People may think of work injuries and occupational diseases as strictly physical harm for purposes of eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits in Illinois. However, in three kinds of situations, mental or psychological injury is also compensable under Illinois workers’ compensation law.
A basic premise of workers’ compensation for emotional harm from work is that the usual day-to-day stressors that all employees experience are not enough to qualify for compensable mental injury.
This kind of eligible psychological injury claim arises when the mental harm arises from physical injury or physical trauma. The physical harm does not have to be major or serious – even minor physical injury, stress or contact that triggers psychological injury is enough. The physical harm does not need to be the sole cause of the mental harm, just one cause if there are multiple reasons.
Mental-mental claims involving sudden shock or a traumatic event
When a mental injury follows from a shocking, severe, work-related event, that resulting psychological harm is compensable. The initial event must be a one-time occurrence in one place. The subsequent, covered psychological injury must not manifest immediately – so long as it is linked to the sudden trauma, it would still be compensable if there is a gap in time between the trauma and the resulting mental harm.
Mental-mental injuries from a series of stressors at a higher level than normal
While Illinois courts have been cautious about applying this theory because normal workplace stress is not covered, if there is a series of objectively observable workplace stressors that are more serious than the usual strain all employees experience at work, and the higher-level stress is a major cause of the claimant’s mental injury, that injury is covered.
For example, in one unpublished Appellate Court of Illinois, First District case called Chicago Transit Authority v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, the court found that a bus driver who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a series of experiences with high school passengers who exhibited violent, dangerous and aggressive behavior was eligible for benefits under this theory.
It may be difficult to prove the required causation of the mental injury under any of these three tests, so the advocacy of an experienced attorney may be helpful to an Illinois workers’ compensation claim. Getting such a claim approved is important, however, to get financial coverage of the medical treatment – which might otherwise be prohibitively expensive psychotherapy, medication or even inpatient treatment – for the mental injury as well as wage replacement for missed work.