Mental and Emotional Injuries in Louisiana Workers Compensation
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:
- Mental or emotional injury caused solely by mental stress; and
- Mental or emotional injury caused by a physical injury or trauma.
Concerning 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.
THE BURDEN OF PROOF IN MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL INJURIES IN LOUISIANA WORKERS COMPENSATION
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 that 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 employment-related mental stress or physical stress caused mental or emotional injury is not easy in Louisiana.
Yet Louisiana workers compensation courts do defintiely 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 IN LOUISIANA WORKERS COMPENSATION
Generally, Louisiana workers compensation law maintains the three following principles when proving that an employment event caused an employee’s disabling mental condition:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 before the employment event, and after that 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 an excellent starting point for the employee.
THE LOUISIANA STATUTE ON MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL INJURIES IN LOUISIANA WORKERS COMPENSATION
The primary Louisiana statute on mental and emotional injuries is La. R.S. 23:1021, which reads as follows:
§1021. Terms defined
As used in this Chapter, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, the following terms shall be given the meaning ascribed to them in this Section:
(1) “Accident” means an unexpected or unforeseen actual, identifiable, precipitous event happening suddenly or violently, with or without human fault, and directly producing at the time objective findings of an injury which is more than simply a gradual deterioration or progressive degeneration.
(2) “Brother” and “sister” includes step-brothers and step-sisters, and brothers and sisters by adoption.
(3) “Child” or “children” covers only children born of marriage, step-children, posthumous children, adopted children, and children born outside of marriage who have been acknowledged under the provisions of the Civil Code.
(4) “Dependent” means the person or persons to whom, under the provisions of Part II of this Chapter, compensation shall be paid upon the death of the injured employee.
(5) “Assistant secretary” means the assistant secretary of the office of workers compensation administration.
(6) “Health care provider” means a hospital, a person, corporation, facility, or institution licensed by the state to provide health care or professional services as a physician, hospital, dentist, registered or licensed practical nurse, pharmacist, optometrist, podiatrist, chiropractor, physical therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, graduate social worker or licensed clinical social worker, psychiatrist, or licensed professional counselor, and any officer, employee, or agent thereby acting in the course and scope of his employment.
(7) “Independent contractor” means any person who renders service, other than manual labor, for a specified recompense for a specified result either as a unit or as a whole, under the control of his principal as to results of his work only, and not as to the means by which such result is accomplished, and are expressly excluded from the provisions of this Chapter unless a substantial part of the work time of an independent contractor is spent in manual labor by him in carrying out the terms of the contract, in which case the independent contractor is expressly covered by the provisions of this Chapter. The operation of a truck tractor or truck tractor trailer, including fueling, driving, connecting and disconnecting electrical lines and air hoses, hooking and unhooking trailers, and vehicle inspections are not manual labor within the meaning of this Chapter.
(8)(a) “Injury” and “personal injuries” include only injuries by violence to the physical structure of the body and such disease or infections as naturally result therefrom. These terms shall in no case be construed to include any other form of disease or derangement, however caused or contracted.
(b) Mental injury caused by mental stress. Mental injury or illness resulting from work-related stress shall not be considered a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment and is not compensable pursuant to this Chapter, unless the mental injury was the result of a sudden, unexpected, and extraordinary stress related to the employment and is demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence.
(c) Mental injury caused by physical injury. A mental injury or illness caused by a physical injury to the employee’s body shall not be considered a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment and is not compensable pursuant to this Chapter unless it is demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence.
(d) No mental injury or illness shall be compensable under either Subparagraph (b) or (c) unless the mental injury or illness is diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist and the diagnosis of the condition meets the criteria as established in the most current issue of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders presented by the American Psychiatric Association.
(e) Heart-related or perivascular injuries. A heart-related or perivascular injury, illness, or death shall not be considered a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment and is not compensable pursuant to this Chapter unless it is demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that:
(i) The physical work stress was extraordinary and unusual in comparison to the stress or exertion experienced by the average employee in that occupation, and
(ii) The physical work stress or exertion, and not some other source of stress or preexisting condition, was the predominant and major cause of the heart-related or perivascular injury, illness, or death.
(9) “Office” means the office of workers compensation administration established pursuant to R.S. 23:1291.
(10) “Owner operator” means a person who provides trucking transportation services under written contract to a common carrier, contract carrier, or exempt haulers which transportation services include the lease of equipment or a driver to the common carrier, contract carrier, or exempt hauler. An owner operator, and the drivers provided by an owner operator, are not employees of any such common carrier or exempt hauler for the purposes of this Chapter if the owner operator has entered into a written agreement with the carrier or hauler that evidences a relationship in which the owner operator identifies itself as an independent contractor. For purposes of this Chapter, owner operator does not include an individual driver who purchases his equipment from the carrier or hauler, and then directly leases the equipment back to the carrier or hauler with the purchasing driver.
(11) “Part-time employee” means an employee who as a condition of his hiring knowingly accepts employment that (a) customarily provides for less than forty hours per work week, and (b) that is classified by the employer as a part-time position.
(12) “Payor” means the entity responsible, whether by law or contract, for the payment of benefits incurred by a claimant as a result of a work related injury.
(13) “Wages” means average weekly wage at the time of the accident. The average weekly wage shall be determined as follows:
(a) Hourly wages.
(i) If the employee is paid on an hourly basis and the employee is employed for forty hours or more, his hourly wage rate multiplied by the average actual hours worked in the four full weeks preceding the date of the accident or forty hours, whichever is greater; or
(ii) If the employee is paid on an hourly basis and the employee was offered employment for forty hours or more but regularly, and at his own discretion, works less than forty hours per week for whatever reason, then, the average of his total earnings per week for the four full weeks preceding the date of the accident; or
(iii) If the employee is paid on an hourly basis and the employee is a part-time employee, his hourly wage rate multiplied by the average actual hours worked in the four full weeks preceding the date of the injury.
(iv) A part-time employee, as defined in R.S. 23:1021(9) and who is employed by two or more different employers in two or more successive employments, shall be entitled to receive benefits as follows:
(aa) If an employee is employed by two or more different employers in two or more successive employments and the employee incurs a compensable injury under the provisions of this Chapter in one of the employments, the employer in whose service the employee was injured shall pay the benefits due the employee as provided in this Chapter.
(bb) If the employee is a part-time employee in one of the successive employments, is injured in that employment, but as a result of the injury also incurs loss of income from other successive employments, that employee shall be entitled to benefits computed by determining wages under the provisions of this Subsection using his hourly rate in employment at the time of injury and using the total hours worked for all employers of the part-time employee, but not to exceed his average, actual weekly hours worked or forty hours weekly, whichever is less.
(v) For an employee in seasonal employment, his annual income divided by fifty-two.
(aa) For purposes of this Subparagraph, seasonal employment shall be any employment customarily operating only during regularly recurring periods of less than forty-four weeks annually.
(bb) If the employee was not engaged in the seasonal employment more than one year prior to the accident, his annual income shall be the average annual income of other employees of the same or most similar class working in the same or most similar employment for the same employer or, in the event that the employee was the only individual engaged in that specific employment, then his annual income shall be the average annual income of other employees of the same or most similar class working for a neighboring employer engaged in the same or similar employment.
(b) Monthly wages. If the employee is paid on a monthly basis, his monthly salary multiplied by twelve then divided by fifty-two.
(c) Annual wages. If the employee is employed at an annual salary, his annual salary divided by fifty-two.
(d) Other wages. If the employee is employed on a unit, piecework, commission, or other basis, his gross earnings from the employer for the twenty-six week period immediately preceding the accident divided by the number of days the employee actually worked for the employer during said twenty-six week period and multiplied by the average number of days worked per week; however, if such an employee has worked for the employer for less than a twenty-six week period immediately preceding the accident, his gross earnings from the employer for the period immediately preceding the accident divided by the number of days the employee actually worked for the employer during said period and multiplied by the average number of days worked per week.
(e) Exceptions. For municipal police officers, additional compensation paid by the state pursuant to R.S. 40:1667.3 shall not be included in the calculation and computation of total salary or average weekly wage to the extent such officer continues to receive such additional compensation during the period of his disability.
(f) Income tax. In the determination of “wages” and the average weekly wage at the time of the accident, no amount shall be included for any benefit or form of compensation which is not taxable to an employee for federal income tax purposes; however, any amount withheld by the employer to fund any nontaxable or tax-deferred benefit provided by the employer and which was elected by the employee in lieu of taxable earnings shall be included in the calculation of the employee’s wage and average weekly wage including but not limited to any amount withheld by the employer to fund any health insurance benefit provided by the employer and which was elected by the employee in lieu of taxable earnings shall be included in the calculation of the employee’s wage and average weekly wage.
(g) Date of accident. In occupational disease claims the date of the accident for purposes of determining the employee’s average weekly wage shall be the date of the employee’s last employment with the employer from whom benefits are claimed or the date of his last injurious exposure to conditions in his employment, whichever date occurs later.
Amended by Acts 1968, Ex. Sess., No. 25, §1; Acts 1975, No. 583, §1, eff. Sept. 1, 1975; Acts 1983, 1st Ex. Sess., No. 1, §§1, 6; eff. July 1, 1983; Acts 1987, No. 396, §1; Acts 1987, No. 494, §1; Acts 1988, No. 938, §1, eff. Jan. 1, 1989, and July 1, 1989; Acts 1989, No. 260, §1, eff. Jan. 1, 1990; Acts 1989, No. 454, §1, eff. Jan. 1, 1990; Acts 1991, No. 468, §1; Acts 1991, No. 565, §1; Acts 1993, No. 928, §2, eff. June 25, 1993; Acts 1995, No. 1137, §1, eff. June 29, 1995; Acts 1997, No. 423, §1; Acts 1997, No. 536, §1; Acts 1997, No. 1172, §4, eff. June 30, 1997; Acts 1999, No. 751, §1; Acts 1999, No. 1309, §5, eff. Jan. 1, 2000; Acts 2001, No. 288, §2; Acts 2001, No. 486, §2, eff. June 21, 2001; Acts 2001, No. 546, §1; Acts 2001, No. 1014, §§1 and 2, eff. June 27, 2001; Acts 2004, No. 26, §10; Acts 2004, No. 188, §1, eff. June 10, 2004; Acts 2004, No. 561, §1; Acts 2013, No. 337, §1; Acts 2014, No. 158, §§3 and 7.