The Law & Psychology in Workers’ Compensation Claims

The objective of this article is to describe the legal foundation relevant to workers’ compensation (WC) law, focusing on the compensability of psychological and psychiatric injuries in light of work-related injuries. The authors will also address the necessary steps to a solid and thorough forensic psychological evaluation in WC cases where psychological/psychiatric injury is in question.

In Ohio, the WC system is administered by a government agency, the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Claim disputes are adjudicated by the Industrial Commission of Ohio (with certain appeal rights to court). In most other states, it is managed by private parties, usually insurance companies. Traditionally before WC law, an employee injured in the course of his employment had to be compensated through tort law. Employers could raise legal defenses such as contributory negligence, assumption of the risk, and the fellow servant rule. Many families were ultimately not compensated for their WC claims. The WC system was designed to change these results. Subsequently, employers have a duty to insure their workers against work-related injuries and except in certain situations, they must waive the various defenses available in tort.

The goal of workers’ compensation law is to both compensate and rehabilitate the worker who is disabled or partially disabled by a work-related injury, so that he can resume a productive role in society. Although this system has noble objectives, the majority of claimants report mistrust, stigmatization, payment delays, and refusal of insurer personnel to pay benefits.