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Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Pearson Koutcher Law Explain Psychological injuries.

  • Jon Koutcher
  • 06/25/2013

In Pennsylvania, the workers’ compensation law recognizes that injuries to an injured worker can be physical or psychological (“mental”). It is not too complicated to determine whether a physical injury has occurred.   Fractures and herniated discs can be confirmed by diagnostic study, such as an x ray or MRI.  Contusions and sprains are often evident by bruising and swelling.  On the other hand, proving that a psychological injury has occurred as a result of a work injury is more challenging because of the difficult standard of proof in Pennsylvania and the subjectiveness of the symptoms.

 The easiest type of psychological injury claim is a “physical – mental” claim.  In this workers’ compensation claim, an employee suffers a physical injury at work, and then for a variety of reasons, begins to experience psychological symptoms.  For instance, an injured worker in Pennsylvania may have suffered an amputated finger or limb, and then begins to have flashbacks or nightmares of the trauma, resulting in post traumatic stress disorder.  Similarly, an employee who is injured at work in Pennsylvania who has a lower back injury and cannot return to work may begin to feel hopeless, sad and anxious, resulting in depression.  These scenarios are common after a work injury, and establishing a link between the original trauma that caused the physical injury and the psychological symptoms that follow becomes the focus of litigation to expand the work injury to include the psychological diagnosis.

What becomes challenging is the opposite scenario, when a stimulus or incident at work causes psychological symptoms and injuries. This type of claim is referred to as a “mental – mental” claim. The standard of proof is exceedingly difficult to establish, as an injured worker must show that the psychological injury was the result of an “abnormal working condition.” The Courts in Pennsylvania analyze whether the event is abnormal in the context and relation to the specific employment.  What may be abnormal at one job could be commonplace at another.

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