When is a mental claim by itself compensable in Colorado?
Compensability of mental claims
There is specific law in Colorado governing when a mental claim, i.e. anxiety, depression, etc., without a physical injury constitutes a compensable injury. For a stand-alone mental injury to exist, there must be “a psychologically traumatic event that is generally outside of a worker’s usual experience and would evoke significant symptoms of distress in a worker in similar circumstances.” C.R.S 8-41-301(2)(a). Colorado law further clarifies that a workers’ usual experience includes disciplinary action, work evaluations, job transfers, lay-off, demotion, promotion, termination, or retirement. A claim for a mental injury cannot be based in part on facts that are common to all fields of employment.
Examples of compensable and non-compensable mental claims
There have been many cases litigated in Colorado to determine whether an alleged traumatic event is outside a worker’s usual experience and would evoke significant symptoms of distress in another worker in similar circumstances. Here are a few examples where the court has found an alleged traumatic event was a compensable mental claim:
- A salesman’s claim for anxiety disorder and panic due to unreasonable travel demands, high sales quotas, intimidation tactics, un-uniform application of goals and policies, and singling out of claimant by management for treatment that was different from treatment given to other salespeople.
- A vice-president’s suicide due to working repetitive 17 hours days with extensive travel, including flying between Japan and the US every two weeks, that caused extreme emotional distress, fatigue, and insomnia from jet lag.
- An office worker’s claim of aggravation of bipolar disorder due to harassment and retaliation after testifying on behalf of a co-worker, who had brought sexual harassment suit against the employer.
- A fireman’s claim for PTSD due to failing to resuscitate a small boy, who was well known to the fireman because the boy frequently played around the firehouse where the fireman was stationed.
Below are some cases where the court has held that an alleged traumatic event did not constitute a compensable claim:
- A psychiatric nurse’s claim for depression and anxiety due to alleged patient abuse.
- A retail manager’s claim for panic attacks resulting from stress due to increased responsibilities, a job transfer, performance issues, evaluations, and write-ups.
- An executive’s claim for anxiety and depression due to poor job performance based on language barriers.
- A secretary’s claims for depression and anxiety due to increased work load and death of a co-worker.
Therefore, for a claim for mental injury alone to be compensable, the injury must arise out of:
- A psychologically traumatic event
- The event is outside a worker’s usual experience
- The event would evoke significant symptoms of distress in another worker in similar circumstances
- The event does not arise out of normal employment events, like disciplinary actions, lay-offs, termination, etc.
For further questions on this topic, please contact one of our attorneys at 720-488-9586.