In one of our case’s we previously reported on in our 12/2/2019 blog post, the defendants appealed a Manassas judge’s August 2019 Opinion. The judge found that the victim’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was causally related to his compensable injury by accident, and that the claimant was entitled to weekly Temporary Total Disability (TTD) wage loss benefits beginning December 12, 2016.
The Workers’ Compensation Full Commission in Richmond, Virginia affirmed the PTSD part of the decision, as well as the open award of weekly wage loss benefits, but excluded some indemnity where there were no weekly off-work slips by the treating health care providers. In short, former insurance defense lawyer Rappaport’s decision AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and MODIFIED the Award below.
At the trial level, Herndon injury lawyer Doug Landau and his experienced team had won on the issue of PTSD and compensable injuries to this professional commercial driver’s neck, low back, spine and legs as a result of a November 2016 work-related crash. The insurance company hotly contested the PTSD diagnosis. They spent a lot of money to have the disabled driver examined by a Maryland Neuropsychologist in a rented office in Alexandria, Virginia. This doctor’s opinion was that the claimant did not meet the criteria for the PTSD diagnosis. The appellate judge noted that the claimant had seen a number of medical providers for his psychological symptoms, including three clinical psychologists and two clinical social workers. All of them, except for the hired litigation witness for the defense, diagnosed the claimant with PTSD. Not one, except the defense doctor, suspected the claimant was malingering, feigning or exaggerating.In fact, the treating doctor, who has seen the claimant since 2017, had explicitly denied any indication of feigning on the part of the patient. Notably, despite his high suspicion of feigning or exaggeration, the hired defense doctor opined the claimant required psychiatric treatment, psychotherapeutic care and trauma-focused therapies, including prolonged exposure therapy which has been recommended both by a clinical social worker and the treating doctor in connection with the claimant’s PTSD diagnosis.
Both the claimant and his wife testified he was in good health before the crash. The trial judge closely observed their demeanor and appearance and found them to be credible. The three Full Commissioners, sitting on the appeal in Richmond, therefore credited their testimony as truthful. Moreover, the other evidence does not show that the claimant was experiencing any psychological or emotional symptoms before the accident. There were no medical records showing the claimant was actively seeking medical treatment for any psychological symptoms at the time of the accident. In light of this, the treating doctor’s opinion connecting the PTSD to the work accident was persuasive and deserving of great weight.
The trial judge had noted that the disabled CDL truck driver had the burden to prove that the medical treatment, for which payment was sought, was causally related to the work car crash. The factual determination regarding causation is usually proven by medical evidence. Medical evidence is not necessarily conclusive, but is subject to the Commission’s consideration and weighing.
On appeal, the judges agreed with the trial judge’s assessment of the hearing testimony and the remaining evidence and held the claimant met his burden of proving he suffered PTSD as a result of his work accident. In November of 2016, the claimant, a CDL box truck driver, was involved in a motor vehicle accident, when he was struck at high speed, without any warning, from behind. This crash resulted in the deaths of a father and a child in the other vehicle. Based upon their demeanor and appearance, the Deputy Commissioner found the hearing testimony of the claimant and his wife credible as to the claimant’s health before the accident. The Deputy Commissioner, who was able to observe the witnesses as they testified, was in the best position to evaluate their testimony. The appellate judges therefore deferred to the trial judge’s credibility determination, which is supported by the record.
If you or someone you know was severely injured as the result of an accident on the job or while working off site, please give us a call (703-796-9555) or email us at Abrams Landau, Ltd. at once, as there are strict time limits that apply.