Pennsylvania worker awarded workers’ comp for robbery PTSD

When a worker suffers emotional or psychological trauma on the job, he or she may require mental health treatment before he or she can return to work. Though post-traumatic stress disorder and similar conditions are very real, victims sometimes have a hard time obtaining workers’ comp if their work-related injuries are purely mental.

Some of this may be based on lingering ignorance about mental illness. It may also be partially due to the fact that a mental disorder cannot be seen on an X-ray or blood test.

A Pennsylvania man who developed PTSD after the liquor store he worked at was robbed has won a potentially important legal victory. The Commonwealth Court recently reversed itself and ruled that the man was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

He was the manager of a state liquor store that was the scene of a robbery in April 2008. A masked man entered the store, pulled a gun on the manager and duct-taped him to a chair. It was the only time the man was robbed in more than 30 years working in liquor stores.

He has been unable to return to work since due to PTSD, for which he receives Social Security Disability benefits. He also applied for workers’ compensation and was approved, but the state liquor board and its insurer appealed. The case went to trial and the manager prevailed, but his employer appealed again and the Commonwealth Court narrowly voted to deny the benefits.

The appellate court reasoned that robberies regularly occur at liquor stores, so that being present while a robbery is taking place is a “normal working condition” while working at such a store.

The plaintiff appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Before the Court considered the case, it ruled in a somewhat similar case that workers’ compensation officials must consider the specific circumstances of an individual claim before they rule what the claimant’s “normal working conditions” are.

The case went back to the Commonwealth Court. Applying the new rule, the judges ruled unanimously in the manager’s favor late in December.

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