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Work injuries are common occurrences and often lead to significant time off work due to debilitation and pain. Fortunately, workers’ comp helps injured workers get free medical treatment and wage compensation for their injuries.
But what happens when an injured worker suffers mental injuries? Can an injury lawyer also recover workers’ comp benefits for their clients who have suffered a mental injury on the job?
What Is Workers’ Compensation Designed to Cover?
Workers’ comp is essentially a social program that is designed to compensate injured workers quickly and with little impact on their employers. It provides medical care and treatment for on-the-job injuries as well as limited financial benefits for workers who find themselves unable to work due to the harm they’ve suffered.
Generally speaking, workers’ comp is intended to bridge the financial gaps that injured workers face when unable to work by providing a percentage of a worker’s pre-injury wage or salary. However, from its inception, workers’ compensation has typically been meant to cover physical injuries only. It addresses debilitating physical injuries, such as:
- Broken and crushed bones
- Internal injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Spinal cord injuries
- Lacerations and abrasions
A review of workers’ comp cases throughout the history of the system in Virginia will demonstrate that these benefits are usually not intended, and therefore not available for workers with mental or psychological injuries.
However, as with most areas of the law, there are exceptions to the rule that workers’ comp coverage is only available for physical harm. Certain mental injuries are eligible for workers’ comp coverage in the state, too.
Defining Mental Injuries in the Workplace: Overview and Challenges
Mental injuries are not as obvious or as commonplace as physical injuries, which makes identifying them a difficult task in many cases. Fortunately, society in Virginia and around the country has begun to treat mental injuries as seriously as physical ones.
However, victims of mental injuries still have trouble finding validation for them unless those injuries are accompanied by or stem from physical harm. Without a concurrent physical injury, many, including the courts, are hesitant to acknowledge mental injuries as sufficient on their own to merit a workers’ comp award.
Types of Mental Injuries Covered by Workers’ Comp
Although a challenge, it is possible for injured workers to receive workers’ comp benefits for a mental injury in certain instances.
Mental Injuries From High-Stress Employment
Virginia law allows workers’ comp benefits to be paid to certain workers in high-stress jobs that lead to mental injuries. Sectors in this category typically include:
- Law enforcement
- First responders
- Emergency dispatchers
To collect benefits based on mental injury in these or other high-stress jobs, the claimant must have suffered a mental injury identifiable by a qualified healthcare professional. In other words, workers’ comp won’t cover a mental injury claim without a valid diagnosis of a recognized mental injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mental Injury From a Physical Work Injury
Mental injuries on their own are often viewed as suspect. However, when accompanied by a physical injury, they are more likely to be considered valid and may subsequently qualify a worker for workers’ comp benefits.
For example, an individual who suffers a horrific amputation while working in a factory will likely have a claim for a mental disability along with their claim for the amputated body part. However, without a physical injury, the mental anguish stemming from a work accident is typically not compensable through the workers’ comp system.
Mental Injury From a Single High-Stress Incident
In some cases, Virginia will recognize workers’ comp claims that arise out of a single incident. However, that incident must be sufficiently stressful to be viewed as a reasonable cause of a mental injury.
For example, suppose that a gunman opens fire in a restaurant and kills and wounds many. A waitress there who was not injured may potentially have a workers’ comp claim if she develops a mental injury.
Challenges When Seeking Workers’ Comp for Mental Injuries
One of the main challenges with seeking workers’ comp benefits for mental injuries lies in the fact that the law once refused to recognize the validity and seriousness of mental harm. It is only after much time and research that society and the law have come to realize the real impact these injuries have.
Another challenge with getting workers’ comp benefits for mental injuries lies in the proof needed to prove a claim. Mental injuries are not as objective as physical ones, which means healthcare providers often disagree over their existence, seriousness, and treatment. For this reason, a worker with a mental injury needs an experienced Virginia workers’ comp lawyer to help them get the benefits they deserve.
Is There a Statute of Limitations for Workers’ Comp Claims?
Workers’ comp claims in Virginia have a statute of limitations of two years in most cases. For injuries that develop over time, the clock does not start ticking until the injury or condition has been identified.
Should I Hire a Lawyer to Pursue Workers’ Comp Benefits for a Mental Injury?
Yes. If you are in need of benefits for a mental injury, it is strongly recommended that you hire experienced legal counsel. Claimants seeking workers’ comp benefits based on mental injuries face challenges in recovering benefits and getting treatment for their injuries. An experienced workers’ comp lawyer can overcome these difficulties.
How Much Do Workers’ Comp Lawyers Charge?
Workers’ comp lawyers charge a maximum contingency fee that can be as low as 10% of the benefits recovered and can go up to 20% in most cases.
Get the Representation You Deserve
If you have suffered mental harm while at work, recovering benefits from workers’ comp may be a challenge, but it is not an impossible feat. The Commonwealth Law Group is ready to review your case and discuss your options for pursuing damages. Please feel free to call us for a free consultation and learn how we can potentially help.
If you have been injured at work or through the negligence of another individual or entity, contact us at (804) 999-9999 or or use the form below to connect with our legal team. We will fight to get you the justice you deserve.