If you suffer a work-related illness or injury in Alabama, you should be covered by our work comp laws. Should be! Yet, the numerous limitations, hurdles and injustices in our current system leave many employees without proper benefits. One issue where workers’ compensation neglects many injured workers — Mental or Psychological Care. Several practical and legal barriers exist to psychological care.
Are Mental Injuries Covered Under Current Alabama Workers’ Compensation Law?
Let’s start with the issue of coverage. Are psychological injuries covered? The answer is, yes, with a big caveat. Yes, but! To recover for mental or psychological injuries under current law, the worker must have suffered an actual physical injury that proximately caused the psychological injury. I know, that’s a long answer.
Let’s break it down. First, the worker must have suffered a physical injury. Second, that physical injury must contribute to the psychological injury. The physical injury does NOT have to be the sole cause of the worker’s psychological injury. As long as the physical injury contributed or aggravated the worker’s pre-injury condition, he should be entitled to benefits.
When we look at work-related psychological injuries, we also need to look beyond the basics of the law. Many insurance companies use procedural and administrative hurdles to deny proper care and compensation. Insurance companies often pressure the treating physician to ignore mental health impacts. No referral means no care or compensation. Insurance companies often investigate claimants in an effort to allege other issues as the cause. Insurance companies use many barriers to proper care.
Through the years, I’ve counseled and helped numerous clients who suffered psychological injury after a serious traumatic event. I’ve also helped numerous clients who suffered psychological injury after enduring chronic long-term pain from their physical injuries. Many chronic pain patients suffer depression or anxiety from the impact of their physical injuries. One common factor exists — Insurance companies rarely provide psychological care without a fight. My advice — If you or a family member need psychological care following a work-related accident, consult a lawyer experienced in the preparation and trial of these cases.
Should All Psychological Injuries Require An Actual Physical Injury To Be Compensable?
Why is coverage for psychological injuries limited? Why does Alabama require the mental health injury to be tied to a physical work-related injury? Last time I checked, only a handful of states covered mental-only injuries under work comp. Most states limited coverage of mental injuries to certain specific major incidents, certain limited professions, or by requiring an underlying physical injury.
The rationale for limiting coverage is that broad coverage would allow claims for mental injuries due to the inherent stress of some occupations or due to adverse employment decisions. Insurance lobbyists have long argued mental-only injuries are vague and would open the floodgates to claims. While I understand the rationale and need to define the scope of potential claims, I also believe an additional area deserves discussion in Alabama — Emergency Responders.
Should Emergency Responders Receive Work Comp Benefits For Psychological Injuries Including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Emergency responders are different. On a daily basis, these professionals see, experience and help with the most traumatic events imaginable. They are the professionals who care for people horrifically injured in accidents. They are the professionals who first see and experience the deaths of our neighbors. They are the professionals who rush into the fire or smoke to save lives.
Should emergency responders receive work comp benefits for psychological injuries such as PTSD? I think so.
Earlier this year, a Bill was introduced into the Alabama House of Representatives to provide this coverage for our first responders. The Bill sought to amend Alabama law so emergency responders would be exempt from the general requirement that you must suffer a physical injury to obtain compensation.
This is a topic that warrants discussion. Our emergency responders put their lives in danger for us. Our emergency responders see and experience traumatic events as part of their daily work. We need to provide the coverage and care these essential workers need for their own health.
The Blackwell Law Firm helps injured workers across Alabama. We have tried workers’ compensation cases in counties across the state. We believe in advocating for our workers. If you have questions about a work comp or personal injury issue, let us know. Consultations are always free and confidential.