When a small car failed to stop at a traffic light and smashed into the back of a big box truck at high speed, no one foresaw the long-term ramifications to the driver who was rear-ended. The crash occurred three years ago, the occupants of the small car died on the scene and the driver briefly tried to return to his job, but when his condition worsened, he was taken off work by his doctor and has been completely disabled for the last 3 years. The injured driver not only had orthopedic injuries to his back and neck, but showed signs of emotional distress at the scene when the police and emergency medical personnel arrived.
Because the case came late to ABRAMS LANDAU, the Personal Injury and Workers Comp cases came AFTER the Social Security Disability case! This is unusual, as Social Security Disability cases often take many years, whereas Personal Injury cases in Virginia take less time. When the case came to court, the ABRAMS LANDAU team had to show that the client not only had the physical injuries in the crash, many of which had healed, but also Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), for which he was still treating. The client alleged that his PTSD was causally related to the compensable work accident.
The judge in Manassas indicated that an injured worker may prove compensability of his PTSD either as a disease or an injury by accident, noting that:
“PTSD will be considered an injury by accident if it results from a physical injury or obvious shock or fright.”
The Prince William County judge further noted that causation between a work accident and injury is essentially a medical determination that the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission typically resolves by reference to medical reports. However, no medical opinion submitted in evidence is necessarily conclusive, but is rather subject to the Commission’s consideration and weighing. As the trier of fact, the Commission should and must weigh the evidence submitted by the parties. In so doing, the Commission is “free to give no weight, some weight, or significant weight” to medical evidence. Medical records come in to evidence without the need for a “live witness” or medical expert to introduce them, unlike in a jury trial case. Furthermore, since doctors and health care providers do not normally come to testify in workers comp claims, it is important to give context to the symptoms, treatment and aspects of disability that may not be reflected in the medical records. That is why Doug Landau almost always bring witnesses to talk about his clients’ physical and mental condition as the result of the crash. These witnesses are not “expert,” but they can usually talk about the injured victim’s pre- AND post-crash condition.
In the box truck crash case, the Manassas judge found the evidence sufficiently proved the claimant’s diagnosis of PTSD was causally related to the 2016 crash. In support of this decision, the judge noted that,
“the claimant has seen a number of medical providers for his psychological symptoms, including three clinical psychologists and two clinical social workers. All, except [the insurance company’s medical examiner], have diagnosed the claimant with PTSD. Not one, except [the insurance company doctor], suspected the claimant was malingering, feigning or exaggerating. In fact, [the main treating doctor], who has seen the claimant since 2017, has explicitly denied any indication of feigning on the part of the claimant. Notably, despite his high suspicion of feigning or exaggeration, [even the insurance company’s expert forensic witness] 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 specialist] in connection with the claimant’s PTSD diagnosis.
The judge carefully reviewed the medical records, and mentioned the fact that, the medical evidence showed that after the claimant was discharged from the emergency room on the date of accident, he was advised to seek medical assistance for any “emotional needs.” Less than two months after the accident, the box truck driver saw a clinical social worker for sleep disturbance, anxiety, depressed mood and panic attacks. The social worker identified the claimant’s work accident as the precipitating event causing his symptoms. She diagnosed PTSD. Both [the treating specialist] and the psychologist who saw the claimant for an evaluation connected with his application for Social Security Disability Benefits, opined the box truck driver suffers from PTSD. The long-time treating specialist positively related the diagnosis to the work accident. The judge noted that both the claimant and his wife testified the claimant was in good health before the accident.
The judges in Virginia not only read and listen to the medical records and other documentary evidence, they also get to weigh the credibility of the witnesses that testify. The judge in this case wrote,
We closely observed their demeanor and appearance and find them to be credible. We therefore credit their testimony as truthful. Moreover, the other evidence does not show the claimant was experiencing any psychological or emotional symptoms before the accident. There are 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, we find [the treating doctor’s] opinion connecting the PTSD to the work accident is persuasive and deserves great weight. To be sure, the claimant has been diagnosed with PTSD in connection with physical injuries sustained in the vehicular accident. In addition, we find the facts of this case illustrate a sudden shock or fright that was out of the ordinary and so dramatic as to shock the conscience.
The judge noted in particular the other written evidence in the case, including the police report, which showed the car that struck the claimant’s truck traveled eight feet under the rear of the box truck. The evidence showed the claimant initially approached the car in an attempt to help. The evidence showed the driver as well as his two-year-old toddler died as a result of the accident. The police report reflected that they were pronounced dead on scene. The medical evidence showed the claimant was still on scene when the bodies were recovered from the car. From a distance, he saw the bodies covered by a blanket. The medical evidence showed the claimant was informed of their death on scene. The claimant was involved in a disturbing vehicular accident that resulted in the death of two persons, including a toddler. After the accident, he expressed feelings of guilt for the deaths. He has reported experiencing nightmares and a vivid memory of what transpired on the date of accident. All of these facts enabled the Manassas judge to find in favor of the box truck driver. The judge ordered the Defendants to pay for several years of lost wages, medical bills, transportation expenses, medications and cost of living adjustments.
The Defendants have appealed and briefs have been filed. If ABRAMS LANDAU again prevails, the claimant will receive these payments and benefits on top of his Social Security Disability. If you or someone you care about has been in a car or truck crash, and there are questions about the personal injury laws, workers compensation and/or Social Security Disability, we can help at ABRAMS LANDAU, as we regularly try all three kinds of cases, throughout the East Coast sometimes for the same client! Please call, e-mail or have them call us today, as there are different time deadlines for these cases.