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Martin County Coal Co. v. Goble – On Permanent Psychological Impairments

On Behalf of | Jan 6, 2015 | Georgia Workers' Compensation |

In most work-related injury claims, the primary focus is on physical injuries. However, there are some cases in which psychological injuries may have been sustained as well as a result of the physical injury or related work incident.Such injuries, which may include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pain disorder and adjustment disorders, are more difficult to prove to state workers’ compensation board officials. This is particularly true when injured workers are seeking to show permanent psychological injuries.

But as the recent case of Martin County Coal Co. v. Goble, it most certainly is possible with the proper evidence.

As our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers understand it, the dispute was between a coal company and its former employee. While court records from the Kentucky Supreme Court on the case do not detail the exact nature of the incident resulting in injury, we do know the fact the worker suffered a work-related back injury was not disputed. What was argued by defendant company was the state Workers’ Compensation Board had no grounds on which to find a companion permanent psychological impairment rating.

The state supreme court disagreed, finding the ruling of the administrative law judge well within acceptable civil rules, standards and procedures.

According to court records, the injury occurred in August 2009. Since that time, the worker underwent conservative medical care, which mostly involved medication and certain exercise. Despite this, worker continuously complained of ongoing back pain, which radiated to his right leg.

In addition to the physical ailments, worker also struggled with depression and anxiety, which he purports are related to the back injury. He never sought treatment for the psychological illnesses.

He later filed a claim for benefits, citing not just the back injury but also the psychological injuries.

Following an extensive review of the evidence, the administrative law judge issued a 12 percent permanent impairment rating – 7 percent for plaintiff’s lower back injuries and another 5 percent related to his psychological injury. Benefits were awarded accordingly.

Employer did not fight back on the permanent impairment rating relating to the back injury. However, it argued the ALJ abused its discretion in finding permanent psychological injury related to the work accident.

The ALJ denied defense petition for reconsideration, and the state Board later affirmed the ALJ’s ruling. Defense then appealed to the state supreme court. Again, the ruling was affirmed.

The state supreme court noted that while claimants in workers’ compensation claims do bear the burden of proof to show every element of a claim before an ALJ and in this case, the evidence presented by plaintiff regarding his psychological injury was slim, the evidence presented by defense was flimsier. Defense argued any psychological injury was more likely related to sleep pathology or hypothyroidism. However, although plaintiff had been diagnosed with these problems years earlier, there was no evidence he currently suffered from sleep pathology. Further, defense provided scant evidence asserting a connection, aside from testimony by a single doctor who stated it was possible they could be related. However, the ALJ found the doctor’s opinion to be unpersuasive, which well within the ALJ’s discretion to do, the high court ruled.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-920-4708 .