New Jersey Workers’ Compensation recognizes claims for specific accidents as well as occupational injury and disease claims. Psychiatric claims can fall into either category, but have traditionally been very difficult cases to prove. Under Goyden v. State of New Jersey, 256 N.J. Suer.438 (App.Div. 1991), five objective elements must be met for a worker’s condition to be compensable. The working conditions must be objectively stressful, the believable evidence must support a finding that the worker reacted to them as stressful, the objectively stressful working conditions must be peculiar to the particular work place, there must be objective evidence supporting a medical opinion of the resulting psychiatric disability in addition to the bare statement of the patient and the workplace exposure must have been a material cause of the disability.
In a recent unreported decision, Rizzo v. Kean University, (Decided June 11, 2014.) the Appellate Division has maintained this standard of proof. In Rizzo, the Petitioner alleged that she was confronted and trapped by a co-worker and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. As a result she sought counseling and did not return to work. She subsequently sought a leave of absence and later resigned. She filed a formal claim petition several months after the incident. The employer denied compensability and she sought treatment on her own. More than three and a half years, she filed a motion requesting that the employer provide treatment and reimburses her out-of-pocket expenses. During the trial, the worker revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child and locked in a closet. Her doctor testified that she did not believe the response would have been the same if she had not had the experience as a child. Therefore, the judge found that the sexual abuse was the source of her disability; not the office incident.
Psychiatric claims are very fact specific. The facts of each case must be thoroughly reviewed in order to determine if a particular claim is compensable. At Stark & Stark, we have experience in evaluating the facts and the likelihood of success. If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact Stark & Stark to schedule your complimentary consultation.