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A Successful and Gratifying Outcome

| Dec 28, 2020 | Firm News |

In a hard-fought and potentially trend-setting case, both the Arbitrator at trial, and the Commission on review, held that a claimant was entitled to receipt of benefits for psychological injuries and trauma suffered as a result of the claimant witnessing a horrifying event while in the course of her employment. See Claimant connects mental disability to traumatic incident at work. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Bulletin, Volume 28, Issue 16, November 13, 2020, p. 3.[1] The case discussed in the article, Adams v. Dollar General–Ottawa, 28 ILWCLB 168 (Ill. W.C. Comm. 2020), involved a claimant that was a manager at a discount store in Ottawa, IL. The claimant was a hardworking, experienced and reliable employee, but while going about her duties one morning in August 2015, she observed something completely out of the ordinary, when she witnessed a woman collapse and become unconscious in the store, due to a drug overdose.[2] The claimant called for emergency services, which transported the unfortunate woman to a local hospital, where she later died. Aside from calling for help, the claimant felt powerless and/or unable to render any other assistance to the woman, which was very traumatic for the claimant, especially when one of the woman’s children asked why their mother was taken away in an ambulance.[3] Shortly thereafter, the claimant began to experience feelings of guilt, anxiety and despair, and suffered from insomnia and recurring memories of the woman’s demise, all of which were signs that the claimant was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. At trial, the Arbitrator held that, as set forth in the Pathfinder case, when an employee witnesses an extremely shocking and unusual event, something that is far outside what the employee would normally observe or experience in the course of his or her employment, and that also results in severe mental injury to the employee, then the employee’s injuries were caused by and/or arose out of the shocking event.[4] As the claimant’s experience and resulting injuries were found to fit within the above standard established in Pathfinder, the Arbitrator awarded the claimant benefits. The employer appealed, but the Commission affirmed the Arbitrator’s award, holding that the claimant clearly suffered an extreme shock, after witnessing such a sudden and unexpected event that was beyond anything that the claimant could have expected to encounter on the job, namely the collapse and unconsciousness of the woman at the store, and further that the closeness in time and place, between the event itself and the claimant’s resulting psychological trauma, was such that it established the link between the tragic event and the claimant’s aforesaid injuries.[5] The process of the claimant obtaining benefits was a long and arduous, but the successful result was both satisfying and exiting as well, since the decision could further make compensation by employees for mental injuries more common under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. On a final note, the claimant in this case was represented by my employer, The Law Offices of Peter F. Ferracuti, P.C., which made the victory in this matter even more pleasing.

[1]See Claimant connects mental disability to traumatic incident at work. Illinois Worker’s Compensation Law Bulletin (also cited as ILWCLB), Volume 28, Issue 16, November 13, 2020, p. 3.
[1]See Id at 3.
[1]See Id at 3.
[1]See Id at 3.
[1]See Id at 3 – 4.

Attorney Matthew Ludwinski