Posted by: Michele Lewane on Feb 26, 2020

When it comes to receiving compensation for an injury, there are various similarities between a private personal injury claim and a workplace injury that would be claimed under Virginia workers’ compensation laws. It’s fairly common with personal injury cases to hear about an injured person being awarded a sum for “mental anguish” or “mental suffering”. Sometimes an entire case may be based solely on the development of a mental condition.

Because of this, injured workers often ask if they are entitled to some form of compensation if they suffer from mental stress or have developed a stress-related disorder because of their job. Unfortunately, the short answer for most people who would like to make a claim for workers’ compensation based on mental stress in Virginia is no. 

Under Virginia’s workers’ compensation laws, mental stress that builds up over time is not considered to be an accident or disease, which is what worker’s compensation is meant to cover. If, for example, you go to see a psychiatrist and the doctor diagnoses you with an anxiety disorder because your boss has been hounding you over tight deadlines for the past few years, it’s highly unlikely that any claim for workers’ compensation would be approved. There was no single incident that could be called an accident and it’s extremely difficult to prove that your disorder was actually caused solely by your job.

There are, however, some specific exceptions where one can make a claim based on mental stress or the development of a disorder. Workers’ compensation claims are sometimes approved when there is an obvious single incident that caused an unusual amount of stress or in cases where someone’s job routinely puts them in unusually high-stress situations—like police and firefighters.

High-Stress Occupations

The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission has ruled in favor of claimants in the past who were considered to be working in inherently high-stress occupations. Occupations like police, firefighters, and emergency workers are examples of jobs where people are often forced into unusually stressful situations that most ordinary workers would never have to deal with.

Mental Stress Caused By A Compensable Accident Or Disease

Another exception that may qualify someone for an award based on mental stress is if that stress is caused by an accident or disease that is obviously covered under Virginia workers’ compensation system.

An example of this exception would be if you suffered a back injury that prevented you from working and kept you bedridden for several months. Then, as a result of the injury and its consequences, you developed severe depression.

To be clear, in this type of case, the treating physician would have to validate the connection between the injury and the depression. You could not simply say that you’ve been depressed and add it to your claim.

Mental Stress Due To A Single Specific Incident

Mental stress may also be compensable if it can be proven that stress or disorder is the result of a single, specific incident that occurred while you were working.

A good example of this type of situation might be someone working as a corrections officer in a jail that is taken hostage by a group of prisoners for several hours. Then. as a result of the situation, the officer develops a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that prevents him from returning to work and requires significant treatment to overcome. In this case, it could be demonstrated that the officer developed problems as a direct result of the incident.

Talk To A Qualified Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

If you have suffered from some form of mental stress or think you have developed a stress-related disorder because of something that occurred at work, you should speak with a qualified Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer.

At Injured Workers Law Firm, we deal solely with workers’ compensation cases. Our team is knowledgeable, and more importantly, experienced with Virginia workers’ comp law. Call us at (866) 977-6933 to schedule a free consultation or contact us online. We’ll be happy to go over your case and discuss what we can do to help you.


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