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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Compensation denied for false imprisonment type situation

The NJ Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of an employee's claim for mental disability based upon confinement by the employer against her will. The reviewing tribunal accepted the rationale of the the compensation court judge that the event was not a material contributing cause of the disability.

Since the amendment to the NJ workers' compensation act in 1979, an employer is not responsible for a condition that is not materially contributing by the employment. Prior to 1979 the standard was that the employer took the employee as they found him or her. If the work related event was the "straw that broke the camel's back," the employer was then responsible for the end result.

In this instance, the trial judge had found that the employee had a pre-existing mental disability following from childhood sexual abuse and that condition was the sole material contributing cause of the injured workers' mental disability. The employment episode was deemed unrelated.

The Court held: "Here, the judge found appellant's history of childhood sexual abuse was in fact the true source of her disability; this finding is similar to Goyden, where the court found the appellant's compulsive personality and childhood problems caused his unfortunate reactions to his work environment. Id. at 458–59. Here, the testimony of Dr. Pipchick yields a similar analysis; she clearly stated that without the childhood sexual abuse, appellant would not have had the disabling response to the incident. Even though the incident may have “triggered” the appellant's PTSD, it did not cause the disability, and thus there is no basis for compensation."

For additional analysis of workers' compensation psychiatric disability claims see Gelman, Workers' Compensation Law, 38 NJ Practice 9.12 Psychological Disability--Harassment: "In Goyden the NJ Supreme Court rendered a split decision regarding the standard for awarding permanent disability for psychological illness arising out of stressful work conditions. The Court affirmed the opinion of the Appellate Division which stated that stress must stem from objectively proven stressful work conditions rather than from conditions the petitioner found stressful. The Court required the establishment of conditions “peculiar” to the workplace, conditions which justified the medical opinion that they were the “material” causes of the petitioner's disability.....“That Goyden's particular characteristics as a person may have made him more sensitive or susceptible to the influences of stress or even predisposed to develop a psychological illness does not impugn the Court's conclusion that his disability arose out of and in the course of employment,” the minority wrote. Goyden v. State, Judiciary, 128 N.J. 54, 607 A.2d 622 (1992)."

Rizzo v. Kean University, Not Reported in A.3d, 2014 WL 2590281 (N.J.Super.A.D.) June 12, 2014