Posted on: 10 July 2015
In general, workers' compensation only pays for injuries sustained from accidents that occur in the workplace. This type of insurance typically will not pay benefits to employees or their family members if the employees commit suicide—or hurt themselves during the attempt—while on the job. However, there is an exception to this rule. Here's what you need to know about this exception and what's required to collect benefits in this situation.
Workers' Comp and Suicide Injuries
Workers' compensation will pay benefits for death or injury related to suicide if there is a clear causal connection between an employee's workplace injury and the attempt to self-harm. If it can be proven the injury a person sustained on the job lead to a situation where the individual gave into the impulse to take his or her own life, then the workers' comp insurance provider will treat the incident as part of the overarching case.
For instance, in Painter v. Mead Corp. (a case that was litigated in North Carolina in 1963), a worker's family was awarded death benefits when he hanged himself after sustaining a head injury on the job. The employee suffered impaired cognitive ability and personality changes after the accident, which the court found produced an uncontrollable impulse in the man to take his own life.
However, the injury doesn't have to produce an "irresistible urge" to self-terminate in the person in order for the resulting injuries or death to qualify for benefits. In Kealoha v. Director (a 2013 case litigated in the Ninth Circuit Court), the court found there was a clear connection between the plaintiff's injury and his suicide attempt.
According to the psychiatrist who testified in the case, the man developed several mental health problems including major depressive disorder after sustaining an injury on the job. The chronic pain and cumulative effect of these mental health issues led the man to make a failed suicide attempt. Even though the injury itself didn't directly drive the man to self-harm–as seemed to be the case in the Painter v. Mead Corp case–it still significantly contributed to the end result.
Litigating Your Case for Workers' Comp Benefits
In theory, the idea of showing a causal connection between a workplace injury and a suicide attempt is simple. In practice, however, it can be very challenging to present sufficient evidence to prove the case. This is particularly true in cases where people have passed away and, therefore, are unable to testify as to their state of mind when they took their own lives.
This is partly because a person's suicide attempt can often be easily attributed to other causes, especially if there are other things going on in the person's life at the same time. A person dealing with the outcome of a workplace injury may also be struggling with stress from being in debt, a death in the family, or even mental health problems that existed before the injury occurred that may lead the individual to attempt to end their life.
However, there are several things you can do to prove the case. The first is to get diagnosed by a mental health professional. It's important to have your mental health problems on record to defend against accusations of making false claims or pretending to be mentally ill. In addition to providing a paper trail for the court to follow, the psychiatrists can also testify in court on your behalf, which can strengthen your case.
Submitting medical records detailing your injuries and their affect on you will also be essential, especially in cases where traumatic brain injuries are involved. Be certain to get brain scans and secure a medical expert who can testify as to how these injuries connect to any mental health problems you (or your loved one) may be experiencing.
Although it may be difficult to convince workers' compensation to pay benefits for injuries or death related to suicide, it can be done. Contact a workers' compensation attorney from a firm like The Law Offices of Gregg Durlofsky for more information about or assistance with putting together a viable case.Share