Seder & Chandler, LLP
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Corporate dispute takes turn in Appellate Court

While we don't usually cover workers' compensation topics, this is a case from another state that may set precedent here. Because we defend and fight for Worcester, Massachusetts, employees and employers when it comes to corporate disputes and business litigation, we took notice of this Court of Appeals case that switched the burden of proof regarding a workplace injury from the employer to the employee.

An employee was picking fruit from 35-foot trees at the top of a 24-foot ladder when he fell and suffered "serious and obvious" head trauma. He had been working for this particular employer for just two months and filed for workers' compensation benefits for the neck, back, teeth and psychiatric injuries he sustained as a consequence of his work-related fall. While the employer's insurer agreed to pay workers' comp for the physical injuries, they initially denied liability for the psychiatric injury. According to his state's employment law, the psychological injury was not covered because the man had not worked for the employer for at least six months.

However, a worker's comp judge argued that the employer was in fact liable because the injury was caused by a "sudden and extraordinary employment condition." While the employer agreed that the fall was "sudden," it wasn't especially "extraordinary," or even rare. Therein lies the rub. After much finger-pointing and legal wrestling, the employer appealed to the state's Court of Appeals, where they received the desired verdict.

The legal definition in these cases is that the event has to be unusual, uncommon, or occur unexpectedly. In addition, the court said the burden of proof actually lies with the employee who must prove that an on-the-job-accident was not merely an industry hazard, but a sudden and extraordinary employment event like, say, a gas main explosion.

Attorneys who are well-versed in employee rights, employment contract litigation, or corporate disputes will now have to work that much harder to achieve the rightful benefits for employees injured at work, or explain the inherent risks that come with the job from the employer's point of view.

Source: compensation.blr.com, "CA Court: Psychiatric Injury Wasn't Covered for New Worker," June 28, 2012

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