Pathfinder Co. v. Industrial Commission, 62 Ill.2d 556, 343 N.E.2d 913 (1976), was the first case where the Illinois Supreme Court decided that worker’s compensation claims could include “mental-mental” sufferings. In Illinois, there are two types of mental worker’s compensation injuries. The first, mental-physical, involves a mental injury that manifests itself in a physical way. For example, perhaps an accident at work caused you so much anxiety that you get physically ill every time you go near the place of the accident. Mental-mental, on the other hand, is not manifested in a physical way. Mental-mental covers problems like depression, mood swings, or emotional shock.
A worker can also receive compensation for mental distress that a situation at work causes over time. Frequent verbal assault or harassment are both good examples of events that occur over time that could cause mental distress. However, this over time distress is not exactly what Pathfinder had in mind. Pathfinder allowed compensation for “sudden, severe emotional shock traceable to a definite time, place and cause which causes psychological . . . harm.” Pathfinder requires an “uncommon” event. That type of injury is from something traumatic that occurred in a very specific situation. Examples could include being involved in a fire or watching another worker being injured.
But, how do you know when you were involved in something that will mentally scar you? Most people’s natural responses are to “shake-it-off” or try to deal with it on their own. However, that does not always work. Sometimes you just need to get help, but you may not know that right away.
The Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Worker’s Compensation Commission Division, recently addressed this issue. In that case, a bus driver struck a pedestrian without realizing it. When someone ran after the bus, she stopped and went back to check things out. When she got to the pedestrian, he was curled up into the fetal position, moving his mouth as if talking silently. It was a very shocking scene. The bus driver remained on the scene for roughly four hours, then went back to the station to fill out an accident report. While she was filling out her forms, she heard that the pedestrian had died. He passed before he even made it to the hospital.
Understandably, the driver was very upset. The image of the pedestrian in the fetal position haunted her dreams, so she had trouble sleeping. She began to become very depressed. She tried to deal with her symptoms on her own, but it was just too much. The bus driver was terminated from her position. Two months after the accident, and after her termination, the driver began seeking therapy. Her therapist diagnosed her severe depression and anxiety symptoms. He prescribed an antidepressant and sleep aid. The bus driver went through psychotherapy and desensitization programs.
She applied for worker’s compensation to help with the costs for these treatments. The Commission found that while she did witness the occurrence within in the scope of her employment, she did not seek help until two months later, which broke the connection between the treatments and the events. The Commission argued that Pathfinder called for treatment right away given the “sudden” language in defining “mental-mental” compensation. The Commission thought that the psychological damage should be recognized immediately.
The Appellate Court considered this argument, but ultimately did not agree with it. The court explained that the event had to be sudden and the treatment had to be connected, but the treatment did not need to be immediate and neither did the psychic injury. Of course, in order to have a claim, the injured party must still show psychological injury, causation, and disability. In addition, if the period of time between the accident and the treatment were longer, the court may have ruled differently.
Many people do not realize that mental damage is something that worker’s compensation will cover. Occasionally, that assumption prevents them from getting the help they need. If you have been injured at work, call McCarthy, Callas & Feeney at 309-788-2800. We would be happy to discuss your legal options.