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Stress Claims and Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

There are two primary reasons an applicant attorney will not represent an injured worker with a stress claim. We’ll explore both of these here.

The first reason is simply a business decision. Settlements in workers’ compensation cases are based on two primary components, the dollar value of the Permanent Disability and money to buyout the injured worker’s right to future medical care.

In the case of a stress or psychological injury, so often, if the injured worker removed from the stressful environment, they feel better. There is usually no lasting permanent disability. As mentioned above, Permanent Disabilities have dollar values. For example, a ten percent level of Permanent Disability has a dollar value of about $8700. Often after a period of being away from the stressful environment, there is little permanent disability or need for further psychological treatment (typically counseling and / or psychiatric medications.) These types of cases are often worth little in value and the attorney will not receive an attorney fee that makes representing the client worthwhile from a business perspective. Law firms, like all businesses, have employees to pay, websites to manage, buildings to buy or lease and a host of other business expenses. Thus, they often say no to a potential client with a stress claim simply because it will not help to support their business.

The second reason an applicant attorney won’t take a stress claim is that quite often the stressful situation involves a supervisor. The number one defense against a stress claim involving a supervisor is the defense of “good faith personnel action.” Unfortunately, there is case law that supports the idea that when a boss or supervisor has yelled repeatedly or thrown papers or was just obnoxious in general that he or she was acting in “good faith” and the incidents in question were mere “personnel actions.” That behavior, while abhorrent to our common sensibilities of treating people kindly, is nevertheless tolerated in the workers’ compensation system. “My boss yelled at me!” is not going to be enough to overcome a “good faith personnel action” defense. Defendants are going to allege that the boss was just doing his or her job and that it’s a shame that the injured worker is so thin-skinned. This is a strong defense in the workers’ compensation system.

What if the stress claim does not involve a boss or a supervisor? Let’s say the stress is being produced by a co-worker. This is a case that is much easier to litigate because we don’t have the defense of “good faith personnel action” on the part of a Supervisor. But here again, we still often have the issue of the injured worker taken off work by their doctor for stress, and when they are removed from the stressful environment there is often, ultimately, little or no permanent disability. Unfortunately, there are no provisions in the labor code that require an employer to remove a difficult employee. That said, if the behavior is criminal in nature, the District Attorney may get involved and a criminal case may ensue.

Many attorneys who won’t take a stress claim will tell the injured worker that they can still pursue a workers’ compensation claim on their own. There is an information and assistance officer at all Workers’ Compensation Appeals Boards that can assist injured workers through the process.

Sacramento Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

For any additional questions please call The Law Office of Alice A. Strömbom at 916-444-7557 for your free consultation. We’re here for you.


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