shock; can he get comp benefits for depression too?

This employee received an electrical shock. There’s no question he suffered physical injuries. But did his depression result from the work injury, and is it compensable under workers’ comp? 

Carey Fitzwater, a coal miner in West Virginia, was shocked at work with 300 volts of electricity on Aug. 11, 2015. He returned to work the next day. His only complaint at the time was some numbness and tingling in his left hand, which was getting better.

Fitzwater returned to the doctor on Aug. 17, 2015, still experiencing some left arm numbness but also headaches.

On Sept. 21, 2015, Fitzwater was admitted to the hospital following a seizure and chest pain. Fitzwater was still having seizures on Oct. 1, 2015 and returned to the hospital.

On Oct. 6, 2015, Fitzwater was diagnosed with anxiety irritability, possibly depression-related.

A psychiatric evaluation was recommended and performed on Nov. 30, 2015. Fitzwater was diagnosed with depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and a history of panic disorder. The diagnosis changed to major depressive disorder several months later.

Although other injuries, including seizures, were covered in his workers’ comp claim, a claims administrator denied the addition of major depression.

Second opinion

A doctor performed an independent forensic psychiatric evaluation. The doctor said Fitzwater didn’t develop major depression from his workplace injury and he most likely suffered from personality disorder.

The Office of Judges affirmed the claims administrator’s denial of additional benefits for major depression. It said a doctor hadn’t provided the specific facts and circumstances in his report to establish a connection between Fitzwater’s major depression and the compensable injury. The Offices of Judges also credited the independent psychiatric evaluation which stated Fitzwater didn’t develop major depression from the compensable injury.

The Board of Review reversed the Office of Judges’ order and added major depression to Fitzwater’s claim. The Board found it was well documented that Fitzwater began suffering from depression after he was diagnosed with a seizure disorder, a compensable part of his claim. A state appeals court was asked to review the case.

The court agreed with the Board’s reasoning:

  • Fitzwater’s depression developed after he was diagnosed with a seizure disorder
  • The seizure disorder was determined to be a result of the compensable injury, therefore
  • The claim for major depression is also compensable.

A majority (3-2) on the appeals court upheld the Board’s inclusion of major depression in Fitzwater’s workers’ comp claim.

(Murray American Energy Inc. v. Carey Fitzwater, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, No. 18-0120, 7/20/18)

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Comments

  1. It seemed like a waste of time to get an independent forensic psychiatric evaluation if the board just ignores the findings.

    • To be fair though, it’s very unlikely this guy’s depression wasn’t triggered by his accident… Unless there was documentation of a pre-existing condition, the independent psychiatric eval was clutching at straws in claiming it was unrelated.

      • You must know something about this particular case that’s not in this article. A Professional Doctor performed the evaluation and documented his findings but somehow you know he was just “clutching at straws”?
        It kind of goes with what I’m saying, why get a Professional’s opinion if you’re just going to ignore it. The reason they get a Professional opinion is because laymen’s opinions based on anecdotal evidence is not reliable unless you can back it up with statistics.

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