New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Case: Rizzo vs. Kean University
App. Div June 11, 2014.
In this case the petitioner alleged that she suffered an exacerbation of her psychiatric condition, of heretofore suppressed PTSD from a sexual assault that took place many years previously when she was an adolescent, as a result of an inappropriate contact/communication from a supervisor during one encounter.
After three days of trial the court made finding of fact, relied upon petitioner’s psychiatric expert and determined the petitioner did not prove the any entitlement to a compensable work related incident. Specifically the court ruled although the incident may have triggered the petitioner’s (employee’s psychiatric response, the encounter was not objectively stressful and as such the claim was not compensable. The appellate court (a) deferred to the trial court’s finding of fact, determinations of credibility, stating clearly the appellate review is limited to ‘whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on the sufficient credible evidence presented on the record considering the proofs as a whole while the trial court was judging their credibility. The court then reminded the reader that the petitioner has the burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the link between the employment and the injury must be probable, but not necessarily certain. The key to this case was the claim for a psychiatric injury arising out of a work related event.
The court, relying on Goyden v. State of NJ, reiterated the elements of a psychiatric claim:
- the work conditions were objectively stressful,
- the believable evidence must support the finding that the worker actually reacted to them as stressful,
- the objective stressful conditions of the work place must be particular to that work place,
- there must be objective evidence supporting a medical opinion of the resulting psychiatric disability in addition to the petitioner’s bare bones allegation, and most important,
- THE WORKPLACE EXPOSURE MUST HAVE BEEN THE MATERIAL CAUSE OF THE DISABILITY.