Court Affirms Award for Mental Injury of Bus Driver Who Struck and Killed a Pedestrian
Court Affirms Award for Mental-Mental Injury on Behalf of City Bus Driver Who Struck and Killed a Pedestrian.
Chicago Transit Authority v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and Sylvia Timms, 2013 Ill. App. (1st) 120253WC (Filed March 11, 2013).
Petitioner was employed as a public bus driver for about three years. On March 18, 2013, she inadvertently struck a pedestrian. Passengers called out to the bus driver and she stopped the bus. She approached the victim and saw him lying in a fetal position. An ambulance came and the victim was taken to a hospital where he subsequently died. Upon later hearing the news of the victim’s death, petitioner recalled feeling shaken and a little depressed. She was taken off work pending a safety investigation. Six weeks later, she was terminated. Following the accident, she claimed that she had flashbacks of the accident victim and difficulty sleeping. She did not seek any professional help for two and a half months. She eventually sought treatment with a psychologist and was diagnosed with an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and a depressed mood.
She filed a claim with the Commission and she was awarded TTD and medical. The employer appealed, but the Commission affirmed. The employer appealed to the Circuit Court which affirmed. The employer appealed to the Appellate Court which also affirmed. The court ruled petitioner was entitled to compensation and did prove a compensable mental-mental injury.
The employer argued that petitioner was not entitled to benefits under the mental-mental theory of liability. The employer argued that under the Pathfinder case, mental-mental injuries are compensable only when the claimant suffers “a sudden, severe emotional shock traceable to a definite time, place and cause which causes psychological harm.” The employer argued that under the General Motors case, a claimant may only recover under Pathfinder if she suffers a sudden, severe emotional shock which causes her to suffer a psychotic injury that was “immediately apparently.”
The court disagreed with the employer’s argument. The case gives a good analysis and summary of mental-mental cases. The court makes a definite distinction between cases involving a sudden emotional shock versus a gradual emotional shock. The court stated that it is extremely reluctant to grant compensation to gradual injuries rather than sudden injuries.
The court stated in a footnote “We have been particularly hesitant to allow recovery for such claims. We have repeatedly noted that ‘mental disorders which develop over time in the normal course of the employment relationship do not constitute compensable injuries.’ Recovery for non-traumatically induced mental disease is limited to those who can establish: (1) the mental disorder arose in a situation of greater dimensions than the day to day emotional strain and tension which all employees must experience; (2) the conditions exist in reality, from an objective standpoint; and (3) the employment conditions, when compared to the non-employment conditions with a major contributory cause of the mental disorder.
Applying these standards, we have rejected claims for mental disabilities resulting from arguments with co-workers, disciplinary actions taken by employers, and personal matters unrelated to the claimant’s work.”
In this case, the court found that the event of a claimant striking a pedestrian was much like the event in Pathfinder where an employee found a co-worker’s severed hand in a press. In a case like this, the court did not find it unusual that the claimant did not immediately seek treatment. The court held “If the claimant shows that she suffered a sudden, severe emotional shock which causes psychological injury, her claim may be compensable even if the resulting psychological injury did not manifest itself until sometime after the shock. To the extent that General Motors holds otherwise, we reject that aspect of the court’s holding and declined to follow it.” The court found that the sudden emotional shock of striking the pedestrian and killing him was sufficient to justify compensation here.
Comment: Cases involving mental-mental injuries are often difficult to predict. This case decision gives a better concept of the court’s current interpretation of the law. It shows that the court does continue to disfavor mental-mental injuries. However, the court is much more likely to award compensation in a situation where the claimant has suffered a single, severe emotional shock rather than a course of more minor and multiple emotional shocks. This is especially true when the nature of the emotional trauma is not that uncommon in the workplace. The court is much more willing to grant compensation to the severe emotional shock even where treatment is delayed than it is to grant compensation in cases where an individual seeks immediate medical treatment for alleged mental trauma which is cumulative.
Employers clearly have to be vigilant against claims for mental-mental trauma, especially since they can be so easily fabricated.