An injury may not be obvious when a workplace accident occurs. The psychological effects of a traumatic on-the-job experience can take time to manifest and diagnose. That delay can conflict with Illinois workers' compensation and insurance rules that impose deadlines on applications for workers' compensation benefits' claims.
A state Supreme Court recently sided with a steel plant employee, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after watching two colleagues die from falls at work. A claim for workers' compensation benefits was filed more than a year after the separate workplace fatalities in February and April 2008. A chancery court initially ruled a June 2009 claim for benefits was submitted too late.
Court records say the "distraught" worker, employed by an Illinois-based steel plant, did not participate in company-sponsored, post-accident grief counseling. The employee later developed anxiety and had difficulty controlling his emotions. It took health care professionals more than a year after the fatal work accidents to diagnose the employee with PTSD.
The chancery court based its ruling on an accident injury date that coincided with the first death at the steel plant. According to the decision, the benefits' application was filed four months too late. A second review by the same court, however, concluded the PTSD claim had not exceeded the statute of limitations.
The state Supreme Court unanimously agreed the worker's injury did not occur on the same day as the first death at the steel plant. The court argued that the worker's diagnosis date was the employee's first opportunity to become aware of the injury he sustained. A workers' compensation claim could not be made before an injury diagnosis.
The case was remanded to the chancery court, which is expected to award the steel worker benefits for permanent partial disability. In cases like these, workers' compensation attorneys can help ease the legal pressure faced by victims and their families.
Source: Workforce, "PTSD of Employee Who Witnessed Deaths at Work Is Compensable," Sheena Harrison, June 14, 2012