Causation in Mental and Emotional Injury Cases in Louisiana Workers Compensation

City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

Mental and Emotional Injuries

Louisiana workers compensation covers some mental and emotional injuries, but only if these injuries are caused by an accident or traumatic event that happened at work.

There are two types of "mental and emotional stress" claims:

    1. Mental or emotional injury caused solely by mental stress; and
    2. Mental or emotional injury caused by a physical injury or trauma.  

With respect to mental injury alleged to follow mental stress, it must be shown that the mental injury was the result of a “sudden, unexpected, and extraordinary stress related to the employment.”  

No mental injury, whether pursuant to mental stress or physical stress, will be paid for unless it is diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist and the diagnosis meets the criteria established in the most current issue of the diagnostic manual in use by those mental health professionals.

Burden of Proof in Mental and Emotional Injuries

When an employee claims that a mental or emotional injury has been caused by either work-related mental stress or work-related physical stress, the employee must prove that the employment-related mental stress or physical stress caused the mental or emotional injury.  

This causation must be proved by a standard of "clear and convincing evidence," which is a medium high bar which is often not easily met.  Basically, "clear and convincing” means that the evidence is highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue; or in other words that something is "highly probable."  

For comparison, clear and convincing evidence is a medium level of burden of proof which is a more difficult standard to meet than the preponderance of the evidence standard (which is more likely than not), but a less difficult standard to meet than proving evidence beyond a reasonable doubt (which is the burden of proof used in criminal cases).

Proving that an employment-related mental stress or physical stress caused mental or emotional injury is not easy in Louisiana.  Yet Louisiana workers compensation courts do clearly acknowledge that traumatic work-related injuries and events may bring about a disabling mental condition. The resulting disability may be either a combination of physical and mental injuries, or simply a lingering mental incapacity continuing after the physical injury has healed.  

Expert Testimony in Mental and Emotional Injuries

Generally, Louisiana workers compensation law maintains the three following principles when proving that an employment event caused an employee's disabling mental condition: 

  1. First, expert psychiatric or psychological opinion testimony that finds that an employment event caused an employee's disabling mental condition is absolutely critical.  Technically, such expert witness testimony is not required, but it is virtually impossible to succeed without it.  In fact, it is exceedingly rare for any Louisiana workers compensation court to find that an employment event caused an employee's disabling mental condition, if the court does not have expert psychiatric or psychological testimony.
  2. Second, if the workers compensation court does have such quality persuasive expert psychiatric or psychological testimony, then it is highly unlikely that any other opinion from those not trained in psychiatry will convince the court to find that the employment event did not cause an employee's disabling mental condition.
  3. Third, Louisiana workers compensation courts will often be suspicious of a psychiatric or psychological opinion that was reached after only meeting with an employee for a single hour or so, or if the opinion was reached based on any false history provided by the employee.  If in such a case, the psychiatric opinion is the only evidence showing the causal connection, and there is other evidence showing otherwise, then the employee may not succeed in his case.  But on the other hand, if the psychiatric opinion reached after only a one hour long interview is consistent with other available evidence, then the employee may likely succeed in proving that the employment-related event caused the employee's disabling mental condition.

Louisiana workers compensation courts generally also find that "great caution must be observed in cases involving mental disorder, to protect employers and insurers against frivolous claims having nothing to do with employment."  But at the same time, these courts have also ruled that "despite using this great caution, the legitimate claim of a disabled employee should not be overlooked."   

Last, when proving that an employment event caused an employee's disabling mental condition, an employee still benefits from the following important presumption — if the employee was in good health prior to the employment event, and thereafter suffers a disabling condition, there is a presumption of causal connection so long as the expert opinion demonstrates a reasonable possibility of that connection.  This presumption alone will not win the employee's case, but it is a great starting point for the employee.

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