Appellant worked as a secretary for T. Rowe Price in their sky-scraper. Next door, another skyscraper was being built. This produced an infernal din that bordered on intolerable, despite (or perhaps because) her office was on the top floor. One day, a crane working on that skyscraper accidentally dropped a three ton beam through the roof of her skyscraper. The beam struck five feet from her desk and understandably caused severe damage to the office. Defendant escaped unscathed physically, but came down with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident.
Workers Compensation Commission denied Appellant recovery on the grounds that her injury was purely mental and therefore not compensable. She appealed to the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court upheld the Commission on the same grounds. The Court of Appeals granted certiorari before the Court of Special Appeals heard the case.
Are purely mental injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder compensable as personal injuries under the Maryland Workers Compensation Act?
Holding and Rational
Yes. Worker’s Compensation covers mental injuries. Reversing existing law and bucking a legal trend, the Court recognized that “mental injuries can be as real as broken bones” and may result in even greater disabilities.
To prevent fraud, the harm must be “real and serious,” and “capable of objective determination.” In the case at bar, appellant’s diagnosis was sufficient evidence to meet the standard.
The Court remanded the case to Circuit Court for a new hearing on the merits. The trial court had not formally found that the mental harm had been the result of a workplace accident.
Belcher v. T. Rowe Price Foundation, Inc. et al., 329 Md. 709 (1993).
- Harm to worker does not have to be immediate or coincide with the accident in order to be compensable. Code, Labor and Employment, § 9-101(b).
- Damages may be recovered for emotional distress capable of objective determination; damages resulting from harm which is psychological in nature may be obtained, independent of physiological harm, provided that cause and effect of psychological harm are established.
- Where reasonable assurance that claim for emotional harm is not specious can be found, so that the mental distress appears to be real and serious, there is no good reason to deny recovery but, where such assurance is not found, recovery should be denied.
- Right to benefits under workers’ compensation laws is based largely on social theory of providing support and preventing destitution, rather than settling accounts between two individuals according to their personal deserts or blame. Code, Labor and Employment, § 9-101 et seq.
- In exchange for receiving compensation regardless of fault, employee abandons right to seek common-law tort damages from the employer, although some actions against third parties are still possible. Code, Labor and Employment, § 9-902(e)(2).
- More than merely indemnifying workers for injuries sustained on the job, workers’ compensation system provides compensation when earning power is lost as a result of work-related disabilities. Code, Labor and Employment, § 9-101 et seq.
- Concept of physical injury which court has adopted with respect to emotional distress in tort actions applies to personal injury under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Code, Labor and Employment, § 9-101(b).
- Mental condition can be compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act even where there is no physical injury. Code, Labor and Employment, § 9-101(b).
- Injury under the Workers’ Compensation Act may be psychological in nature if the mental state for which recovery is sought is capable of objective determination. Code, Labor and Employment, §9-101(b).
Source: Morgan Carlo